At the request of Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell, the General Association of Congregational Ministers in Connecticut commissioned a census of the state’s deaf population. The census reported that there were 84 deaf people in Connecticut. Based on the census, they estimated a number of 400 deaf people in New England and 2,000 in the United States.
Bringing the facts to the attention of his wealthy and influential friends and neighbors, Dr. Cogswell attempted to interest them in the project of establishing a school for the education of the deaf.
On April 13, 1815, the following gentlemen met by invitation at the home of Dr. Cogswell: Joseph Battell, Sr.,,Daniel Buck, John Caldwell, Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, Henry Hudson, Rev. Nathan Strong, Nathaniel Terry, Daniel Wadsworth and Ward Woodbridge.
After a prayer by Rev. Strong and a full study of the practicability of sending someone to Europe to study the methods of instructing the deaf, Dr. Cogswell and Mr. Woodbridge were tasked with the responsibility of choosing a suitable person who would consent to go, and to raise funds to defray his expenses.
Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, a graduate of Yale University and Andover Theological Seminary was the first choice and solicited to go to Europe and undertake the important work. On April 20, Gallaudet informed Dr. Cogswell and Mr. Woodbridge of his “willingness to undertake the employment of instruction of the deaf and dumb in my country”.
So great was the interest taken by the people of Hartford, by then a bustling town of 6,000 people, that Mr. Woodbridge was able to secure $2133 in a single day.
On May 25th, Gallaudet set sail for Liverpool, England aboard the Mexico. He returned a year later with Laurent Clerc after studying at the Royal Institute of Deaf Mutes in Paris for several months.
Several of the ten benefactors continued to take an interest in the school, serving on the Board of Directors. One of them accompanied Laurent Clerc to Washington, D.C. to raise funds for the school. It resulted in the first federal aid to support special education of any kind.
In 1953, the American School for the Deaf Founders Memorial statue sculpted by Francis Laughlin Wadsworth, whose husband, Robert H. Wadsworth was a descendant of one of the ten benefactors, Daniel Wadsworth, was unveiled on April 15 in Hartford, CT on Asylum and Farmington Avenues. The statue was a gift from the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf to honor the founders of the school. The hands holding Alice Cogswell form the sign for “enlightenment” which the founders brought to deaf people through education and each of the 10 fingers represent the original ten founders of the school.
Language, Culture, Communities: 200 Years of Impact by the American School for the Deaf, American School for the Deaf, April 2017
Life of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, Edward Minor Gallaudet, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 1888