By: Stanley Howell
It is difficult to select just one person from such a long list of noted personalities who have played various roles in the history of the deaf culture in the U. S. and around the world. What criteria does one use in selecting from Bridgman the Gallaudets, Bell, Stokoe, then Keller, Hoy, Matlin, Jordan, and so many others?
The task is eased somewhat for me when I consider a mighty oak. The highest branch on the tree would never be there were it not for the strong roots firmly planted in rich soil.
Using that as my guide, I must stray from the mandate of the question, and mention not just one individual, but several whose combined efforts formed the strong roots of deaf culture development.
There is Abbe Charles l’Epee, the “Father of the Deaf,” who established the first deaf school in Europe in 1771, and 21 schools for the deaf in total. There is Laurent Clerc, who met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in Europe and returned with him to the U. S. and helped start the first school for the deaf in the U. S. Most of the twenty-two other schools for the deaf in the U. S. at that time were founded by Clerc’s students. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet went to France and met Abbe Sicard, who wrote a dictionary of signs. Upon returning to the U. S. Gallaudet helped establish the American School for the Deaf in 1817. His son, Edward Gallaudet, followed in his footsteps and was Superintendent of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf in Washington, D. C., the forerunner of the Gallaudet University of today.
These mentioned here, and countless others throughout the history of the deaf culture, are mighty roots indeed, and a proud heritage of the Deaf.