Today, Gallaudet University is internationally recognized and respected not only for being the world’s only institute of higher learning specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students, but also for its academic excellence and many world class facilities. Its beginnings, however, can best be described as “humble.”
The founding father of the school-which would eventually become known as Gallaudet University-was Amos Kendall, a middle-aged former journalist and federal bureaucrat. After a distinguished career in government that included service as the U.S. Postmaster General under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the Washington, DC resident hit the financial jackpot as legal manager and business partner of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph.
In 1856, Kendall was asked for a modest donation to help fund a proposed school for a small group of deaf and blind children. Upon witnessing the conditions the youngsters were living under, he petitioned a local court to make them his wards. Kendall then donated two acres of Kendall Green, his estate in the northeast part of the District, where facilities to both house and educate the 12 deaf and six blind students were constructed. The following year, Kendall persuaded Congress to incorporate the school as the Columbia Institution of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind, Edward Miner Gallaudet was named Columbia’s first superintendent, and his deaf mother Sophia Fowler Gallaudet became the school’s matron.
Sophia’s late husband-and Edward’s father was Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who in 1817 founded the first permanent school for deaf children in the United States. The senior Gallaudet decided to open the school after traveling to Europe from his Hartford, Connecticut home at the behest of Dr. Mason Cogswell, a neighbor. Dr. Cogswell’s nine-year-old daughter Alice was deaf, and the concerned Gallaudet wanted to explore some of the alternative communication methods he heard were being developed on the other side of the Atlantic. Gallaudet’s travels eventually led him to the Institute Royal des Sourds-Muets in Paris where he was invited to study the manual communication methods taught at the school. The American clergyman-who’d graduated first in his class at Yale-quickly mastered the sign language with the aid of deaf faculty members Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. Clerc agreed to accompany Gallaudet back to America, where they were able to raise sufficient funds to start a school in Hartford that taught signing to deaf children. Alice Cogswell was one of seven students enrolled in the first class. The educational facility would become known as the American School for the Deaf, and is still in operation today.
In 1864, Columbia Institution was authorized by Congress to confer college degrees. Edward Gallaudet was named president of the corporation and Kendall chairman of its board of directors Deaf New York artist John Carlin became the first recipient of a degree from the college when he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts for his advocacy work to educate the hearing impaired. In 1865, Congress made a decision to transfer the college’s nine blind students to the Maryland Institution for the Blind, and one year later Melville Ballard was presented with a Bachelor of Science Degree. becoming the first to graduate from Columbia.
Following a tour of Europe to study communication methods at prominent schools for the deaf, Edward Gallaudet recommended in 1867 that lip-reading classes he introduced in the Primary Department for those students “who showed facility in oral exercises.”
The first formal commencement ceremony took place in the spring of 1869, recognizing three students for completing the entire four-year course of study at what was now known as the National Deaf-Mute College. Amos Kendall died later that year, and the remaining 81 acres of his estate were sold to the institution for $85,000. The Primary Department would be moved to a new building in 1885 and become known as the Kendall School.
In an experimental move, the college accepted its first female students to an introductory class in 1887. Their status became permanent the following year. The women were housed on the third floor of the president’s residence. Agatha Tiegel became the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1893 after completing the full course of studies and finishing at the top of her class of 12. During the same year, the name of the college was changed at the request of the alumni association to Gallaudet, in honor of Rev. Thomas Gallaudet. A statue of Rev. Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell, the child who’d inspired his school, was already in place on the campus. Created by famed sculptor Daniel Chester French whose other notable works include the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial and the Minuteman in Concord, Massachusetts-the statue was unveiled in 1889 as a gift from alumni and other sup porters of the college.
Edward Gallaudet resigned as president of the college in 1910 and was replaced by Dr. Percival Hall. The arrival of a new administration brought about significant changes in the Gallaudet curriculum. Gone was the emphasis on technical courses such as mechanical engineering and practical chemistry, replaced by a liberal arts program rich in scientific and cultural studies that could be applied to employment in traditional fields.
As the 20th Century progressed, the curriculum expanded and enrollment grew at Gallaudet. Intercollegiate sports were introduced, and the college’s athletic teams turned in many noteworthy performances. In 1943, Gallaudet’s “Five Iron Men” won the Mason Dixon Conference’s basketball championship. When the school’s football team learned that gridiron foes were “stealing signals” by reading their signed messages. they came up with the idea of forming a “huddle” before each offensive play to ensure the brief strategy sessions remained private. This concept would be adopted by nearly every college, high school and professional team in the years to come.
World War II opened up many teaching positions for Gallaudet graduates at the college when hearing members of the faculty were called into the service. It also reduced the number of undergraduates, as students took jobs in defense plants. In 1945, Dr. Leonard M. Elstad, who had earned his Master’s Degree from Gallaudet in 1922, became the school’s third president.
During the 1950’s government funding to the college was increased substantially, and enrollment grew from about 200 to 700. New facilities were added as well, including an academic building, a gymnasium and a library named for Edward Miner Gallaudet. In 1969, an agreement between Elstad and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare provided for the establishment of the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) on the Gallaudet grounds. When Elstad stepped down from his post later that year, his replacement Dr. Edward C. Merrill implemented the plans for MSSD. Gallaudet alumnus Mervin D. Garretson was appointed its first principal. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed Public Law 91-587 authorizing the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School. Later that year, a Center for Continuing Education opened with courses specifically designed for deaf adults. The Gallaudet campus now offered educational opportunities to deaf and hard of hearing students of all ages.
The 1970s saw the establishment of additional under graduate and graduate degrees, including a doc toral program in special education administration. Additionally, an International Center on Deafness opened, as did a Summer Programs Office, the Gallaudet Research Institute and the National Academy. The Gallaudet Mid-western Regional Center began operations at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, to extend the programs and services of Gallaudet to deaf people and the professionals who work with them. The Northeastern Regional Center opened the following year at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
The curriculum and student body continued to expand in the decade of the ’80s, and five new regional centers were added including one at Kapiolani Community College in Honolulu, Hawaii. Dr. Jerry Lee, who became the institution’s sixth president in 1984, instituted a new master plan called “Gallaudet College-Missions and Goals,” which proposed that the demands of the times and the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people called for new and expanded emphases and broadened services from Gallaudet. In 1986 the Education of the Deaf Act, which accorded university status to Gallaudet, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. A U.S. News and World Report survey of college presidents in 1987 rated Gallaudet as one of the top five liberal arts institutions. east of the Mississippi. Dr. Lee resigned that year. and after an extensive search for a replacement, the university’s Board of Trustees chose Dr. Elisabeth Zinser for the post of president. The choice caused an immediate protest from the student body, who felt the time had come for Gallaudet to be led by someone who truly empathized with them. The Deaf President Now (DPN) movement-which closed the university for a week-captured worldwide attention, creating awareness about deaf people, their language and culture. Dr. Zinser resigned two weeks after her selection, and I. King Jordan (Gallaudet Class of ’70) was appointed as the school’s first deaf president. Philip Bravin (Class of ’66) became the first chairman of the Board of Trustees, a major step in the process toward meeting the demand of the student protesters that 51 percent of the Board be deaf. Dr. Harvey J. Corson was appointed the university’s first deaf provost in 1990.
A significant addition to the Gallaudet campus came about in 1995 with the opening of the state-of-the art, 150,000-square-foot Kellogg Conference Center (GUKCC). Specifically designed to create an environment for excellence in communication and education, the GUKCC features expansive teleconferencing capabilities and accommodates a variety of needs from small committee meetings to national conferences. 93 guest rooms and suites are available.
Enrollment at Gallaudet University in the Fall of 1999 was 1,945, including 1,312 undergraduate, 541 graduate and 92 sign language and professional studies students. International students comprise 10 percent of the student body. Kendall Demonstration Elementary School enrolled 135 students and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf 219 during the 1999 Fall Semester.
The university and its Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center have 1,081 employees, including 233 faculty members. More than one-third of those employed at Gallaudet are deaf or hard of hearing.
Gallaudet University has endorsed direct visual communication among all members of the campus community since its inception, promoting an atmosphere where American Sign Language and English coexist. Three principles guide the university’s Sign Communications Policy:
1. Effective sign communication supports education.
2. Sign communication will be inclusive, recognizing the individual’s communication needs; respectful of each person’s sign language style; and flexible so that public discourse is fully accessible to everyone.
3. Direct sign communication is central to Gallaudet’s vision; therefore, training and assessment programs are available to provide the opportunity for campus to become fluent signers. everyone on
For more information
visit the Gallaudet website at www.gallaudet.edu or call (202) 651-5000