Education for the Deaf

  • Prosperity
  • 1856

In 1856, Amos Kendall, who had made his fortune helping Samuel Morse commercialize his telegraph patents, was touched by the plight of several deaf and blind children in the nation’s capital. A neighbor had discovered the children cruelly neglected in a “school” for disabled children run by a con man who displayed them to raise money for himself. Kendall went to court to be appointed their guardian, and began teaching them himself. Then he donated two acres for housing and educating the children and got Congress to incorporate the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind. The first superintendent was Edward Gallaudet, whose father had founded and run one of North America’s first schools for the hard-of-hearing in 1817 (now the American School for the Deaf). Both Gallaudets pioneered the use of sign language for instruction. In 1864 a collegiate department was created—North America’s first institution of higher education for the deaf. When Amos Kendall died, the government purchased the remainder of his estate to keep the school together. Later the pre-college part was renamed the Kendall School, and the higher-education division became Gallaudet College.