The development of American Sign Language in the United States dates back to as early as the 1600s. On Martha’s Vineyard there was a relatively large Deaf population due to genetics and heredity. This was thought to trace back to the first people of the land, who traveled from Massachusetts and carried this genetic deafness with them. Because there were so many people that were deaf living there, it was extremely common for all people, deaf and hearing, to learn their own version of sign language. This early form of sign language was known as Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) (Lapiak, 1996-2014). Little did the creators of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language know, MVSL would be incorporated into the first school for deaf students (Lapiak, 1996-2014).
As time progressed, American Sign Language began to further develop in the 1700s with help from the French Sign Language. Charles-Michel, abbé de l’Epée, the man responsible for development of the French Sign Language, was known for teaching less fortunate deaf French children how to sign different concepts and to use the manual alphabet to spell words (“Sign Language,” n.d.). It was not until Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet traveled to Europe that sign language started to make its appearance in the United States of America.
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was a very bright and well educated young man who was from Hartford, Connecticut. He acquired undergraduate and graduate level college degrees and entered the seminary to follow his religious calling. While he was living in Connecticut, a neighbor had a deaf daughter and asked that Gallaudet would go to Europe to learn about how one would go about teaching a deaf child. Gallaudet met the head of the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets, Abbe Sicard, while in Paris. He was able to learn the beginnings of sign language from Sicard himself, along with a man by the name of Laurent Clerc (“The Legacy Begins,” 2013). The time came that Gallaudet had to come back to the United States, but he had not felt that he had learned enough sign language to bring this method of communication back to the American people. Laurent Clerc agreed to come on the journey back to the United States with him, teaching him more sign language along the way as Gallaudet taught him English. When they arrived in the United States, the two were able to put together the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817 (“Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet,” 2013). This school educated students from surrounding areas that included Martha’s Vineyard. The students from the Vineyard were able to bring with them their land’s created version of sign language and intertwine it with their new schooling (Lapiak, 1996-2014). This was only the beginning of education and schools for deaf students.
Later in the 1800s, one of Thomas Gallaudet’s sons, Edward Miner Gallaudet, had a strong desire to begin another school for deaf students. He chose Washington, D.C. as the location for Gallaudet College, the...