Sophia Fowler Gallaudet was the deaf wife of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who founded the first permanent public school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. She did not allow her deafness to prevent her from leading a full life. She was educated, raised a family, ran a busy household, and helped to found Gallaudet College.

Sophia Fowler was born deaf near Guilford, Connecticut, on March 20, 1798. At that time, there were no schools for the deaf in America. However, Sophia had a good mind. She used her intellect and learned many skills by watching the people around her. She learned to cook and sew, and became a modest, gay and charming young lady.

Sophia was nineteen years old when her parents learned that a school for the deaf had been founded in Hartford, Connecticut. She entered the school in 1817 and stayed there until the spring of 1821. While she was there, the principal of the school, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. Sophia did not hesitate, and married him in 1821.

As Mrs. Gallaudet, she continued to charm the people she met. She was eager to learn from every social situation. Through her contact with the many visitors to her home, she was actually able to continue her education.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet died in 1851, leaving his wife to make a life without him. However, her eight children did not leave her without support. With the help of her grown children, she continued to keep house for those children that had not yet married.

In 1857, Mrs. Gallaudet’s youngest son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, became principal of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. He was only 20 years at the time, but his ambition was to establish a college for the deaf. His mother shared his dream and work. She often met with members of Congress and other prominent men in order to gain support for her goals. Through them, she helped to obtain funds to found and maintain Gallaudet College.

Mrs. Gallaudet served as matron of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (now Kendall Demonstration School and Gallaudet College) for nine years. This included two years as head of the department that taught many of the household skills that she had learned as a child, such as cooking and sewing. She retired only when her health began to fail.

During her last years, Mrs. Gallaudet spent the winters in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the year traveling and visiting her children and grandchildren. She died on May 13, 1877. Gallaudet has preserved her memory by naming Fowler Hall, which was originally a women’s dormitory and is now part of the graduate school, in her honor.

Adapted from: Goodstein, A. & Walworth, M. (1979). “Interesting Deaf Americans.” Washington, DC: Gallaudet University. Used with permission from the Gallaudet University Alumni Association. Revised by Vivion Smith and Ellen Beck.

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