Chapter Five continued...
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The singular limitation that Gallaudet recognized in deaf persons was their inability to interpret correctly everyday events. They live, he emphasized, "encircled with all that can render life desirable; in the midst of society, of knowledge, of the arts, of the sciences, of a free and happy government, of a widely preached gospel; ... [and ,yet] are lost in one perpetual gaze of wonder at the thousand mysteries which surround them." Without the concerned solicitude of hearing persons, Gallaudet believed uneducated deaf persons were doomed to spend their lives as victims of superstition. As principal of the American Asylum, he worked tirelessly to provide them both secular and religious training.

Time enhanced rather than blurred the importance of Gallaudet's bearing toward his deaf students. More than thirty-five years after the American Asylum was founded, a report of the directors carefully restated his earlier view: "The principal should be in fact, the father of the family and be so situated that the children could have access to him at all times" [italics added]. Between 1830 and 1870, during the administrations of the three principals who succeeded him - Lewis Weld, 1830-1853; William Turner, 1853-1863; and Collins Stone, 1863-1870 - paternalism continued as the American Asylum's guiding principle of governance.

Paternalism-a posture of omniscient authority in the presence of persons - was not unique to Thomas Gallaudet; it was a socially endorsed attitude of authority figures toward their dependent charges, employed widely throughout nineteenth-century antebellum America. In middle- and upper-class families not only children but white women, who were considered too delicate for strenuous work and too emotionally fragile to cope with reality, seemed to require constant assistance from men. Employers, such as managers of textile mills in industrializing America, who felt a strong sense of personal responsibility for the welfare of their workers, and slaveholders - men and women who justified bondage with stories of their chattels' supposed "childlike" mental incapacity - were also paternalistic.

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