The Beginnings of Deaf Education in America

August 24, 2018
Category: Submitted Posts

By: Joseph Evans (05/18/18)

Alice Cogswell was born on August 31, 1805. At the age of two Alice came down with an illness which took her hearing and speech from her. Sources have called this illness cerebral spinal meningitis, spotted fever and scarlet fever.

As a result of her deafness and inability to speak, Alice did not interact with other children. This was curious to a man who had moved into the house next door to Alice in the year 1815. A man named Thomas Gallaudet. Gallaudet began using pictures and letters to communicate with Alice, drawing them with a stick in the dirt.

Her father, Dr. Mason Cogswell, one of the best known surgeons in the country at the time, knew Alice was very intelligent and could benefit from a formal education. However, there was no school for the deaf. At the time there was not even a standardized form of sign language in the United States.

Dr. Cogswell asked Gallaudet to go to Europe, to learn teaching methods for deaf students. Cogswell asked Gallaudet to study the methods of the Braidwood family in England. The Braidwoods had established a school for the deaf in 1783. The problem was, the Braidwood’s did not want to share their methods with Gallaudet, and Gallaudet was not keen on the oral methods used by the Braidwoods.

While still in Great Britain, Gallaudet met Abbé Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard. The Abbé Sicard was the head of the Institution Nationale de Sourds-Muets à Paris (The National Institute for the Deaf and Mute of Paris). Sicard invited Gallaudet to Paris to learn the methods of teaching the deaf through manual communication. Gallaudet learned the teaching methods from Sicard and sign language from two of the schools graduates, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu.

Gallaudet then convinced Clerc to come to America. It was there that the two, along with Dr. Cogswell, raised the money and established the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in Hartford Connecticut, now called the American School for the Deaf. It is the longest continually operating school for the deaf in the United States. It is also the first school for primary and secondary education to receive state aid, which it did in 1819. Two graduates of the school went on to found the Georgia School for the deaf in 1846, and the Iowa School for the Deaf in 1855.

The school honors both Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell with a statue at the entrance to the school.

This, however, is not the first school for the deaf in the US. In 1815, a member of the Braidwood family from England, John, and Col. William Bolling of Virginia, who had two deaf children of his own, established the Cobbs School of Virgina which used the oral method prefferd by Braidwoods. The school, however was short lived, closing in the fall of 1816.

In 1864, the Postmaser General Amos Kendall donated two acres of land for the establishment of a school and housing for 12 deaf children. These children were declared wards of Kendall by the courts. This school was incorporated by congress in 1857 as the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind. The first superintendant of the school was Edward Gallaudet, son of Thomas Gallaudet. In 1864, the school began to confer college degrees as authorized by the US Congress.
In 1894 the name of the college portion of the school was changed to Gallaudet College in honor or Edward’s father. Gallaudet became a university in 1986. The campus is also home to an elementary school and secondary school. Gallaudet is the only liberal arts college for the deaf.

“Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 Nov. 2017. Web. 23 Nov 2017

“Alice Cogswell.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 7 Jan 2018. Web. 7 Jan 2018

“Mason Fitch Cogswell.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Dec. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017

“About Our School.”
American School for the Deaf. (n.d) Web. 2 Feb. 2018

“Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 24 Jan. 2018. Web. 24 Jan 2018

“Oldest School fro the Deaf in the US.” Connecticut Museum Quest 2018 Web. 2 Feb. 2018

Oldest School for the Deaf in the US

“History of Gallaudet.” Gallaudet University (n.d.)
Web. 3 Feb 2018

“History of Gallaudet. The First 100 Years.”
Web. 3 Feb 2018