This Day in History… September 10, 1851

Death of Thomas Gallaudet 

U.S. #1861 from the Great Americans series.

Deaf education pioneer, Thomas Gallaudet died on September 10, 1851.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was born on December 10, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From a young age he wanted to be a priest, but also considered other vocations. He graduated from Yale University at 17 before earning his master’s degree there three years later.

After graduating, Gallaudet considered a career in law, trade, or theology. He chose to attend Andover Theological Seminary and became a preacher in 1814. However, Gallaudet changed his plans after he met a young girl named Alice Cogswell. Alice had suffered a terrible fever that left her deaf. At the time, America had no schools that taught deaf children, so her father, Mason Fitch Cogswell, met with Gallaudet.

U.S. #1861 FDC – Gallaudet Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

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 these children. They raised money and sent Gallaudet to Europe to find qualified teachers.

U.S. #1861 FDC – Gallaudet Fleetwood First Day Cover.

Gallaudet’s first choice, the Braidwoods, demanded compensation for every student taught using their method. Refusing to pay this fee, he turned to the School for the Deaf in Paris. Soon, Gallaudet was on his way back to America, learning sign language from Laurent Clerc on the boat. On April 15, 1817, Gallaudet and Clerc opened the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, the first school for deaf children in America. About two years later, the school became the first school of its kind to receive federal aid.

U.S. #2783-84 was based on a photo of a deaf mother and her baby. The child from the original photo went on to attend Gallaudet University.

Gallaudet went on to write children’s books and continue to be a champion for the deaf. He died on September 10, 1851, in Hartford, Connecticut. Years later, his youngest son helped to establish Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in his honor.

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