The Origins of Deaf History Month

Deaf History Month occurs in April. It is an opportunity to commemorate the historic barriers to inclusion that deaf Americans have faced and to recognize their achievements in overcoming such extraordinary challenges. Accommodations for deaf Americans in all facets of society are a recent development. Deaf History Month recognizes the great strides made toward equality and acknowledges the crucial work that still needs to be done.

The First Public School for the Deaf

The origins of Deaf History Month reach back to the early 19th century. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a Yale graduate and New England preacher, traveled to visit his family in Connecticut in 1814. While at his family home, he observed his younger brothers and sisters playing outside but noticed they were excluding a certain 9-year-old girl who lived nearby. That girl’s name was Alice Cogswell, and the Gallaudet children had been refusing to play with her because Alice was deaf.

As the legend goes, Thomas went outside to meet Alice and, through trial and error, worked out a rudimentary way of communicating with her. Thomas would write a word in the dirt, like “hat” and point to the corresponding object, like the hat on his head, to demonstrate what he meant. This brief interaction with Alice Cogswell ignited a lifelong passion for education in Thomas.

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