American Asylum for the Deaf: A first experiment in education, 1817--1880

Date of Completion

January 1993


Religion, History of|History, United States|Education, History of|Education, Special




In 1817 the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb at Hartford, Connecticut opened its doors as the first school for the deaf in the United States. The origins of this institution lie in the evangelical Protestant reform movement associated with the Second Great Awakening in New England. Dr. Mason Cogswell, a prominent Hartford physician, assembled a voluntary committee of Hartford civic and business leaders to establish a school. They selected Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a Congregationalist minister, and sent him to Europe to study methods of deaf education. Administrators of oralist schools in England and Scotland refused to help Gallaudet. But during a stay in Edinburgh he came under the influence of Dugald Stewart, an important philosopher in the school of Scottish Common Sense. Stewart persuaded Gallaudet to visit the National Institution for the Deaf at Paris where the American was warmly received. Gallaudet returned to the United States with Laurent Clerc, and together they founded the Hartford school. Combining private donations with financial support from both state and federal governments, the American Asylum eventually offered free education to indigent deaf children and adults from many states. By mid-century, the American Asylum was the most important educational faculty for the deaf in the United States where administrators pioneered a liberal arts curriculum for students balanced by manual training. Its first faculty was composed of college-educated hearing men; later in the antebellum period deaf male graduates were hired, often reluctantly, by Directors. After 1866, however, the American Asylum's leadership position was challenged by advocates of articulation and lip-reading, Samuel Gridley Howe and Horace Mann. Hartford administrators became beleaguered defenders of manual communications, until the end of the nineteenth century. ^