The Origins and History of
the American School for the Deaf Alumni Association
Beginning in 1850, since the founding of the American School for the Deaf in 1817, two things were happening. Deaf associations were formed, and large gatherings involving the alumni took place.
The first such organization was the Gallaudet Monument Association in 1850. Its purpose was to raise funds to create a monument to honor Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Laurent Clerc was chosen as president, and the committee dissolved several years later when the association accomplished its mission.
On September 26, 1850, over 400 ASD alumni and students gathered at the Center Congregational Church in Hartford to witness a set of custom engraved coin silver pitchers and salver presented to Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc. The purpose was to express their appreciation and admiration for their first teachers. They signed their names, age, residence, social relations, and occupation in the guest book at the church.
In 1853, there was a Convention of Deaf-Mutes in Montpelier, Vermont, to discuss forming a society to promote the intellectual, social and moral improvement of the Deaf. Thomas Brown, an ASD alumnus, was selected Constitutional Committee Chair and met with his school friends to draft the new organization’s constitution and by-laws. The constitution was adopted on January 9, 1854, and the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf (NEGA) was formally established in Henniker, New Hampshire. It inspired the creation of many local Deaf organizations and eventually the National Association of the Deaf (by another ASD Alumnus, Edmund Booth) in 1880. Thomas Brown served as the first president of the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf for twelve years.
On September 6, 1854, three years after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet’s death, over 400 alumni and friends gathered at the front lawn of the American Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford to view the unveiling of the Monument in honor of Gallaudet. The alumni and visitors signed their names and personal information in the guest book in the same fashion as in 1850, their ages ranging between 16 and 69. The guest books are currently at the Cogswell Heritage House and Yale University historical library.
There was a Convention of the (New England) Gallaudet Association on September 11, 1860. There is no record of the purpose of the gathering, but it may have included administrators and teachers. Laurent Clerc, at age 75, was in attendance along with his wife, Eliza Crocker Broadman Clerc, and their eldest daughter, who was a teacher at ASD.
The Convention of the New England (Gallaudet) Deaf-Mutes Association was held at the American Asylum on August 22, 1866, to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the day Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc arrived in America from France on August 9 in New York, and in Hartford, Connecticut, on August 22, 1816.
On August 21, 1914, at the suggestion of Dr. Frank Wheeler, ASD’s 7th Principal (1913 – 1935), ten alumni met in his office at the Old Hartford School to form a new alumni association. Originally called the Alumni Association of the American School for the Deaf, the name changed to the American School for the Deaf Alumni Association (ASDAA). Alumnus John Moran was its first temporary chair and later the first president. As a part of the proceedings, the group created the ASDAA Preamble (pictured at end of article).
In 1922, the New England Gallaudet Association and ASDAA collaborated to host the NEGA’s 32nd Biennial Convention and ASDAA’s first Biennial reunion at the new campus in West Hartford, Connecticut on September 1 – 4, with about 350 ASD alumni in attendance.
ASDAA celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its founding on June 15 – 17, 1939, in front of the Girls’ Wing at ASD. There was a softball game between the ASD alumni from Connecticut and Massachusetts and a Silver Jubilee banquet.
In 1954, the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf held a 100th Anniversary celebration of the first Deaf convention in the U.S.A. NEGA continued as an organization until 1968.
The 50th Anniversary of ASDAA was celebrated on June 20, 1964, at a banquet at Hotel America in Hartford. The 75th-anniversary celebration was held on September 28 – October 1, 1989, with a dinner at Valle’s Steak House in Hartford. The 100th Anniversary was celebrated on October 4, 2014, with a feast at the Ward Gym at ASD, three years before ASD celebrated the 200th year of its founding in 1817.
ASDAA has collaborated with ASD in planning the 125th (1942), 150th (1967), 175th (1992), and the Bicentennial 200th (2017) Anniversary of its founding. ASDAA also hosts annual Homecoming events, gatherings at Isola Bella, basketball games between the alumni and students, and ice cream/pizza socials for the Senior class. It also sponsors golf tourneys benefitting ASD and awards annual scholarships for one female and one male graduating seniors. In 2017, ASDAA donated $60,000 from the 200th Anniversary events and sponsors to ASD to use for educational purposes, with some going to Isola Bella and the Cogswell Heritage House (ASD Museum).
ASDAA is also responsible for the Sports/Athletics Hall of Fame, established by Steven Borsotti in 1989 to honor selected ASD graduates for notable athletics achievements. The Excellence Hall of Fame was added in 2006 to honor ASD graduates for outstanding contributions to the community. The name changed to Achievement Hall of Fame in 2012.
General meetings and elections are held in odd-numbered years, while by-laws meetings are conducted during even-numbered years.
Alumnus Mary Emma Atkinson was the first female ASDAA President from 1918 – 1919 before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gave (white) women the right to vote in 1920. Alumnus Sandra McLennon was the first Black and Latina to be elected president in 2017.
Since its inception in 1914, the American School for the Deaf Alumni Association has sought to promote a sense of community and loyalty to ASD by keeping the alumni informed of ongoing developments at the school, organizing social events, including fundraisers, and providing members with opportunities to reconnect and give back to their alma mater. ASDAA is proud to recognize nearly 7,000 graduates and former students who have attended the American School for the Deaf.
Long live ASD!
How the ASD Hall of Fame Was Established
The American Alumni Newsletter – Volume 14, Spring 1989, Number 1
On a calm and beautiful Sunday morning, October 1, 1989, a historic event took place on the American School for the Deaf campus. The ASD Alumni Association sponsored its very first Hall of Fame ceremony. Seven former athletes of the ASD were inducted into the ASD Athletic Hall of Fame. Recognized were Walter C. Rockwell, 1909; the late Joseph Bouchard, 1915; Anna (Marino) Fronczek, 1919; the late Harry Kelly, 1927; the late Rae (Martino) DeRose, 1927; Heimo Antila, 1929; and Mary (Maulucci) Zack, 1931.
The day after the largest Saturday night alumni banquet ever, the Hall of Fame committee assumed many people would come late. But more than 130 alumni, friends, and relatives flocked to ASD chapel wanting to witness the historic event. A light breakfast was served because most people were still full from the Saturday night banquet. As soon as the audience was seated, the curtain opened, and standing on the stage were “life-size” posters of each new inductee in their playing uniform.
Our Master of Ceremony, Oscar Shirley began the show with a mix of humor and facts; he explained that he was like a cat with nine lives. Eight of his dreams have already come true, and on this day, his last dream of an establishment of the ASD Hall of Fame was fulfilled.
ASD executive director Winfield McChord and ASDAA president Raymond McDevitt ’63 came to the stage and welcomed everyone. They both emphasized that they were very supportive of the ASD Hall of Fame, and they wanted to establish a Hall of Fame room.
Following their speeches, each inductee was introduced by Albert Darby ’55 and David Halberg ’48. Albert Darby gave brief descriptions of the men’s accomplishments at ASD, while David Halberg did the same for the women. Steve Borsotti, ’77, presented a gold certificate with a black frame to each selected athlete. The calligraphy was beautifully done by David Pires ’77. These certificates are just temporary, however. The official plaques of each inductee will hopefully be made and hanging in the Hall of Fame room for its grand opening in 1992.
Next came our guest speaker of the day, another great former athlete, Albert Couthen, ’61. The AAAD Softball Tournament was played the week before this ceremony. Usually, a person from another state would choose to attend one of the two events, but Albert Couthen attended both. Although he has stronger ties to Washington, D.C., his loyalty to Connecticut remains strong. He was thrilled to hear that ASD had formed a Hall of Fame and gave fascinating stories about his accomplishments while at ASD. We agreed with him that we should have more trophies on display. With a permanent room, we could start to collect more trophies and memorabilia.
Lastly, Steve Borsotti, ’77, chairman of the ASD Hall of Fame, explained how the Hall of Fame began as an idea and became a reality. Borsotti spoke about forming a local committee to oversee the Hall of Fame. Within fifteen minutes, he was unexpectedly flooded with many donations that added up to thousands of dollars to establish the ASD Hall of Fame.
After the ceremony, there was a social hour with snapshots and people congratulating each other. Many fine athletes of the past should not be overlooked and are good role models for young people today. ASD has a rich sports history that should be recognized. After a long wait of 172 years, ASD finally has its Hall of Fame!
By Steve Borsotti ‘ 77