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The History of Gallaudet University: 150 Years of a Deaf American Institution
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Laurent Clerc taught at the American School for the Deaf from 1817 until 1858. In 1821, he took a leave of absence for eight months to be acting principal of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf, where he planned the school’s instructional program. Many of his students became teachers and founders of schools for the deaf throughout the United States. Clerc died in 1869, the same year this photograph was taken.


Thomas Gallaudet, born on June 3, 1822, in Hartford, Connecticut, was the oldest son of Thomas H. and Sophia Fowler Gallaudet. Like his youngest brother, EMG, he was active in the deaf community his entire life. He taught at the New York Institute for the Deaf, and, after becoming an ordained Episcopal minister in 1852, he established St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes in New York City, where he conducted services in sign language. In 1885, he founded the Gallaudet Home for Aged and Infirm Deaf-Mutes near Poughkeepsie, NY. Gallaudet often came to Washington, DC, to visit his family at Kendall Green, and he acted as chaplain at several of the college’s commencement ceremonies. Photograph circa 1855–1865; courtesy of the Library of Congress.


college for the deaf; and the Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, EMG’s brother and rector of St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes in New York City. The college bestowed its first degree, an honorary master of arts, on John Carlin. Clerc may have best summed up the emotions of many deaf people: “In closing, let me express to you, my dear young friend, Mr. E. M. Gallaudet, president-elect of this institution, the earnest hope that in the great work which is before you, you will be blessed and prospered, and receive for your efforts in behalf of the deaf and dumb such proofs of its benefits as will reward you for the glorious undertaking.”7

Daniel R. Goodwin, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, was unable to attend the ceremony but sent a letter of congratulations that sums up the purpose of the college in terms that EMG must have found extremely gratifying.

The form of your present undertaking is novel, but I have no doubt that experience will prove it to be practicable and wise. Those who are deprived of one of the senses, possess, in general, as great intellectual capacities, as good natural aptitudes, and oftentimes as strong physical powers, and withal, as earnest a desire for knowledge and activity, as those who are blessed with the enjoyment of all the organic functions. It is right that they should have an opportunity to gain a full preparation for the highest employments that may be open before them, and should enjoy the happiness of the largest intellectual, moral, and religious culture.8


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