History Through Deaf Eyes – From Asylum to School

In the early 1800s, some wealthy families in Hartford, Connecticut, pooled their resources to help found churches and other institutions for the public good. Among those institutions was the first permanent school for deaf children — the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb persons.

In the language of the day, asylum meant a safe place, and dumb referred to individuals who did not speak with understandable speech. Because of changing word associations, “asylum” eventually gave way to “institution,” then “school.”

Today the “Connecticut Asylum” is named the American School for the Deaf.

Drawing of Mason Cogswell

Mason F. Cogswell, a wealthy physician and a father in search of an education for his deaf daughter, Alice. He helped found the Connecticut Asylum.

American School for the Deaf

Drawing of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was a recently ordained Congregational minister when he met Cogswell’s daughter, Alice, and became interested in educating deaf children.

American School for the Deaf c. 1830

Oil painting of Laurent Clerc

Laurent Clerc was a brilliant deaf man, a teacher and former student at the Royal Institute for the Deaf in Paris. After traveling with Gallaudet to the United States, Clerc trained instructors and taught students at the school.

American School for the Deaf, portrait of Laurent Clerc (detail), by Charles Willson Peale

Etching of original ASD building

Cogswell, Gallaudet, and Clerc established and maintained the Connecticut Asylum for Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons that is now named the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut.

It is the oldest of many residential schools that opened across the country. Generations of deaf people lived and learned together in these schools.

American School for the Deaf, Engraving by W.R. Cullingsworth c. 1852-1858