Student Papers

Livia Valenote

Sep. 14, 2022



The First Deaf School in America


Education is a very important part of our society. The deaf has been thrown aside for many years, being seen as unteachable Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet disagreed. Gallaudet and many others helped the deaf community gain a proper education system. He as well as Laurent Clerc brought the first deaf schools to America. These schools allowed deaf children to connect, and their surroundings. It was not easy to bring deaf education to America, and as such Gallaudet persevered through many struggles to get where we are today.

In Gallaudet’s younger years he loved to study and found education very interesting. He attended Yale University and in 1805 he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. He later earned a Masters’s degree, and after that traveled around picking up various jobs. Sadly Gallaudet was born with a chronic cough, which forced him to return home and experience something that would change his life forever. He met Alice Cogswell, the daughter of Dr. Cogswell, also a deaf child. He learned through one fateful encounter that Alice was not dumb, but no one stepped up to the plate to teach her. Basing his teaching on Europe’s sign language guide, he taught Alice sign language. He soon realized that he did not know enough to continue teaching Alice or any deaf child, they needed a school.

Europe had multiple schools for the deaf, and Gallaudet wished to bring the teachings of Europe to America. To travel to Europe and bring a proper education back to the U.S. they needed a lot of money. Dr. Coggswell and Gallaudet ended up convincing the board in their community to send him to Europe. He then traveled all over Europe and found something he thought was horrendous. They were trying to teach deaf children oralisms. Oralism is the teaching method in which they teach deaf children to talk through lipreading. It is not the natural language of the deaf nor should it be forced upon them. He was giving up hope until he happened to stumble upon a sign language event. This event was hosted by Abbe Sicard and his school. Gallaudet was enamored by the way they communicated and soon knew that he must go to Sicard’s school to learn. He originally believed that he could learn sign language and then take it back to the states, but Gallaudet soon learned that it was too much for him to handle alone. He decided to try and bring one of Sicard’s best teachers home, one of his close friends, Laurent Clerc. Gallaudet and Sicard settled on a three-year contract where Laurent would come to America and help set up a deaf school. This brought light to deaf children, but the journey was far from over.

Clec, Coggswell, and Gallaudet worked together to find a place for their new school. Once they found a location, all of them pitched in to help the project get going. Dr. Coggswell continued funding, Clerc taught new teachers, and Gallaudet became the president of the new school. On April 15, 1817, the first school for the deaf opened. After many years, Gallaudet and Clerc opened schools all across America. But Gallaudet was getting old and the deaf had schools only on the elementary level. He turned to his last son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, and tried convincing him to pursue deaf education. Edward was hesitant at first and even went into banking before he found his passion in deaf education. He went on to become the founder and the first principal of Gallaudet College, the first college of the deaf. This led to the deaf having an even more extensive education system.

Galleduat struggled for many years to bring deaf education to America, and even after his death, his legacy carried on. His son was able to improve upon the education of the deaf, helping them further communicate with each other. Soon they would break barriers and succeed beyond anyone’s imagination. Education is far from perfect but every day we are working towards a better future, for all people.




Gallaudet University and Clerc Center. “200 Years of Deaf Education in America.” Home | The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center,,being%20the%20first%20to%20enroll. Accessed 14 Sept. 2022.

“History & Cogswell Heritage House American School for the Deaf.” ASD Is the Oldest Permanent School for the Deaf in the United States.,–cogswell-heritage-house. Accessed 14 Sept. 2022.


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