Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

The minister Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851) was an American pioneer of the education of the deaf.

He encountered a nine years old deaf girl named Alice Cogswell in Connecticut. He taught her words by writing in the dirt with a stick and Alice learned the words. He talked with Alice's father, Dr. Mason Cogswell, who asked him to go to Europe to learn about teaching methods and education for the deaf.

While Gallaudet was in Great Britain, he met a few French members of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets (including Laurent Clerc) who visited in England to demonstrate their teaching method in sign language. He was invited to visit their school in Paris, France. Eventually, he convinced Clerc to return to America with him. While they sailed back to America, Gallaudet taught Clerc some English and Clerc taught Gallaudet some French (sign language). They founded the first school for the deaf (now the American School for the Deaf) in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. Alice was one of the first students and Clerc was the teacher. Gallaudet was the principal of the institution for many years till he retired in 1830.

The Old French Sign Language (OFSL) that Clerc brought and shared in the U.S. were merged with the previous native sign language and some other signs (e.g. home signs). ASL has been evolved much since then. Gallaudet's son Edward Miner Gallaudet (1837-1917) founded the first college for the deaf in 1864 (which became Gallaudet University in 1986).


Suggested Readings

Neimark, A. E. A Deaf Child Listened: Thomas Gallaudet, Pioneer in American Education. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1983.

You may also be interested in Gallaudet University.