Gallaudet University is a federally chartered, quasi-governmental university located in Washington, D.C. It was the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing, and is still the world’s only university in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students. The university was named after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a notable figure in the advancement of deaf education.
Gallaudet University is a bilingual community in which American Sign Language (ASL) and English exist side-by-side. While there are no specific ASL requirements for undergraduates, many graduate programs have sign language proficiency requirements.
Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, LL.D., (December 10, 1787 – September 10, 1851) was a renowned American pioneer in the education of the deaf. He helped found and was for many years the principal of the first institution for the education of the deaf in the United States, 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. In 1814, Gallaudet graduated from Andover Theological Seminary and prepared to become a preacher. Around the same time, he met Alice Cogswell, the nine-year-old deaf daughter of a neighbor, whom he tried to teach the names of certain objects by writing them with a stick in the dirt.
The girls father, Dr. Mason Cogswell, was so impressed with Gallaudet’s methods, he asked him to travel to Europe to study then known methods for teaching deaf students. While in Great Britain, Gallaudet met Abbé Sicard, head of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets in Paris, and two of its 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.
In 1816, Gallaudet persuaded Clerc to accompany him to the U.S. and the two men toured New England and successfully raised private and public funds to found a school for deaf students in Hartford, CT. This institution became known as the American School for the Deaf and Alice Cogswell was one of the first seven students in the school. Another early student taught by Gallaudet was Sophia Fowler, whom he married shortly after she graduated. They had two sons: Thomas (1822-1902) and Edward Miner (1837-1917).
The sons close affiliation with their mother and deaf friends revealed to them the problems and potentials of the deaf and led them both to a life of service on their behalf. Thomas, for example, taught at the New York Institution for the Deaf. In 1845, he married a young deaf woman. In 1851, Thomas became an ordained Episcopal priest and began conducting regular church services for the deaf in a church he founded, St. Ann’s Church for Deaf Mutes. Later, he founded a home for aged and infirm deaf mutes near Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In 1856, Edward Miner Gallaudet graduated from Trinity College and moved to Washington, D.C. In 1857, he founded Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. In 1864, the 38th Congress authorized the Institution to grant and confirm college degrees. The university also offered education for those in elementary, middle, and high school. 1893, the name was changed to Gallaudet University, in honor of his father.
The primary language used on the Gallaudet University Campus is American Sign Language (ASL), of which many believe Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was the father. ASL was actually a combination of the signs used on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off of New England, and French Sign Language. Martha’s Vineyard was inhabited almost completely by the deaf. Alternatively, Dr. William C. Stokoe, Jr., Professor Emeritus at Gallaudet University, proposed to linguists that American Sign Language was indeed a language, and not a signed code for English.
For more information, visit: www.gallaudet.edu/