Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Pioneering educator of the deaf Thomas Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia.
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia in 1787. He graduated from Yale University in 1805 with a degree in Education and later discovered an interest in educating students who had hearing loss and/or speech disabilities. To further his goal, he traveled to Europe to observe and study specialized teaching methods. In 1817, he founded and presided over the first school for people who with hearing loss and/or speech disabilities in the United States: The American School for the Deaf (ASD) (formerly named The Connecticut Asylum). He later returned to his ministry in 1830 and wrote several children’s books, including TheYouth’s Book of Natural Theology (1832) and The Child’s Book of Bible Stories (1834). He died in September of 1851 in Hartford, Connecticut.
On December 10, 1787, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was born the son of Jane Hopkins and Peter Gallaudet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By the time Gallaudet was thirteen years old, his parents moved to Hartford, Connecticut, (the birthplace of his maternal grandparents) in preparation for his college education. Thoroughly grounded in the Protestant religion, Gallaudet had a strong desire to become an ordained minister at an early age and stayed in Philadelphia to work as a young minister; however, soon after his parent’s departure, he became ill and was forced to turn down a ministerial position and join his parents in Connecticut.
Upon arrival, Gallaudet attended Yale College (now Yale University). He graduated first in his class in 1805 with a degree in Education, but was unsure which direction to take his career. Eventually, he returned to Yale in 1808 to earn his MA and then attended the Theological Seminary at Andover in 1811, becoming an ordained minister by age twenty-seven. His interest in improving the educational resources for people who had hearing loss and/or speech disabilities came into sharp focus upon his meeting Alice Cogswell, the daughter of the prominent Dr. Mason Cogswell and whom he’d been entrusted to teach. She was believed to be between 4-9 years old and was struggling to learn due to her deafness. In his attempt to teach Cogswell, Gallaudet recognized the need for special instruction and more effective education in the United States for students who had hearing loss and/or speech disabilities.
With the funding and support of the Cogswell family, along with other families aware of the situation, Gallaudet traveled to Europe to study specialized education. First he went to Great Britain to observe the oral communication methods being used to instruct those with hearing loss and/or speech disabilities that was being used exclusively by a family named the Braidwood’s. Gallaudet also encountered the exciting work of l'Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (school for the deaf) in Paris, France. He then enlisted Laurent Clerc, a talented, young teacher (who was deaf himself) to join him in a historic homecoming to establish the first permanent school for people with hearing loss and/or speech disabilities in the United States.
Upon Gallaudet’s return to Connecticut and with the aid of the Cogswell family, he established the first school for people who had hearing loss and/or speech disabilities in 1817: The American School for the Deaf (ASD) (formerly named The Connecticut Asylum). The ASD served as a springboard for educators to receive specialized training and then go on to establish new specialized schools all over the country. The ASD is still in operation today and honors Gallaudet with a building in his name, Gallaudet Hall, and an annual heritage week, which includes laying flowers at his statue, among other ceremonies.
Gallaudet remained principal of the ASD until April 6, 1830, when he resigned to devote time to his ministry and to writing children’s books. He published many works, including, The Child’s Book on the Soul (1831), TheYouth’s Book of Natural Theology (1832), and The Child’s Book of Bible Stories (1834). He also served as editor to six volumes of instructional materials for specialized education: Annals of the Deaf and Dumb (Hartford). On September 9, 1851, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet died in Hartford, Connecticut, and at the time of his death was survived by wife, Sophia (Fowler) Gallaudet, and their two sons, Edward Miner Gallaudet and Thomas Gallaudet.
Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C, is named in commemoration of Gallaudet’s life and accomplishments. The university is geared towards the advancement of education for students who have hearing loss and/or speech disabilities and, in line with Gallaudet’s aims, is equipped to provide them with an equal opportunity for success.
The Child’s Book on the Soul. Hartford: Cooke and Co, 1831.
A Practical View of Christian Education. Hartford: Cooke and Co, 1831.
The Youth’s Book on Natural Theology. New York: The American Tract Society, 1832.
The History of Jonah: for Children and Youth. New York: The American Tract Society, 1833.
The Child’s Book on Repentance. New York: The American Tract Society, 1834.
The Child’s Book of Bible Stories. New York: The American Tract Society, 1834.
The School and Family Dictionary. New York: Robinson, Pratt & Co, 1941.
United States. Cong. Senate. Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Reauthorization of the Education of the Deaf Act. Hearing, 12 Feb. 1998. 105th Cong., 2nd sess. microfiche. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1998.