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The Education Of Deaf Mutes: Shall It Be By Signs Or Articulation?

Creator: Gardiner Greene Hubbard (author)
Date: 1867
Publisher: A. Williams & Co., Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries

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THE attention of the writer was first called to the education of the deaf by the loss of hearing of his daughter, four years ago, and his efforts to preserve her articulation, which have been to a great degree successful; subsequently, by the discussion of the subject before a Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, on the recommendation of Governor Bullock that the State should undertake the education of her own deaf mutes. This discussion has led to an inquiry into the management and method of teaching and the results accomplished at the American Asylum for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb.


G. G. H.






THE education of deaf mutes in schools or asylums was commenced in Europe about the middle of the last century; but it was not until fifty years later that the attention of benevolent men in this country was directed to the subject. Dr. Coggswell, a prominent citizen of Hartford, Conn., had a deaf-mute daughter Alice, whose situation excited the sympathy of many friends, and led to inquiries as to the number of deaf mutes in the country. To the surprise of all, there were found to be about four hundred in New England, and about two thousand in the whole United States. It was at once determined to found an institution for the instruction of this hitherto neglected class, and the Rev. Mr. Gallaudet was sent abroad to ascertain what had been done, and what were the best modes of instruction.


Mr. Gallaudet was a friend and neighbor of Dr. Coggswell, and much interested in Alice. He was graduated at Yale College in 1805, and was subsequently tutor; he studied law in Hartford, served as a clerk in a store in New York, and finally prepared for the ministry at Andover, and was at this time just ready to enter upon his profession. In the words of his friend and eulogist, Dr. Peet, of the New York Asylum, "he was a singularly good and useful, rather than great man, somewhat deficient in boldness and originality," -- to which all who have seen his portrait on the walls of the American Asylum will assent.


Mr. Gallaudet sailed for England in May, 1815, and the day after his arrival in London applied for admission to the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, of which Dr. Watson was the Principal, and which was then, as now, the largest in the world. After some delay, his application was granted by the Directors, on condition that he would engage as an assistant for three years, on the usual terms. This condition he refused to comply with, and went to Edinburgh, where he made a similar application to Mr. Kinniburgh, the Principal of the Asylum in that city. Mr. Kinniburgh was a pupil of Thomas Braidwood of Edinburgh, and had given bonds to him that he would not communicate his art to any teacher for seven years, four of which only had expired. He was, however, willing to instruct Mr. Gallaudet, if permission could be obtained from the widow of Mr. Braidwood. Application was made to her, but she refused to waive the penalty of the bond, and Mr. Kinniburgh was reluctantly obliged to decline Mr. Gallaudet's request. Mr. Braidwood was the uncle of Dr. Watson, and founder of the English schools. His mode of teaching was by "the art of articulation," and the schools then in operation in Great Britain were taught either by his family and relatives or by teachers instructed by them. Children of the poor were supported by charity, while for the education of the wealthy large sums were paid, and to secure these wealthy pupils the art was kept a secret.


Mr. Gallaudet was thus thwarted in his plans, and the system of articulation lost to this country for a generation. While waiting in London for an answer from Dr. Watson, Mr. Gallaudet called on the Abbé Sicard of Paris, who was at that time lecturing upon his system of teaching deaf mutes by signs. Mr. Gallaudet informed the Abbé of his mission, was cordially received, and promised every facility in learning the French system, if he would visit Paris, and place himself under the instruction of the Abbé.


Mr. Gallaudet spent a few months in Edinburgh, studying French, and reading Sicard's treatise on the instruction of deaf mutes, and in the spring of 1816 went to Paris, where he was at once admitted into the school, without any conditions. Here he remained about two months, when M. Clerc, one of the Abbé Sicard's assistants, offered to accompany him to America. His proposition was gladly accepted, and in the month of August, 1816, they arrived at Hartford, bringing with them the French system of signs, with its peculiar idioms of construction, instead of the English method of articulation. M. Clerc continued an assistant at the Asylum for many years, and is still connected with the school where for more than half a century he has faithfully labored.




During the absence of Mr. Gallaudet, an act of incorporation was granted to the Connecticut Asylum, and subscriptions were asked to this new charity, "its views having nothing of a local kind, its constitution inviting to the direction of its concerns individuals of any of the States." $26,000 were raised, only one fourth of which was contributed by citizens of the State of Connecticut. In the year 1819 a grant of land was made to the Asylum by Congress; and the same year the name of the institution was changed to the American Asylum. In the act changing the name, it was recited, "that the institution was originally founded for the relief of the deaf and dumb, wherever situated." $287,000 was realized from the sale of these lands, and constitutes the greater portion of their present capital, which is $ 290,000, of which $82,000 is invested in real estate and buildings, the remainder in dividend-paying stocks.

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