Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

Pioneer of deaf education in the U.S.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, LL.D., (1787-1851) was a renowned American pioneer in the education of the deaf. He helped establish the first institution for the education of the deaf in the United States in 1817. When the Connecticut school opened, it was called the “Hartford School for the Deaf,” but it is now known as the American School for the Deaf. Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Yale University, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1805 and master’s degree in 1810. He wanted to do many things, such as study law, engage in trade, or study divinity.

But it was a chance encounter with a little deaf girl, Alice Cogswell, that changed the course of Gallaudet’s life. Although she was an intelligent 9-year-old girl, there were no teachers who knew how to work with deaf children in Hartford, Connecticut. But there were schools in France and England. Alice’s father, Dr. Cogswell, approached Gallaudet for help.

Gallaudet and Cogswell began to ask people for money to help pay for a trip to Europe. Gallaudet would go and find out how to teach deaf children, and he would start an American school for deaf children in Hartford,. After they raised enough money, Gallaudet left for Europe.

Traveling in Great Britain, he met Abbé Sicard, head of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets in Paris, and two of the institution’s deaf faculty members, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. Sicard invited Gallaudet to Paris to study the school’s method of teaching the deaf using manual communication. Impressed with the manual method, Gallaudet studied teaching methodology under Sicard, learning sign language from Massieu and Clerc, who were both highly educated graduates of the school.

Having persuaded Clerc to accompany him, Gallaudet sailed back to America. The two men toured New England and successfully raised private and public funds to found a school for deaf students in Hartford.

In 1864, Gallaudet’s youngest son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, helped start the world’s first college for deaf students and became the college’s first president. The college was later called Gallaudet University, after the elder Gallaudet.

Source: Information taken from Wikipedia and Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center of Gallaudet University