The Likeness of 9 year-old Alice Cogswell
Despite a short life, Alice Cogswell led a life well-lived. I admire her greatly because she did not allow society to tell her that being deaf in the 1820’s somehow made you less than human.
Alice was born in 1805, and contracted “spotted fever” (most likely measles or meningitis) at 2 years of age. It removed her ability to speak and hear. Alice’s hearing impairment alienated her from other children.
When she was 9, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet did not see her inability to hear, but her ability to see and learn. He engaged with young Alice by drawing pictures. Through this, he recognized she was not stupid, but merely ignorant and more than capable of learning. Alice was the spark of inspiration that brought education to the deaf. She valued learning, and even attended a hearing school to learn to read and write.
What amazes me is that there must not have been such a thing as interpreters at the time. Learning was so difficult, but Alice worked so hard to become literate. This fierce determination for the deaf to be taught caused Gallaudet to travel to Europe. He brought back a better knowledge of deaf education.
Alice was the first student enrolled in Gallaudet’s “American School for the Deaf” proving to the world that she was an intelligent young woman, not something less than human. Her death came at the age of 20, 6 years after graduating Gallaudet’s school. Alice is amazing simply because she chose to be herself, and challenge society’s beliefs about deaf capabilities.
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