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«The Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell Statue: Controversies and Celebrations Michael J. Olson [This article was originally published in A ...»

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The Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell Statue: Controversies and


Michael J. Olson

[This article was originally published in A Fair Chance in the Race of Life: The Role of

Gallaudet University in Deaf History by Brian H. Greenwald and John Vickrey Van Cleve.

Gallaudet University Press; 1st Edition (2008). Reprinted with permission from Gallaudet

University Press.] Editors’ Introduction Michael J. Olson’s meticulously researched article directly challenges benign interpretations of Edward Miner Gallaudet’s presidency. Drawing heavily from primary sources, Olson looks at a previously unexplored controversy that sparked intense debate among American deaf leaders in the late 19th century and raised troublesome questions about Gallaudet’s commitment to equality for deaf people. Olson depicts Gallaudet as ironfisted and essentially absolute in his decisions. Gallaudet operated under the guise of hosting an open competition to hire a sculptor to create a statue of his father and Alice Cogswell, but, Olson shows, even before receiving proposals from deaf candidates, he had already commissioned the well- known hearing artist, Daniel Chester French, for the job. Olson’s research suggests that audism and paternalism were characteristics of Gallaudet’s first president.

IN 1883, AT THE SECOND CONVENTION of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), held in New York City, C. K. W. Strong, a Deaf member from Washington, D.C., proposed that the NAD sponsor the erection of a bronze statue of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet on the 100th anniversary of Gallaudet’s birth in 1887. The statue would be situated on the grounds of the National Deaf-Mute College—soon to become Gallaudet 1 College—at Kendall Green. The resolution passed, and the NAD formed a committee of fifteen members to manage the project. The next convention was to be held in 2 Washington, D.C., in August 1888, at which time the new statue would be unveiled.

No one could have anticipated the controversy this project would entail or the insight that it provides into the Deaf community and the actions of Edward Miner Gallaudet, the college’s first president. The controversy created not only friction be- tween some of the nation’s prominent Deaf leaders of the time but also involved identity struggles over a hearing sculptor being chosen to create Gallaudet University’s iconic statue.

Lars M. Larson, an 1882 graduate of Gallaudet, initiated the first controversy. He made no objection to having the statue erected, but he argued that the statue should not be located in Washington, D.C. He thought that it should be erected in Hartford, http://dsdj.gallaudet.edu

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Connecticut, where Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, Laurent Clerc, and Mason Fitch Cogswell founded the first school for the deaf, eventually called the American School for the Deaf. Others countered that the statue should be situated in Washington, D.C., where Deaf people from all over the United States could come to view the statue instead of going to remote Hartford. Some believed that the nation’s capital was the most fitting place for such memorials and statues. Also, they argued, Kendall Green, 4 site of the national college, was the ideal place. The Larson controversy lasted for a month but eventually faded away.

A Gallaudet Centennial Commission was formed in November 1883 to collect funds for the statue and to arrange the time and place for holding the celebrations honoring the centennial of Thomas H. Gallaudet’s birth. The committee members then appointed agents and sub- agents for each state and territory of the United States to collect contributions. Their preliminary fundraising goal was not less than $2,500. It was impossible to know the exact amount needed, since they had not selected an artist to design the statue. The members of the committee chose Theodore A. Froehlich of New York City as their chairman and William H. Weeks to be the commission treasurer. The fund became known as the Gallaudet Centennial Memorial Fund (hereafter, the Memorial Fund). Pennsylvania quickly announced that they had formed a committee to select their own agents to solicit funds, but not before more controversy erupted.

An anguished correspondent wrote in the November 1883 National Deaf-Mute Leader that he felt that it was not necessary for Deaf people to contribute money to erect another monument in honor of Thomas H. Gallaudet, as there was already a monument to his memory in Hartford. He suggested dropping the idea and starting a new movement. Instead of raising funds for a Gallaudet memorial, Deaf people would collect money for a monument to be erected in honor of an unnamed person in his 7 native Vermont. The Gallaudet memorial project nevertheless went ahead.

The Deaf Mutes’ Journal (DMJ), a weekly newspaper for the deaf com- munity edited by Edwin A. Hodgson, printed the treasurer’s reports of the Memorial Fund. The first report stated that the funds collected be- tween November and December 1883 8 amounted to $4.25. An editorial in the DMJ mentioned that the fund had not increased very rapidly. It stated that there should be more announcements to let the public know where the money was to be sent. The editorial also said that the funds should be held in a savings bank and invested at interest, so that their value would increase.

Lewis A. Palmer wrote a long article describing the slowness of collecting contributions for the Memorial Fund, and he blamed lack of enthusiasm among the fund-raising agents. He pointed out that after President James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881 and the nation was in mourning, students at Gallaudet College and other Deaf people contributed sufficient funds to purchase a bust of Garfield in a short time. The bust was designed by a well-known sculptor, Daniel Chester French. Palmer went on to say that people had forgotten about Gallaudet, who had died in 1851, thirty years before the assassination of President Gar- field. He encouraged Deaf people to come up with more

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Deaf artist H. P. Arms of Philadelphia was the first person to create a product that could be sold for fund raising. It was a color, six-by-nine- inch alphabet card, called “Souvenir of Silence,” and it contained a portrait of Gallaudet with a view of the Hartford School and the National Deaf-Mute College, now Gallaudet University, and a manual alphabet with full colors around the card. The members of the Pennsylvania Association of DeafMutes sold the cards.

In 1885 Edmund Booth, a newspaper owner and editor in Iowa, wrote an article in the DMJ encouraging Deaf people to contribute more money to the fund. Booth had been an early pupil of Gallaudet’s at the American School and had taught there for a few years after graduating. He wrote in detail about how he knew Gallaudet personally and described Gallaudet’s wonderful character and his work with Deaf pupils.

Commission Chairman Froehlich made a plea to the public to contribute more money for the cause, and he spoke about Gallaudet’s worth and work for Deaf people.

Froehlich and the committee asked people to contribute any amount they could afford, regardless of how much it was, and they encouraged everyone to work together to succeed. Instead, more controversy ensued.

Because of the public pressure on securing a bond for the funds, Weeks, the fund treasurer, resigned. He believed that it was not necessary to have a bond for the funds, and he also thought that the funds were safely secured. His successor, Amos G. Draper, a National Deaf- Mute College professor, came to the rescue by devising a plan to guarantee the funds against possible loss. He prepared his reports and printed his bulletins in the DMJ almost every week, listing the contributors by name along with the amount each contributed. During the latter part of 1885, the Memorial Fund project began to boom, as the agents in the different states started to collect contributions vigorously. At the end of 1885, the fund had increased to $651.21, an addition of more than $500 in about two months, compared to a little over $100 in the previous two years.

Meanwhile, American School graduate Thomas Brown of West Henniker, New Hampshire, wrote to Henry Winter Syle, one of the best- known Deaf leaders of the time, with a suggestion. He first told of his experiences meeting Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc. He then mentioned that many Deaf graduates from the Hartford school and other schools for the deaf could not afford to come to Washington to witness the un- veiling of the statue. He believed that only a few rich Deaf people would be able to attend the unveiling. He suggested that the best way to over- come this problem was to have a picture of both Gallaudet and Clerc, either photographs or paintings prepared at a modest expense, to be hung in each school for deaf children in the United States.

The most troublesome and long-running controversy about the statue involved selection of the artist who would be commissioned to create it. The opening public statement in what became a major dispute was a brief comment in an article in the DMJ, dated January 14, 1886, which simply stated, “It is understood that Dan [Daniel

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Chester] French, of Massachusetts, the distinguished artist, was engaged to prepare a design for the sculptured group of the founder of mute education.” Had the committee selected French as the sculptor for the statue as early as 1886, or had the chairman, Froehlich, made an arrangement with the sculptor without consulting his entire committee?

Froehlich sent many circulars to the committee, state agents and sub- agents, and collectors, announcing that he had requested French to pre- pare a design for the Gallaudet statue. French visited Washington and consulted with Edward Miner Gallaudet, president of the college and son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, to find a suitable location for the proposed statue. Also, French sent Froehlich a small design in plaster, showing the elder Gallaudet with Alice Cogswell, his first deaf student.

Froehlich’s circular mentioned having French accept a commission for the statue, and it explained how much money the committee should pay French. It also encouraged all of the agents to solicit more contributions.

French apparently visited the campus on November 18, 1885, to study potential sites for the statue, initiating a rather humorous controversy that eventually resolved itself but that also implies that Edward Miner Gallaudet was less than honest with his Deaf leaders. Gallaudet showed French several portraits of his father and suggested where he would like the statue to be situated; however, French thought the location was too close to a group of buildings and not suitable as a statue background. French wandered around the grounds and suggested “an ideal site” in a treed area in front of Chapel Hall.

Gallaudet cautioned French about an old apple tree near the center of the proposed location, telling him that his daughters were sentimental about that tree. When they were children, they climbed and played house in its branches. Gallaudet warned that they would object to having the tree removed. French told Gallaudet that he should not worry and just wait and see.

A few weeks later, Gallaudet wrote to French.

A curious thing has happened. There was a terrible storm a few nights ago, and almost half of your precious tree was blown down. I have waited in hopes that my daughters would come to their senses and would agree that the remains of the tree should be demolished, but alas! they still cling to the old broken stump. They will not hear of it.

The trouble is I cannot make them understand the importance of the right place for a statue.

French still was not concerned, however, and a few more weeks later Gallaudet wrote to him again.

What will you say when I tell you that a miracle has happened? Behold! Another storm has come and gone, and the other branch has been torn away, and even my unreasonable offspring do not insist that the bare stump should be left standing. The statue can stand where you and I want it, and where it should stand.



This episode, though ultimately of little inherent importance, suggests that President Gallaudet was more closely involved in the selection of French than some of the Deaf leaders thought. Gallaudet had already Edward Miner Gallaudet met with French and had determined the location before yet another controversy brewed among the Deaf leaders. Fund raising and the apparent unilateral decision of President Gallaudet generated further discussion.

Edwin A. Hodgson, editor of the DMJ, wrote to Draper about his concerns whether the committee was on the right track for the fund- raising efforts. Hodgson noticed an article in the Maryland Bulletin, a publication of the Maryland School for the Deaf, about the arrangement with the sculptor. He asked Draper, “What do you think of it? Is it not rather premature? It may be rather satisfactory to the sculptor, but is it a step onward for us?” One student from the National Deaf-Mute College wrote a long article on the Gallaudet Memorial, stating that the students were surprised at Froehlich’s arrangements with the sculptor. The article suggested that Froehlich had made a bold move to reach this decision without consulting the committee. He wrote that if the chairman indeed acted without the consent of the committee, they should protest against the chairman.

More controversy followed, as the Brooklyn Society of Deaf-Mutes held a meeting and resolved that the contributors would not hand in any contributions to Draper. They complained that he was not a member of the NAD at the time of the second convention in 1883, and that he had not paid his dues at the convention. Angie Fuller, a Deaf poetess and advocate, on the other hand, argued that Draper was deaf and was greatly interested in the work of deaf education; that he held a high position in the community as a member of the faculty of the National Deaf-Mute College; and that he could not afford to be dishonest or any way in abuse the funds.

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