Sunday, February 23, 2014

Who was Thomas Gallaudet?

Recently I wrote a paper for my ASL 2 class on Thomas Gallaudet. The assignment came about after a question was raised about the history of American Sign Language. In class when the teacher told us to look up who was Thomas Gallaudet, I already knew that he was the one with Laurent Clerc who brought sign language to America from France.  But while doing my research for the paper I learned much more about the man behind the history. I learned that accomplishing his goal was not easy. He faced obstacles and setbacks along the way but didn't give up because he believed he was living with purpose and for the benefit of others.

Statue of Thomas Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell
Photo credit NCinDC shared through Creative Commons license.

One of the most moving scenes in his life is captured in this statue (pictured above) on the Gallaudet University campus. Thomas Gallaudet met a deaf person for the first time when he was introduced to his neighbor's daughter, Alice Cogswell. Gallaudet perceived that she was intelligent and wanted to teach her how to read and communicate. Later Alice became one of the first students at the school he established upon his return from France.

I am not going to recreate my class paper here, but I do want to direct you to a resource I  found in my research. I recommend that anyone who has an interest in learning more about deaf education, the history of American Sign Language, or Thomas Gallaudet should read a biography written by his son, Edward Miner Gallaudet and published in 1888. This fascinating book includes many letters written by Thomas Gallaudet. There is even a letter from Alice Cogswell. The book is called Life of Thomas Gallaudet and is available to read online courtesy of the Disability History Museum at this link:
http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/lib/detail.html?id=1739

Thomas Gallaudet's legacy continues today. Gallaudet's school in Hartford, founded in 1817, is now known as the American School for the Deaf and has more than 4,000 graduates. Gallaudet University, founded by his son Edward and renamed in 1894 to honor Thomas Gallaudet, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The school's latest enrollment figures are close to 2,000 students for academic year 2011-2012.

If you've ever wondered if one person can make a difference, the answer is yes. Just remember Thomas Gallaudet and be inspired to see what you can do with your life.

1 comment:

Liz Fisher said...

Lovely post and thanks for sharing about Thomas Gallaudet and what you learned.