Deaf schools in the United States were established starting with American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1816.

For many years after the school opened in 1817, Laurent Clerc inspired his students, because he was a graduate of and a teacher at the first public signing Deaf school in the world in Paris, France, a founder of ASD, and the Father of Deaf Education in the United States. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was a hearing teacher and the other person behind the establishment of ASD. After their students completed their studies at ASD, they frequently settled in different communities and either founded a Deaf school or taught at one.

The Deaf world was very small back then. Before Deaf schools, Deaf people were scattered. As a Deaf school opened, a Deaf community sprung up around it. It is cool to trace the connections between the first students of Deaf schools and see how intertwined their world was.

♦ Elisha Melton Hughston Jr. married (Mary) Laura Owens on Nov. 21, 1868, in Crenshaw, Alabama.

Rev. Newton Pinckney Walker’s wife had Deaf siblings, which led him to open South Carolina School for the Deaf in 1849. Elisha, his two Deaf siblings, and two other hearing children were among the first students at the school, which opened at a hotel in Cedar Springs, South Carolina. SCSD was incorporated in 1855 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. At the Battle of Seven Pines during the Civil War, Elisha was wounded, taken prisoner, and assumed dead by his regiment. His leg was amputated, and he returned home. He also taught at the Alabama School for the Deaf.

In 1849, the Deaf and Dumb Academy opened in part to Laura and her two Deaf siblings, which began in the home of a student in Montgomery, Alabama, with James A. Watterson as their teacher. The school would become the true origin of Alabama SD. Laura entered Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring, Georgia, in 1855, then Alabama SD in Talladega, Alabama, in 1858.

♦ Samuel Wilson Flenniken married (Mary) Lydia Bradley on October 16, 1848 in Tallmadge, Ohio.

In 1829, Samuel was the first student at Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus, Ohio. He was an important figure in the Ohio Deaf community for many years. He was the first elected president of the Ohio School for the Deaf Alumni Association in 1870.

In 1827, Lydia and her Deaf sisters were among the first students at the Tallmadge Deaf School in Tallmadge, Ohio, run by Colonel Smith and funded by the state. TDS is the true origin of OSD. After the school folded because of the state, Lydia entered OSD in 1835.

♦ Lucius and Angeline Prior both married. As we know, they attended the Cedar Valley Academy in Cedartown, Georgia, before going to GSD. Both married GSD alumni who had Deaf siblings that attended GSD, too.

Lucius Augustus Prior married Mary Teague Hoge on Jan. 20, 1859, in Cave Spring, Georgia.

Lucius entered CVA in 1835, GSD in 1849, ASD in 1849, and Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sometime after 1850.

Mary entered GSD in 1846.

Angeline Antoinette Prior married twice, both times to GSD alumni. She and her first husband, Samuel Thomas Potts, married on April 24, 1855, in Floyd County, Georgia. Her second marriage, to Thomas Jackson Payne, took place on Sept. 16, 1869, in Polk County, Georgia.

Samuel Thomas Potts entered GSD in 1849.

Thomas Jackson Payne entered GSD in 1858.

Angeline entered CVA in 1835, and then GSD in 1847.

According to the state, GSD was the 11th Deaf school established in the United States. The school would have opened much earlier if the state had not pushed aside John J. Flournoy, the Deaf man behind the legislative proposal to establish a Deaf school. CVA opened in 1835 and it was considered a successful experimental school. It is the true origin of GSD.

♦ Furthermore, the founders of two state Deaf schools in the U.S. shared the stigma of marrying their students. Their marriages led to their firings only because the states thought it was an abomination.

The first founder of Alabama SD, James A. Watterson, a graduate of New York School for the Deaf (known as Fanwood), married one of his first students, Charity Thomas. The third founder of Arkansas School for the Deaf, Joseph “Joe” Mount, a graduate of PSD, married (Mary) Lucinda Bailey.

How is it different from the founders of ASD in Hartford, Connecticut? Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet would scold Laurent Clerc because he dated a student, Eliza Boardman, shortly after she completed her studies. They married on May 3, 1819. As fate would have it, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet also married a Deaf student of his, Sophia Fowler, on Aug. 29, 1821.

The Deaf world is a small one today. It was a much smaller one back then. It is no surprise that we would see marriages between the pioneers of the Deaf world in the United States.

Adonia K. Smith is a Cedartown native who resides in Cave Spring. She owns ASL Rose, a company that serves the heart of Deaf education, and is active in the Georgia School for the Deaf Alumni Association. Email her at


Recommended for you

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.