Sign language history: 19th Century

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

1815: Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a Congregational minister who helped his neighbor's young deaf daughter, Alice Cogswell, traveled to Europe in 1815, to study methods of education for the deaf. In England, Abbe Roche Ambroise Sicard invited him to his school for deaf in Paris. After several months in Paris, Gallaudet returned to the United States with Laurent Clerc, a deaf teacher.
Butterworth, et al., 1995

Clerc and Gallaudet, 1817

The American School for the Deaf was founded by Laurent Clerc, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, and Mason Cogswell in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817, where sign language was used in Deaf education. Laurent Clerc became the U.S.'s first deaf teacher. He brought Old French Sign Language (OFSL) to America. OFSL was part of the developement of ASL. Deaf people prospered in various fields from politics to journalism to education until the "Dark Age" after the infamous Milan 1880.

December 16, 1817: Eliza Young's birthday. She was the wife of William Willard, and together they founded the Indiana School for the Deaf.

School founded, 1861

December 9, 1861: Kansas School for the Deaf was founded.

College, 1864

The National Deaf-Mute College (now Gallaudet University) was founded by Thomas Gallaudet's son Edward Miner Gallaudet, who became the first president of this institution and was also fluent in ASL. President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law. The two acres of the land in northwest Washington, D.C. was donated by the wealthy businessman Amos Kendall in 1856 (originally to establish a school for the deaf). ASL has been used on campus since then.

Alexander Bell, 1876

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. He involved in the scheme of banning the use of sign language in at the Milan conference in 1880.

Milan 1880

A pre-planned resolution was passed that sign language was to be forbidden in favor of speech at International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, Italy. Eventualy, it had made an enormous impact on the lives and an education of sign language users until the 1960s when ASL was recognized as a true, natural language.

Baseball Signals

William "Dummy" Hoy (1862-1961), the first deaf Major League baseball player, was the reason umpires adopted hand signals: "out", "safe", and "strike".

Football Huddle

1894: The Gallaudet University football team invented the football huddle to keep the opponents from eavesdropping on the quarterback in American Sign Language.

20th Century

International Sign

1924: Comite International des Sports des Sourds (CISS) was founded in Paris on August 16th during the first World Games for the Deaf held in Paris, France on August 10th to 17th, with six nations - Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Holland, and Poland - participating in the competitions in Athletics, Cycling, Football (Soccer), Shooting and Swimming. (CISS Handbook 1975-85) The Gestuno (now International Sign) that was developed and used by Deaf Signers at this first international sports event and is continued to use till today.


1951: The First World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) took place in Rome, Italy, with participants from 25 countries. The Deaf were able to discuss and decide on the Constitution in Gestuno (now International Sign). (WFD) The International Sign and English are the official languages of the WFD.

ASL Linguistics Book

1960: William Stokoe of United States published the first linguistics book on American Sign Language as a natural, true language.

National Theatre of the Deaf

The National Theatre of the Deaf (U.S.) was founded. English-speaking and Ameslan/ASL actors work together in performances for mixed hearing and eyeing/deaf people.