lice Cogswell was born in 1805. Her father was Dr. Mason Cogswell, a famous physician who had performed the first surgery to remove cataracts from eyes. At the age of two, Alice came down with “Spotted Fever”, now thought to be either Measles or Menengitis, and lost all of her hearing. In that day, it was commonly thought that because deaf people couldn’t speak, they could neither think nor reason. Some people even believed that deafness was a curse for bad behavior, or that the deaf person was possesed with evil spirits. Dr. Cogswell was extremely fond of Alice, and was saddened that he could no longer communicate with his daughter. She lived the early part of her life in silence, observing others from the outskirts. Her brothers and sisters didn’t try to communicate with her, because they thought her no longer capable.
When Alice was nine, her new next door neighbor, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, noticed that she wasn’t playing with the other children, but sat by herself outside. He went out to discover why, and the other children told him that Alice was deaf. Gallaudet decided to spend some time with her to cheer her up anyway, and they spent a while drawing pictures in the dust. Gallaudet was struck by how smart Alice was and he imediately began to teach Alice to read and write, completely knocking down many of the stereotypes about deaf people. It was slow going, because Gallaudet didn’t know how to teach a deaf student. He had to go by trial and error, and some of the methods he tried didn’t work at all. After a few years, Alice’s father spoke with Gallaudet about founding a school for the deaf in America. Dr. Cogswell and several other prominent men in town realized that there were over fourty children in their state that were deaf, and surmised that in other states there was also a large number of deaf children who would benefit from a deaf school. They suggested that Gallaudet travel to Europe, where there were tons of schools focusing specifically on deaf education, and learn about teaching deaf students. He could then come back and found a school for the deaf that would be highly successful.
While Gallaudet was away in Europe, Alice had learned to read and write enough to attend a regular hearing school with her sister, although this situation wasn’t ideal. When the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, later renamed the American School for the Deaf, was founded by Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, Alice was the first pupil to sign up. It’s believed that she was the first person in America to ever be taught the manual finger spelled alphabet. Alice loved attending the school. She graduated in 1824, and then spent the next few years traveling extensively.
Alice was a very lively girl. She loved to read, sew, dance, and especially loved it when her parents threw parties. Many people remember how she would frequently mimic others so perfectly that she would set everyone laughing for hours. Alice was especially curious about music, and spent a long time trying to understand it as best she could. The year she turned 25, Dr. Cogswell died. Alice was incredibly upset. She died 13 days later, many say of a broken heart. Alice was greatly responsible for the birth of Deaf Culture in the United States. She broke down a lot of stereotypes and allowed hearing people to realize just how smart deaf people are. Several statues have been erected in her honor, one on the Gallaudet University campus, one on the American School campus, and one in Hartford Connecticut.