1983 20¢ Great Americans: Thomas H. Gallaudet
US #1861 – Gallaudet served as the school’s first principal until 1830.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc founded the first permanent school for the deaf in America on April 15, 1817.

The first school for the deaf in America opened in 1815. It was opened by William Bolling in Cobbs, Virginia, with John Braidwood serving as the teacher. The school was short-lived, however, closing in the fall of 1816. It was Thomas Gallaudet who would go on to found the first permanent school for the deaf.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was born December 10, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He originally wanted to be a priest, but that changed when he met a young girl named Alice Cogswell.

1993 29¢ American Sign Language
US #2783-84 feature the “manual communication” taught at the American School for the Deaf.

Alice had suffered a terrible fever that left her deaf when she was just two years old. At the time, America had no schools that taught deaf children, so her father, Mason Fitch Cogswell, met with Gallaudet. After spending some time with the girl, Gallaudet believed that, contrary to popular belief, she could be taught. Cogswell and nine other citizens realized the need for a special school for Alice and the other 84 known deaf children in New England. They raised money and sent Gallaudet to Europe, where deaf education was far more advanced, to find qualified teachers.

1993 29¢ American Sign Language
US #2783-84 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

Gallaudet’s first choice, the Braidwood family, demanded compensation for every student taught using their method. After refusing to pay this fee, he met Abbé Sicard, head of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris, and two of its deaf faculty members, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. They invited him to Paris to study their school’s method of manual communication.

1983 20¢ Thomas H. Gallaudet Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #1861 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

Gallaudet was impressed with their teaching method and convinced Clerc to return with him to America to establish a school there. The pair toured New England raising private and public funds, incorporating their new school as the “American Asylum for Deaf-Mutes” in May 1816.

2017 70¢ Robert Panara
US #5191 – Panara attended Gallaudet University and taught there for nearly 20 years before helping found the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

On April 15, 1817, Gallaudet and Clerc opened the American School for the Deaf in Bennett’s City Hotel in Hartford, Connecticut. The first class had seven children, including Alice Cogswell. Two years later the school received its first annual grant from the Connecticut General Assembly. And in 1820, it received a land grant in Alabama Territory, making it the first elementary and secondary special education institution to receive federal aid. To date, over 4,000 students have graduated from the American School for the Deaf.

In 1864, one of Gallaudet’s sons founded the first college for the deaf, which was later renamed Gallaudet University.

FREE printable This Day in History album pages
Download a PDF of today’s article.
Get a binder or other supplies to create your This Day in History album.  

Discover what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
4.9/5 - (62 votes)
Share this Article


  1. This is a nice post… Please support the 2014 submitted proposal made by American School for the Deaf to have a commemorative stamp issued next year in honor of 200th Anniversary of Deaf Education in America.

    Please send your thoughts to:

    Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee
    475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
    Washington, DC 20260-3501

    Thank you…

    1. Definitely time to recognize this Huge beginning for Deaf education. Cominerate the beginnings of Deaf education with a forever U.S. postal stamp for the beginning 200 yrs ago!

  2. I love it. I am a hearing impaired person that I went to Boston School for the Deaf as oral until 1985 (now closed since 1994) then I went to Austine School for the Deaf as sign language and oral (now closed since 2014).

  3. Time for American School for the Deaf to have a stamp in honor of their 200th anniversary as the first Deaf school to start ASL in Deaf Education!!

  4. I am doing family history and looking for a female that was in a school for deaf in Pulaski County little rock Arkansas. This would have in 1800’s. I can’t find any info on the names of students or even the school. I have been collecting stamps for long time and this is a good stamp.

  5. I need to correct you here. Cobbs school is actually called Braidwood Institute for the Deaf and it lasted until 1821.

    Second, Gallaudet did NOT meet the Braidwood family. He met Joseph Watson at the Braidwood school in London, England. John Braidwood was already in the USA by 1812. Joseph had two deaf teachers with him at that school. The word “demand” is inappropriate and misleading. Watson offered him to stay for 3 years to train him, gallaudet declined and did not want to stay 3 years. Again, keep in mind, that school had two deaf teachers there.

    American School for the Deaf is still considered the second PRIVATE deaf school in the USA because 3 of the Braidwood students between 1812 and 1821 attended ASD as their second school. Alumni status cannot be eradicated.

    The first PUBLIC state-supported deaf school was Kentucky School for the Deaf. Any school before Kentucky was either private or semi-private. Oh yes, ASD had tuition fees at an expensive cost.

    Any information, please follow http://www.Instagram.com/heritageasl.

    1. I am curious Kathleen. From what I read it seems that the Braidwood Institute for the Deaf was in fact an oral school. ASD was the first to use ASL in its instruction. If you state that KSD was the first public state-supported school for the deaf, ASD was still before KSD in providing education through ASL. Correct?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *