The American School for the Deaf (ASD) is the oldest permanent school for the deaf in the United States. It was founded April 15, 1817 in Hartford, Connecticut by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc and became a state-supported school later that year.
The first deaf school in the United States was short-lived: established in 1815 by Col. William Bolling of Goochland, Virginia, in nearby Cobbs, with John Braidwood (tutor of Bolling’s two deaf children) as teacher, it closed in the fall of 1816.
During the winter of 1818-1819, the American School for the Deaf became the first school of primary and secondary education to receive aid from the federal government when it was granted $300,000. As a result of its pivotal role in American deaf history, it also hosts a museum containing numerous rare and old items. While it is situated on a 54-acre campus, the ASD has a small enrollment — in its history, the ASD has graduated approximately 6000 graduates.
The impetus behind its founding was the fact that Alice Cogswell, the daughter of a wealthy local surgeon (Mason Fitch Cogswell), was deafened in childhood by fever at a time when the British schools were an unacceptable substitute for a local school. Dr. Cogswell prevailed upon the young Gallaudet (who had recently graduated from Yale University’s School of Divinity and had begun studying at Andover). Gallaudet met young Alice in Hartford, where he was recovering from a chronic illness.
Cogswell and nine other citizens decided that the known 84 deaf children in New England needed appropriate facilities. However, competent teachers could not be found, so they sent Gallaudet in 1815 on a tour of Europe, where deaf education was a much more developed art. After being rebuffed by the Braidwoods, Gallaudet turned to the Parisian French schoolteachers of the famous school for the Deaf in Paris, where he successfully recruited Laurent Clerc.
On the strength of Clerc’s reputation, the ASD was incorporated as the “American Asylum for Deaf-mutes” in May 1816. When it opened in 1817, there were seven students enrolled: Alice Cogswell, George Loring, Wilson Whiton, Abigail Dillingham, Otis Waters, John Brewster, and Nancy Orr. The original name of the school was: The Connecticut Asylum (at Hartford) for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons. John Brewster Jr., was a 51-year-old itinerant portrait painter.
Gallaudet was principal until 1830. His son followed in his legacy, establishing Gallaudet University, which followed the ASD’s lead and taught students primarily in American Sign Language (derived from the methodical signs and Parisian sign language of the French Institute for the Deaf).