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A Misconception at Gallaudet

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By: Hannah Perry
Intern

Gallaudet College, a college for the deaf, in the nineteenth century was seen as a beacon of hope; giving higher education to the deaf Americans in a safe and accepting environment. Books, articles, and websites today give praise to the ever growing Gallaudet University. If one takes the time to dig deeper through the college’s past they will realize that there is a misconception that contradicts the popular believe that Gallaudet has always been a sanctuary for deaf students. The history reveals the shocking impact the school has had on the deaf students, faculty, and deaf culture and confronts the issues of gender discrimination at Gallaudet. The research gives light to the fact that Gallaudet did not always give their students a fair chance. Contrary to popular belief Gallaudet University does have a dark past full of oppression and discrimination. This article focuses on coeducation at Gallaudet College in the nineteenth century.

The founding of Gallaudet College in 1864 was a miraculous step forward in the deaf world of education, but what is not often mentioned is the fact that women were not accepted into Gallaudet for many years. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, the president of the school, did not debate the issue of accepting female students for 16 years. The female students applying for Gallaudet were often top students in their class, but despite their academic achievement many were not accepted. Although coeducation was a topic of debate during this time, Gallaudet didn’t seem to be holding up to its mission statement. Laura Sheridan, an advocate for higher education for women asks Gallaudet, “Has the National Deaf-Mute College, whose proposed object, is ‘to give competent deaf mutes and others…a thorough education in the studies usually pursued in American Colleges’, opened its doors to women?”. Many deaf men and leaders of Gallaudet did not want women involved in higher education and it was the women, hearing and deaf, who were the strongest advocates to get women enrolled in Gallaudet College.When women were finally accepted into the school they were treated like second class citizens and were kept out of clubs and organizations.“Female students were not allowed to attend on campus extracurricular activities without a matron or faculty member escort.” The women students were kept out of literary meetings and discussions and unable to develop and improve their language. This oppression is not often brought up when talking about Gallaudet and this topic does not appear in most deaf historical writings about Gallaudet College.

In the book “A Place of Their Own,” by John Vickrey Van Cleve and Barry A. Crouch, the fact that women were not accepted and treated poorly is not even mentioned when talking about Gallaudet College. The book “Forbidden Signs,” by Douglass C. Baynton, does have a whole chapter on women, but it focuses on teaching in Gallaudet and the growth of female teachers, not the discrimination female students faced. These books mask the fact that Gallaudet has a dark past with discrimination. These historical books support the popular belief that Gallaudet gave wonderful opportunities to men and women alike.

I believe Gallaudet University is a wonderful place to receive a higher education, but in order to not repeat the past we need to understand the history of the organization in its entirety. It was shocking to me that this behavior was allowed, and that the deaf male students were rarely a support in the fight for educational equality. I do not agree with the fact that female students were not treated equally and also the fact that this discrimination is hardly mentioned in most historical writings. I believe that Gallaudet College made a mistake and that their misjudgment should depicted correctly in history books.

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This blog post represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views supported by The Deaf Dream.

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