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Celebrating Deaf History Month

Mar 14, 2011

Since 1988, March 13 - April 15 has marked the celebration of Deaf History Month in the United States. The bounding dates on both sides reflect milestones in the history of deaf culture, from the first deaf president being elected at Gallaudet University to the establishment of the American School of the Deaf, the first public school of its kind, in 1817. Pretty much everyone knows the inspiring story of Helen Keller, but here are some other key figures in deaf history.

By Eric Garneau

The Gallaudets

Though neither of this father-and-son pair were hearing-impaired, Thomas and Edward Miner Gallaudet are two of the premiere names in the history of deaf education. Together, the Galludets carved out a legacy of expanding opportunities for hearing-impaired citizens throughout the world.

Thomas

The senior Gallaudet graduated from Yale University with a degree in education in 1805. Spurred on by his interest in educating Alice Cogswell, the deaf daughter of his family's doctor, Thomas decided that it was essential for special care to be taken in educating the deaf and mute population. After a few trips overseas to recruit help, 1817 saw Thomas establishing the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, later renamed the American School for the Deaf. This was the first public institution for the differently-abled created in the United States. Thomas thus served as the inspiration for Gallaudet University, the world's only collegiate institution especially designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Edward Miner

Thomas' son, Edward Miner, was no slacker himself when it came to deaf education. He carried on his father's work and became superintendent of the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind in 1857. In an act of boldness, in the midst of the Civil War, E.M. turned to Congress to gain support and funding for his dream project: a college for the deaf and mute. To his surprise, he found no dissent, and President Lincoln signed what would be referred to as 'The Charter' into law in 1864. Thus, Gallaudet University was born. Outside of his work with deaf students, E.M. was also a renowned authority on international law.

girl signing

Laurent Clerc

Frenchman Clerc, discovered to be deaf at an early age, was one of Thomas Gallaudet's key helpers in establishing education for the hearing-impaired in America. He helped set up Gallaudet's Connecticut school and was its head teacher for a number of years. He worked primarily with grade-school students, as well as would-be teachers and administrators, both hearing-impaired and not. Impressively, he was the first-ever deaf person to address Congress, and also helped secure the first ever appropriation of government funds to aid in the education of the differently-abled.

Juliette Low

Born in 1860, Juliette Low suffered from chronic ear infections, and lost hearing completely in one ear due to mistreatment. On her wedding day, a thrown grain of rice got stuck in her other ear, puncturing the eardrum and completely divorcing her of her hearing. Though she struggled with a hearing loss and a crumbling marriage, Juliette found her calling in 1911 when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. Intrigued by his work, she initiated the Girl Scouts of America movement a year later. What began with 18 girls has now become a massive force that helps educate girls around the world.

girl scout stamp

Andrew Foster

Successfully completing his studies at Gallaudet University in 1954, Foster was its first African-American graduate. In 1957, he courageously decided to uproot himself to Africa, where deaf children typically dealt with horrendous conditions. He set up the continent's first school for the deaf in Ghana soon afterward, and helped found 30 more in the next 30 years. Since then, hundreds of similar schools have sprung up in Africa, vastly improving the quality of life for differently-abled children there.

Lou Ferrigno

One of the famous members of the hard-of-hearing community in the entertainment industry, Lou Ferrigno has carved out such an impressive career for himself as an actor and fitness expert, many may not even realize his impediment. Ferrigno came to fame as the superhero 'The Incredible Hulk' on the 1970s television show of the same name and is currently a renowned bodybuilder, personal trainer and two-time Mr. Universe champion. Younger readers may best know him as the guy who punched out Paul Rudd in 2009's I Love You Man.

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