Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet:
December 31, 2004
THOMAS HOPKINS GALLAUDET
Hopkins Gallaudet was born on December 10, 1787 in Hartford, Connecticut.
The eldest in the Gallaudet family, he would eventually have eleven other
siblings. Although Thomas was named for his grandfather, a rugged sea
captain, he could aptly be described as scrawny. Throughout his childhood,
he was hindered by several breathing problems. These problems would affect
him later on in life as well. Thomas would rather sit and dream then romp
about with his brother and friends. Thomas was determined to make up what he
could not do physically, by being the head of the class academically.
Thomas took the
Yale entrance exams when he was fourteen years old. Considering the results
of the exams, all of his previous studies must have paid off. Due to his
scores, he skipped freshman year and was accepted at a sophomore level.
Young Thomas enjoyed college life. Within a month of starting at the
college, he joined the chess team, easily becoming the star of the team.
Tying for valedictorian was an example of how Thomas excelled in his
academics. He unjustly lost the tie when the presidents of the college
determined the outcome, not on grades or merit, but on height.
Thomas held down several jobs before finding his true calling. Initially
working at a law firm, he quit after only one year when his breathing became
labored due to pipe smoke. Later, Yale offered him a tutoring position at
the school. Although Thomas was well liked by his students, he resigned only
two years later when his breathlessness continued. Finding hope for his
breathing, he took an outdoors job as a traveling salesman. During his
travels through the wilderness of Kentucky and Ohio, Thomas stayed with the
families to which he sold merchandise. While at their houses he would teach
the education-starved children stories from the Bible. Thomas lost much of
his paycheck when he would give the children pretty “bows or
a year after his salesman endeavor, at the age of twenty-six, Thomas went to
Andover College and received his minister’s license. Becoming a visiting
minister, he decided to return home during the weekdays. His life changed
one day while he was at home. Watching one of his younger brothers play
outside, he noticed a little girl standing away from the crowd of children,
blankly staring at them. Pulling his brother aside, Thomas questioned him
and found out the girl’s name was Alice Cogswell. He also found out she was
deaf and could not talk. With much determination, Thomas went over to the
little girl. Removing his hat in front of the little girl, he preceded to
write “hat” in the dirt. Then, alternating between pointing to the word in
the dirt and the hat in his hand, Alice soon was enlightened that the word
in the dirt symbolized the material hat in his hand.
father, Dr. Cogswell, came home in the middle of this lesson and watched in
amazement as Thomas taught his daughter when everyone else had given up
hope. Thomas and Dr. Cogswell went into the house to discuss Alice and her
condition. Dr. Cogswell told Thomas of a French form of communication in
which they use their hands to speak. The two men decided Thomas would teach
Alice the names of everything in the world around her in sign. After
watching the obvious change in his daughter, Dr. Cogswell called together a
group of merchants and educators from around the city. He and Thomas
persuaded the men to open a school specifically for deaf people. They also
managed to get the merchants and educators to pay for Thomas to go abroad
and learn the way the French communicated with their deaf.
[Editorial note: In a message
dated 3/25/2006 11:48:52 AM Pacific Standard Time,
"JAM" a teacher at the American School for the Deaf
writes: THG did not immediately
go to France to learn the manual communication method. He went to
England, requested tutelage from the Braidwood family (who's educational
system was for profit) but was fortunate to meet Laurent Clerc who
invited him to his school in Paris. Alice did learn some
fingerspelling, and was tutored by Lydia Sigourney for a short period
prior to the opening of the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb at
Hartford (as it was initially named).]
delays Thomas eventually got to France. While in France he met Laurent Clerc.
Laurent was a French deaf man who taught Thomas to sign fluently. After only
three months in the French sign school, Thomas persuaded Laurent to return
with him to America. The two men traveled to America and started to
campaign for money to start the first American school for the deaf. The cost
for the school was $15,000, but amazingly when they added up the donations
that they received from people, they found the total was more than $17,000.
council of merchants and educators, they appealed to them the idea of a
school for deaf people. The Council found an empty building and the American
School for the Deaf was born. The school doors opened on April 15, 1817.
“The first student to enroll was Alice Cogswell” (Degering, 1987). Other
students soon followed until the school had thirty-three in all. Thomas had
undertaken the role of not only a teacher, but also took the role of
principal as well. The school attracted quite a bit of public attention.
United States President Monroe was the most prominent visitor. Monroe’s
visit inspired students of the school to create a sign for “president”.
in love with one of students by the name of Sophia Fowler. They were wed in
the summer of 1821. Sophia was concerned at first that she would bear
children who were deaf, but Thomas assured her that even if she did, he
would still love them dearly. Thomas and Sophia eventually had eight hearing
children. Thomas worked as the principal of the school for 15 years. He then
became an author. He authored books that became popular all over the world.
When his children came of age to be educated, he chose to school them and
many other neighborhood children at his home. All of the children grew
academically and became successful.
In 1851, Thomas and Sophia became sick with a
severe bout of dysentery. Sophia soon recovered but Thomas only got worse.
In September 1851, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet passed away, leaving a legacy
for every deaf person in America. He started a trend, which would make a
life changing impact on deaf people everywhere in the country. His son
Edward went on to open a college for the deaf in Washington, DC. The college
was eventually named Gallaudet College in remembrance of Thomas.
Degering, E. Gallaudet
Friend of the Deaf. Washington DC: Kendall Green, 1964.
Neimark, A. A Deaf Child
Listened: Thomas Gallaudet, Pioneer in American Education. New York:
William Morrow and Company, 1983.
Van Cleve, J. Deaf History
Unveiled: Interpretations from the New Scholarship. Washington DC:
Gallaudet University Press, 1993.