Areas of Study

MSS 86 – Weld, Lewis, 1796-1853
Papers of Lewis Weld and the American School for the Deaf, 1817-1849
Gallaudet University Archives

Descriptive Summary
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 86
Title: Papers of Lewis Weld and the American School for the Deaf, 1817-1849.

Quantity: 0.5 Linear Feet (1 document box)
Note: This document last updated 2006 January 11.
Administrative Information
Acquisition Information: The Lewis Weld and American School for the Deaf collection was donated to the Gallaudet University Archives by Dr. Leonard Rakow.
Processed by: Michael Olson. 1998 July 27.
Processing Note: Revised by Gary Brooks.
Conditions on Use and Access:
This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.

Related Material in the Archives


  • Lewis Weld [picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: Portraits


  • Papers, James Denison, 1850-1851.Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: SMSS

Vertical Files

  • Lewis Weld. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: Deaf Biographical

Biographical Sketch

1796 Lewis Weld was born on October 17 in Hampton, Connecticut.
1814 Weld entered Yale College.
1818 Four years later he graduated from Yale.
1818 The same year Weld was appointed instructor at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut for three years.
1822 Lewis Weld was appointed Principal of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf, at Philadelphia for, eight years.
1830 After the resignation of Thomas H. Gallaudet, Weld was made Principal at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, for twenty-three years. His success in this office gave him a wide reputation in his own field. For the last few years of his life he was a sufferer from a chronic disease.
1853 Weld died on December 30th in Hampton, Connecticut.

A brief history of the American School for the Deaf
The American School for the Deaf is the oldest school for the deaf in the United States, and the oldest special education institution of any kind in the western hemisphere. It was founded in 1817 by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc.

Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia on December 10, 1787, to French Huguenot parents. His family later moved to Hartford, near the home of Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell, a prominent surgeon in the town.

Dr. Cogswell’s daughter Alice had been deafened in infancy by a childhood illness associated with a prolonged high fever. Young Gallaudet, a divinity student and a graduate of Yale College, was home from Andover Seminary convalescing from a chronic illness. He observed Alice’s attempts to communicate with her siblings and the neighborhood children at play. Although not trained to teach deaf children, Gallaudet convincingly demonstrated that Alice could learn and should be afforded the opportunity to attend school.
Dr. Cogswell was excited about the prospects for educating his daughter and all deaf children in the country. The Congregational Churches of New England, probably the most reliable source of census data of that day, reported 80 deaf children in New England and approximately 800 deaf children in entire United States. Gallaudet, Cogswell, and ten prominent citizens decided an American school for the deaf was sorely needed. In just one afternoon, sufficient funds were raised to send Gallaudet to Europe to study the methods of teaching the deaf.

The Braidwood family, formerly of Edinburgh, Scotland, operated a school for the deaf in London as a family business. They did not wish to share their knowledge to train prospective teachers of the deaf, unless terms could be negotiated to pay the Braidwood family, on a per capita basis, for each deaf child who would be subsequently educated using the Braidwood methods. Gallaudet would not sign such an agreement or embrace the doctrinal tenets of the Braidwood system. He remained in London for 13 months, but gave up hope of bringing the Braidwood system back to Hartford.

The Abbe Sicard, Director of the French Institute for the Deaf in Paris, was in London at that time with his two deaf assistants, Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc, giving lectures and demonstrations on the methods used to educate deaf children in France. Gallaudet was familiar with the work of the French School, and had even met with the Abbe at the beginning of his visit to England, but it was not until he had despaired of reaching his goal with the English that he turned to the French. Gallaudet attended one of the lectures, met with the Abbe and his assistant, and accepted their invitation to enter the teacher preparation program at the French school.
Laurent Clerc worked closely with Gallaudet, but there was not sufficient time for Gallaudet to master all the techniques and manual communication skills before his diminishing funds forced him to book return passage to America. Gallaudet prevailed on Sicard to allow Laurent Clerc to accompany him on the return trip to America to establish an American School. In the fifty-five days of the return voyage, Gallaudet learned the language of signs from Clerc, and Clerc learned English from Gallaudet.

The oldest existing school for the deaf in America opened on April 15, 1817. The school became the first recipient of state aid to education in America when the Connecticut General Assembly awarded its first annual grant to the school in 1819.

When the United States Congress awarded the school a land grant in the Alabama Territory in 1820, it was the first instance of federal aid to elementary and secondary special education in the United States. More than four thousand alumni have claimed this historic school as their alma mater.[extracts from]

Scope and Content
Lewis Weld and American School for the Deaf collection contains one box of journals, letter book, and composition dated from 1817-1849. In this collection, it contains four journals and a letter book written by Lewis Weld in his journals, concerning the Schools and Institutions for the Deaf and Dumb both in America and Europe. An original composition book of Abigail Dillingham, Sophia Fowler, and Alice Cogswell dated from 1817-1818, original letters of pupils in the Connecticut Asylum dated from 1818-1819.

Series Descriptions and Folder Lists

No Series

Box Folder Title of Folder Date
1 1 Journal No. 1 1844
1 2 Journal No. 2 1844
1 3 Journal No. 3 1844
1 4 School Room-Journal No. 1 1846-1847
1 5 Letter book No. 8 of Lewis Weld 1846-1849
1 6 Original Compositions of Abigail Dillingham Sophia Fowler, Alice Cogswell 1817-1818
1 7 Original Letters of Pupils in the Connecticut Asylum 1818-1819

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