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A Brief History Of The Pennsylvania Institution For The Deaf And Dumb

Creator: H. Van Allen (author)
Date: 1893
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6

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ALTHOUGH the education of the deaf and dumb had been carried on in Europe most successfully for many years previously, it was not until 1815 that any steps were taken to establish a school for their instruction in America. In that year a number of gentlemen in Hartford, Conn., furnished the means for sending a young clergyman, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, to Europe to acquaint himself with the methods of instructing the deaf employed there, with a view to their introduction in this country. Mr. Gallaudet visited Great Britain, and after endeavoring in vain to induce the heads of the English and Scotch schools to give him the desired information, he chanced to meet in London with the Abbe Sicard, the successor of the benevolent Abbe de l'Epee, who, upon learning the nature of Mr. Gallaudet's mission, cordially invited him to visit and inspect the celebrated school in Paris, of which he had charge. This invitation was eagerly accepted, and Mr. Gallaudet accompanied the abbe to Paris. Here he was given all the information that he desired, and, what was perhaps of quite as much importance, secured the services of Laurent Clerc, one of Sicard's most brilliant pupils, who returned with him to this country as a teacher.


In 1817, shortly after Mr. Gallaudet's return, the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb was opened at Hartford, and the work of educating the deaf in this country was fairly begun. The eight months between their arrival and the opening of the school were consumed by Mr. Gallaudet and Mr. Clerc in visiting several of the important cities of the country, among them Philadelphia, for the purpose of arousing public interest in the proposed school. In Philadelphia, on December 7,1816, they addressed a public meeting held in Washington Hall, on South Third Street, at which the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, William Tilghman, presided, and John Bacon acted as secretary. Great interest was aroused in the subject of the education of the deaf, and the meeting appointed a committee of prominent citizens to solicit contributions for the proposed school. The action of the meeting in taking measures to assist an enterprise without the borders of the commonwealth gave rise to a brief but spirited discussion in the public prints of the day, in the course of which the action of the meeting was as warmly defended as it was criticised.*


*For the information in regard to the visit to Philadelphia of Mr. Gallaudet and Mr. Clerc, I am indebted to a newspaper clipping preserved in a scrap-book formerly the property of Jonah Thompson, and donated to the library of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb by his grand-nephew, John T. Morris, a member of the present Board of Directors.


It is an interesting fact that about the time Mr. Gallaudet was in Paris studying the method of Sicard, a pupil of the Abbe St. Sernin, at Bordeaux, M. Gard, made overtures to several distinguished citizens of Philadelphia, and was given considerable encouragement to cross the ocean and establish a school in this city . The success of the efforts to establish the school at Hartford, and the fear that an attempt to establish a similar school elsewhere might do harm to the prospects of one or both schools, led to the dropping of the matter. The following letter written by Jonah Thompson, and published in one of the Philadelphia papers, will throw light upon a portion of the early history of deaf mute education in this country with which the public is not generally acquainted :*


* The original draft of the letter is in the library of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.


As an individual whose feelings have for some time past been considerably interested in the instruction of the deaf and dumb, I could not but regret the publication of Mr. Gard's letter in a morning paper, and beg leave to submit a few observations on the remarks accompanying it.


This letter was enclosed some months since by Mr. Lee, the American Consul at Bordeaux, to a number of respectable gentlemen in different parts of the United States, and several individuals on their own responsibility contemplated giving Mr. Gard every encouragement to emigrate to this city. The measure was, however, abandoned by information of Mr. Gallaudet's progress in the necessary arrangements for forming a School in Connecticut, uniting the advantages of the English and French mode of tuition, and thereby promoting a uniform system in the United States.


The principles of education are entirely different in those rival countries. Indeed almost as much dissimilarity prevails as exists in their respective languages. This has been occasioned by national prejudices and has prevented Mr. Braidwood and the Abbe Sicard, with their adherents in each system, from realizing the advantages which each might have derived from the other. By the French method, attention is exclusively given to the improvement of the mind of the pupil and extending his mental conceptions to the highest degree of expansion and communication by signs as well as by writing. From the necessary abstraction from other subjects, except the one immediately exciting attention, we may reasonably conclude that from minds thus improved great perfection in science will be attained. Indeed it is questionable whether more sublime ideas have ever been expressed than those communicated in writing by the pupils of the Abbe Sicard, particularly by Clerc, Massieu and Gard.

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