Julia Brace In Remembrance Part II: ASD's Founding and History

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Hello everyone, my name is Darlene Borsotti. I am currently wearing a green headband,and wearing glasses. I am a white individual and I'm wearing a black shirt with mid length sleeves. President Jesse asked me to provide a historical perspective on Thomas Gallaudet, Alice Cogswell, and how the American School for the Deaf was established. 

I am thrilled to be given this opportunity as the American School for the Deaf has a rich history. I grew up attending ASD for 16 years. I also work at ASD as a Secretary for the past 33 years. Let's start with Thomas Gallaudet and who he was. 

Who was Gallaudet?

Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 233 years ago. Later his family moved to Hartford, Connecticut where he eventually attended Yale University and studied to become a pastor. His family had a very strong religious background. He graduated from Yale with high honors at the young age of 17, which is a testimony to his intelligence. 

He traveled to different churches and became a traveling pastor in the region. After that he became very sick and had to turn down all of the invitations to preach at different churches. He traveled back home to Hartford to take care of his health. 

Enter Alice

Now Gallaudet was the oldest of 13 siblings in his family. On one particular day in 1814 near the Gallaudet home, Thomas Gallaudet was watching his siblings play outside and noticed there was a young girl about the age of nine standing off to the side not playing with anyone. Gallaudet asked one of his youngest brothers who the girl was and why she was alone. His brother explained that the young girl lived in the neighborhood and that her name was Alice. They had heard that she became deaf at the age of two. Instantly moved, he wondered how this girl could learn. 

So. He took out a hat like this. The hat I'm holding in my hand is a black top hat with a rim around it. He took a long stick from a tree nearby, and laid out some loose dirt close to where he was. He waved to Alice to come by him and started drawing in the dirt. He drew the letter H, than the letter A, and then the letter T, and  showed her his hat. Alice made the connection and copied the word HAT in the dirt. 

Then Alice was curious who she was and how to spell her name, and Gallaudet was thrilled to accommodate her by spelling out her name - Alice. Alice became hungry to learn more. 

Now Alice's father was Mason Cogswell. He was an ophthalmologist in the community. He arrived home to find his daughter, with a new sense of excitement and it all had to do with making letters in the dirt. She showed him the man that taught her this and Gallaudet and Mason Cogswell began a conversation about how Alice could get an education. They made a plan. The plan was to send Thomas Gallaudet to England to learn their educational techniques for deaf children. 

Mason Cogswell called together about 10 of his associates, including Thomas Gallaudet, and together they pitched their plan to the group. The associates decided to fund Thomas Gallaudet's trip to Europe. 

Right now I'm holding in my hand a statue of Alice Cogswell. The statue is made of metal. Alice is depicted as standing holding a book in her hand, with a very long dress. And underneath her is the appearance of two hands holding her upright. These two oversized hands signify light. The fingers represent the 10 men who contributed to the expedition. 

Across the Seas

So Thomas Gallaudet took a very long trip on a ship to England, so as to learn about the school for the Deaf in England. However, the schools were not interested in sharing their educational philosophy with anyone else. It's important to know that this particular school used only the oral method, that was not necessarily something Thomas was interested in anyways. 

And then, while he was in the region, he happened to come across three gentlemen giving an exhibition about how to teach deaf children. Intrigued, Gallaudet went up to meet the three individuals from the Paris School for the Deaf, the President of the school was Sicard. He was accompanied by two Deaf instructors, the first one was Laurent Clerc and the second was Jean Massieu. They warmly welcomed Gallaudet to their school. This is what Gallaudet had been looking for. He immersed himself at the school for three long years. 

Back home, Alice joined her hearing sister and at a private school taught by a woman by the name of Lydia Sigourney. She taught Alice how to read and write with her sister and a couple other hearing students. She waited patiently for her new friend Gallaudet to return. 

While all this was happening, Gallaudet is ready to return to America. He invited Clerc to return with him to teach deaf children in America. The prospect of going to America was exciting, but it was a tough decision for Clerc. He talked it over with his family and made the decision to join Gallaudet. The two of them spent 52 days on their voyage back to America. 

Return Home

During that time, Gallaudet taught Clerc reading and writing in English and Clerc taught Gallaudet French sign language with a little bit of English mixed in with the language. They arrived to America. 

Clerc was introduced to Alice and they instantly made a connection - one deaf person to another. The Cogswell family was elated and cried with joy. 

The next order of business was to find a building. Gallaudet, Clerc and Dr Cogswell traveled the New England area together, giving speeches about this new school for the Deaf. Many people contributed money to the cause. With that support, the school was established on April 15 1817 - 204 years ago. 

Alice was one of seven students to become the first class at the American school for the Deaf.