In honor of National Deaf History Month (March 13 – April 15), the Law Library of Congress is proud to share the history of the first university for deaf individuals through our collections. We recognize some of the terms used in these documents to describe the deaf community are pejoratives and we have modified the descriptors where possible.
Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. was originally incorporated as the “Columbia Institution” on February 16, 1857. (11 Stat. 161) The institution was renamed Gallaudet College in 1954 for Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, father of the college’s first president, Thomas Miner Gallaudet. Granted university status in 1986, Gallaudet University was the first higher education institution for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in North America. (68 Stat. 265)
In 1960, H.R. 12669 was a bill introduced to clear “the title to property belonging to Gallaudet College.” (H. Rpt. 2056, 86th Cong., 2d Sess. At 1 (1960) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12247.) The bill passed into law, confirming that all of Gallaudet College’s property was now privately owned.
A report by the Committee on Education and Labor on H.R. 12669 explains the history of Gallaudet University’s space. Amos Kendall, postmaster general during the Jackson and Van Buren administrations, donated 19 acres of his personal property, “Kendall Green,” to the college. The remaining 85 acres were purchased by Gallaudet’s board of directors following Kendall’s death in 1869. On June 10, 1872, the 42nd Congress “appropriated $70,000 to pay the balance…and required that all title of real property be transferred to the United States as trustee.” (H. Rpt. 2056, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., at 1-2 (1960) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12247.) H.R. 12699 was introduced to transfer the property from the federal government to Gallaudet University, and also lifted the requirement for Gallaudet to submit annual reports to the Department of Health, Welfare, and Education (today’s Department of Health and Human Services), as it would no longer be federally owned in any capacity.
Gallaudet University’s legislative history is also visible through the Law Library’s U.S. Code collection. For examples, Chapter 20 (Education) has a section dedicated to the education of the deaf community, listing Gallaudet as a subcategory. (20 U.S.C. 4201-4206 (1988))
This National Deaf History Month, we’re proud to share these documents as an upcoming part of our digitized Serial Set Collection and look forward to learning more about the history of the deaf community through the collection.