Educating the Deaf

Author Melinda Penner Published on 08/07/2014

Gallaudet University, the first university in the United States focusing on educating deaf people, was named in honor of the founder’s father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

Thomas was born in Philadelphia in 1787. His father was George Washington’s secretary when he was president. The family moved to Connecticut, and Gallaudet earned his masters degree at Yale University. He pursued theological studies in preparation to being a pastor.

In 1814, Gallaudet met a little girl named Alice Cogswell. She was deaf and Gallaudet was motivated to figure out how to teach her since there were no schools for the deaf in the U.S. He eventually learned sign language in France and returned to found the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. Alice was one of the first students.

Gallaudet married one of the graduate of his school and they had eight children. The youngest, Edward Miner Gallaudet, established a national college for deaf students in Washington, D.C., receiving a charter from Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Another son, Thomas Gallaudet, became an Episcopal priest and also worked with deaf children.