Deaf History Month – Commemorating Milestones in Deaf Education

by Feb 1, 2019CMMA Blog0 comments


Deaf History Month, actually spans two months from March 13 – April 15. The dates are selected to commemorate major milestones in deaf education, that occurred in the span of those dates. Today, it is not uncommon to see itinerant teachers, interpreters, and note takers in the classroom. However, prior to the 19th century in the U.S., formal education for the Deaf was virtually nonexistent. As a result, many colonial families had to send their hard of hearing children to Europe for schooling.

In 1812 in New England, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet met a deaf girl named Alice Cogswell, who inspired him to create a school for the deaf in the United States. In 1815, he traveled to Europe to observe their methods of teaching deaf students.[1]

On April 15, 1817, Gallaudet would go on to start the American School for the Deaf, with the help of Laurent Clerc, a teacher he invited back from Europe. Alice Cogswell, the girl who originally inspired Gallaudet, would go on to be one of the first seven students to attend.[2]

The school sparked a new wave of deaf schools in the U.S., with more than thirty opening in the 1800’s. Many of these schools utilized “manualism” which is what we now recognize as American Sign Language. This sat in contrast with “oralism” which educated the Deaf through lip reading, and finding ways of mimicking speech. A notable oralist was Alexander Graham Bell. He supported it in order to integrate the Deaf into the mainstream community.[3]

On April 13, 1864, Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) was founded in Washington, D.C with Thomas Gallaudet’s son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, as the school’s superintendent. President Lincoln signed the charter establishing a college for the deaf. This event is known as Gallaudet Charter Day, and is usually marked with a luncheon and awards program at Gallaudet University.

March 13 is the first day of Deaf History Month. It marks the day that Dr. I King Jordan was selected as the first deaf president of Gallaudet University. On March 6, 1988, amidst a hail of controversy, Dr. Elizabeth Zinser was selected over Jordan.

However, the selection sparked the Deaf President Now movement. The student body was outraged at Jordan being spurned. Students locked the doors to the university and demanded that Zinser resign. Zinser would resign on the fifth day of protests and the Board of Trustees selected King Jordan on March 13.[4]

Deaf History Month is a time to reflect on the educational development of the Deaf community. Education, support, and early childhood development is crucial for the hard of hearing. To ensure that the Deaf community is able to prosper and contribute, progress in their educational methods must never cease. Deafness may be considered a disability, but it does not have to be a hindrance. Though they may not always be heard, their contributions are felt.

[1] Crouch, Barry A.; Greenwald, Brian H. (2007). “Hearing with the Eye: The Rise of Deaf Education in the United States”.

[2] Marschark, Marc; Lang, Harry G; Albertini, John A. (2002). Educating Deaf Students.

[3] Winefield, Richard (1987). Never the Twain Shall Meet: The Communications Debate

[4] “The Week of DPN.”. Deaf President Now Protest. Gallaudet University. 2011.





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