The French Connection – The Exciting Conclusion!

Robert Traynor
June 8, 2011
Centre for Deaf Studies (1997) suggests that early efforts to bring education of the hearing impaired to the United States involved Francis Green, an American from Boston whose son had been educated at the secretive Braidwood School in Edinburgh and later London.  The success of his son with Braidwood Method spurred Green to became an activist, urging the beginning of the first school for the deaf in the USA circa 1810…..which sets the climate for the conclusion of our REAL French Connection. The climate was very ripe for the beginning of an American School for the Deaf around 1810 and early attempts to establish a school were with the Braidwoods due to the success of Green’s son with their Method.  A famous early attempt to obtain the services of John Braidwood, the grandson of Thomas Braidwood.  He was brought to the USA to set it up and was expected to establish an an oral school in Baltimore and in Virginia. However, he had a major drinking problem which affected his ability to functioning not to mention his teaching capability and it led to his early death.
Enter the cast of characters for our REAL French Connection for teaching the Deaf in the USA.
Alice Cogswell, the daughter of prominent Phililadelphia surgeon, Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell and
Thomas Hopkis Gallaudet (1787-1851). According to the American School for the Deaf (2011),

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia on December 10, 1787, to French Huguenot parents. His family later moved to Hartford, near the home of Dr. Cogswell. As told by the American School for theDeaf (2011)…….. Dr. Cogswell’s daughter Alice had been deafened in infancy by a childhood illness associated with a prolonged high fever. Young Gallaudet, a divinity student and a graduate of Yale College, was home from Andover Seminary convalescing from a chronic illness when he observed attempts to communicate with her siblings and the neighborhood children at play.  Although not trained to teach deaf children, Gallaudet convincingly demonstrated that Alice

Alice Cogswell Statue at Gallaudet

could learn and should be afforded the opportunity to attend school.   Dr. Cogswell was excited about the prospects for educating his daughter and all deaf children in the country. The Congregational Churches of New England, probably the most reliable source of census data of that day, reported 80 deaf children in New England and approximately 800 deaf children in entire U.S.   Gallaudet, Cogswell, and ten prominent citizens decided an American school for the deaf was sorely needed. In just one afternoon, sufficient funds were raised to send Gallaudet to Europe to study the methods of teaching the deaf.   Enter our friends……..

Braidwood School circa 1810

the secretive Braidwood family that, as you will recall from Part II, operated a school for the deaf in London as a family business. The fiasco with John Braidwood notwithstanding, the Braidwood School would not share their knowledge to train prospective teachers of the deaf, unless terms could be negotiated to pay the Braidwood family, on a per capita basis, for each deaf child who would be subsequently educated using their method.  American School for the Deaf (2011) indicates that Gallaudet objected to this “highway robbery”  attitude and he would not sign such an agreement or embrace the doctrinal tenets of the Braidwood system. He remained in London for 13 months, but gave up hope of bringing the Braidwood system back to Hartford.  Van Cleve (1999) indicates that during Gallaudet’s time in London, Abbe Sicard, Director of the French Institute for the Deaf in Paris, was giving lectures and

Abbe Sicard

demonstrations London with his two deaf assistants, Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc, giving lectures and demonstrations on the methods used to educate deaf children in France. Gallaudet was familiar with the work of the French School, and had even met with the Abbe at the beginning of his visit to England, but it was not until he had despaired of reaching his goal with the English that he turned to the French, our REAL FRENCH CONNECTION. In an effort to review the French technique, Gallaudet attended one of the lectures, met with Sicard and his assistants, accepting their invitation to enter the teacher preparation program at the French school.   Although Laurent Clerc worked closely with Gallaudet, there was not sufficient time for Gallaudet to master all of the techniques and manual communication skills before his diminishing funds forced him to book return passage to America. Gallaudet prevailed on Sicard to allow Laurent Clerc to accompany him on the return trip to America to establish an American School. In the fifty-five days of the return voyage, Gallaudet learned the language of signs from Clerc, and Clerc learned English from Gallaudet.
The oldest existing school for the deaf in America opened in Bennett’s City Hotel on April 15, 1817. The school became the first recipient of state aid to education in America when the Connecticut General Assembly awarded its first annual grant to the school in 1819. The American School for the Deaf became the first recipient of state aid to education in America when the Connecticut


General Assembly awarded its first annual grant to the school in 1819. When the United States Congress awarded the school a land grant in the Alabama Territory in 1820, it was the first instance of federal aid to elementary and secondary special education in the United States. More than four thousand alumni have claimed this historic school as their alma mater .   Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, of course,  went on to become the founder of Gallaudet College in Washington, DC and Laurent Clerc became the link between France and the United States.  Thus, American Sign Language really started as French Sign Language and  Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc are the REAL FRENCH CONNECTION…..RMT
NEXT WEEK….If you do not know what an Akustiker is…. Hearing International look the Akustikers role in hearing health care….RMT
American School for the Deaf, (ASD) (2011). The History of ASD, The American School for the Deaf, Retrieved from the World Wide Web June 1, 2011:, Thomas Braidwood.  Retrieved from the World Wide Web June1, 2011:
Bender, R., (1960).  The Conquest of Deafness, Press of Case Western Reserve:  Cleveland, Ohio.
Centre for Deaf Studies(1997).  Oralism v. Manualism, Centre for Deaf Studies, University of Bristol, Retrieved from the World Wide Web June 1, 2011:
French Connection (1971). 20th Century Fox, Los Angeles, CA. Internet Movie Database, Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 22, 2011:
Lang, H., (20110).  Genesis of the Communicty:  The American Deaf Experience in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, In The Deaf Reader, J. Van Cleve, Editor:  Retrieved from the world Wide Web June, 1,2011:
Van Cleve, J. (1999).  Deaf History Unvieled.  Interpretations from the new scholarship,  Washington, DC:  Gallaudet University Press.
birdsong hearing benefits

Leave a Reply