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When you are 9 years old, you don’t think about making history. Alice Cogswell made history at the age of 9 by sparking the beginning of the creation of American Sign Language and American deaf education.
Alice is known as the young deaf girl who inspired Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet–the man who began the education of the deaf in America.
Alice Cogswell was born in 1805. When she was just 2 years old, she came down with “spotted fever,” a type of meningitis. She lost her hearing, and later, her speech.
Her father, Mason Fitch Cogswell, was neighbors with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. When she was 9 years old, Alice met Gallaudet.
Realizing that Alice was very smart despite her hearing loss and inability to speak, Gallaudet wanted to teach her how to communicate.
Alice was having some success learning how to spell and read from Gallaudet. However, Gallaudet didn’t know the most effective way of educating a deaf child. He and Alice’s father knew a formal school would be the best option for her, but a school for the deaf did not exist in the United States.
Gallaudet then travelled to Europe to learn the most successful methods used to teach deaf children. He brought back with him Laurent Clerc, a deaf educator who taught using French Sign Language. Together, they established the American Asylum for Deaf-Mutes in 1817, which is now known as the American School for the Deaf.
Alice was the first to enroll in this history-making school.
Alice died in 1830 at the age of twenty-five, just thirteen days after her father died.
Today, a gorgeous statue of Gallaudet and Alice stands at both the American School for the Deaf and Gallaudet University.
Isn’t it truly amazing how much a little 9 year old girl can do? She changed the lives of many deaf children in America by sparking the beginning of American deaf education!

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