Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, LL.D., (December 10, 1787 – September 10, 1851) was a renowned American pioneer in the education of the deaf. He helped found and was for many years the principal of the first institution for the education of the deaf in North America. When opened in 1817, it was called the "Hartford School for the Deaf" in Connecticut, but it is now known as the American School for the Deaf.
Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Yale University, earning his bachelor's degree in 1805 and master's degree in 1810. He wanted to do many things such as study law, engage in trade, or study divinity. In 1814 Gallaudet became a preacher.
Gallaudet's wish to become a preacher was put aside when he met Alice Cogswell, the nine-year-old deaf daughter of a neighbor, Dr. Mason Cogswell. He taught her words by writing them with a stick in the dirt. Then Cogswell asked Gallaudet to travel to Europe to study methods for teaching deaf students, especially those of the Braidwood family in Edinburgh, Scotland. Gallaudet found the Braidwoods unwilling to share knowledge of their oral communication method and himself financially limited. At the same time, he was not satisfied that the oral method produced desirable results.
While still in Great Britain, he met Abbé Sicard, head of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets in Paris, and two of its deaf faculty members, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. Sicard invited Gallaudet to Paris to study the school's method of teaching the deaf using manual communication. Impressed with the manual method, Gallaudet studied teaching methodology under Sicard, learning sign language from Mssieu and Clerc, who were both highly educated graduates of the school.
Having persuaded Clerc to accompany him, Gallaudet sailed back to America. The two men toured New England and successfully raised private and public funds to found a school for deaf students in Hartford, which later became known as the American School for the Deaf. Young Alice was one of the first seven students in the United States. This is where his school began. Even some hearing students came to this school to learn.
His son Edward Miner Gallaudet (1837-1917) founded in 1864 the first college for the deaf which in 1986 became Gallaudet University. The university also offers education for those in elementary, middle, and high school. The elementary school on the Gallaudet University Campus is named Kendall Demonstration School for the Deaf, the middle and high school is Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD).
Gallaudet had another son, Thomas Gallaudet, who became an Episcopal priest and also worked for the deaf.
Thomas H. Gallaudet saw a barrier between the hearing world and the deaf and spent his adult life bridging the communication gap. He died at his home in Hartford on September 10, 1851, aged 63, and was buried in Hartford's Cedar Hill Cemetery. There is a residence hall named in his honor at nearby Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.