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The History of Gallaudet University: 150 Years of a Deaf American Institution
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◄◄ Laurent Clerc was born December 26, 1785, near Lyon, France. He became deaf when he was a year old, but he did not go to school until he was twelve. He attended the Royal National Institute for the Deaf in Paris for eight years and then became a teacher at the school. In 1816 he traveled with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet to America, where they and Mason Fitch Cogswell established the first school for the deaf in the U.S. Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1822; courtesy of the American School for the Deaf Museum, West Hartford, CT.

◄ Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was born on December 10, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned both bachelorís and masterís degrees from Yale University and became a Congregational minister after studying at the Andover Theological Seminary. He changed his plans to be an itinerant preacher after meeting Alice Cogswell, the deaf daughter of his neighbor. In 1815, Gallaudet traveled to England and France to study the European methods of educating deaf children. Portrait date unknown.


At that time, the federal government controlled virtually all public business in the District of Columbia. However, Kendall, a confidant of President Andrew Jackson and former postmaster general, used his political connections to secure the passage of legislation authorizing the establishment of the school, which President Franklin Pierce signed into law on February 16, 1857. Federal appropriations to support the operation of the Columbia Institution began in 1858 (under the administration of President James Buchanan) and have continued annually up to the present.4 All in all, the consistency and longevity of this support indicates an abiding commitment by the government to the deaf citizens of the country. The fact that this support has been given to a private corporation (which Gallaudet has always been) is also testimony to a long-lasting bond of trust that the university would act in the best interests of deaf people and the country at large.

In 1857, when Edward Miner Gallaudet (hereafter EMG) was just twenty years old, Amos Kendall offered him the superintendency of the Columbia Institution. Although both T. H. Gallaudet and EMG were hearing, EMGís mother Sophia was deaf. Not surprisingly, EMG grew up as a native user of what then was known as the Sign Language and later came to be called American Sign Language or ASL. The importance of this fact should not be overlooked as the Institution he presided over was a constant haven for instruction in signed language, even when its use was prohibited or discouraged elsewhere. When EMG accepted Kendallís offer, he was unmarried, but because the standards of propriety called for an adult female presence at the school, his mother accompanied him to serve as matron of the Institution.


When Gallaudet returned from France, he brought Laurent Clerc with him to establish a school for deaf children in Hartford, Connecticut. The school officially opened on April 15, 1817. Gallaudet married Sophia Fowler, a former pupil, and they had eight children. Their youngest son, Edward Miner, became the first president of the National Deaf-Mute College.

Sophia Fowler was born on March 20, 1798, near Guilford, Connecticut. Deaf from birth, she did not attend school until 1818, when, at the age of nineteen, she went to the newly founded school for the deaf in Hartford. She remained a student until the spring of 1821, and the following August she married Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. When their youngest son, Edward Miner, became superintendent of the Columbia Institution, Sophia went to Washington, DC, with him to be matron of the school. Daguerreotypes circa 1842.


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