Brewster Attends The Connecticut Asylum, 1817-1820
- In 1817, the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and
Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons opened and changed Brewster's life.
The school was founded by Mason Cogswell, a patron of Ralph Earl and family
friend of the Brewsters, whose young daughter Alice become deaf at the
age of two after a bout with spotted fever. Cogswell's neighbor Thomas
Gallaudet became inspired by Alice and the two men decided to start the
first American school for the deaf. After raising funds, the founders of
the school sent Gallaudet to England to learn how to instruct deaf people.
Gallaudet encountered the French Abbe Sicard who was in England with his
deaf student Laurent Clerc spreading his education technique which utilized
sign language. Gallaudet persuaded Clerc to come to America to begin a
school in Connecticut. The school they founded was based on the idea that
sign language was the Deaf's natural language and through this language,
the students could be taught academics and religion. Thus the first American
school for the Deaf began creating an American Sign Language, which drew
upon French Sign Language, sign language from various Deaf enclaves such
as the one on Martha's Vineyard, home signs, and signs that grew out of
the school's context.
- Brewster was in the first class that attended the school
and witnessed the birth of American Sign Language (ASL). At fifty-one he
was by far the oldest student in the seven member class, whose average
age was nineteen. Brewster must have possessed a keen desire to learn and
better himself to give up his economic independence and start school with
pupils much younger than himself. It must have been exciting for him to
meet with individuals who were like him and communicated in the same manner.
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in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr.
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