Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, for whom Gallaudet University is named, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1787. His family later settled in Hartford, Conn., the home of his maternal grandparents. A brilliant student during his early years, Gallaudet entered Yale University at age 14 and graduated first in his class three years later. He returned to Yale as a graduate student in 1808 after having served a law apprenticeship and studying independently. After earning a master of arts degree in 1810, Gallaudet worked as a traveling salesman. However, having been raised in a family deeply rooted in Protestantism, he felt called to the ministry. In 1812 he enrolled in the Andover Theological Seminary, graduating in 1814. Gallaudet's goal, to serve as an itinerant preacher, was put aside when he met Alice Cogswell, the 9 years old deaf daughter of a neighbor, Dr. Mason Cogswell. Cogswell, a prominent Hartford Physician, was concerned about proper education for his daughter. He asked Gallaudet to travel to Europe to study methods for teaching deaf students, especially those of the Braidwood family in England. Gallaudet found the Braidwoods unwilling to share knowledge of their oral communication method. At the same time, he was not satisfied that the oral method produced desirable results.
While still in Great Britain, he met the Abbe Sicard, head of the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets in Paris, and two of its deaf faculty members, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. Sicard invited Gallaudet to Paris to study the school's method of teaching deaf students using manual communication. Impressed with the manual method, Gallaudet studied teaching methodology under Sicard, learning sign language from Massieu and Clerc, who were both highly educated graduates of the school. Having persuaded Clerc to accompany him, Gallaudet sailed for America. The two men toured New England and successfully raised private and public funds to found a school for deaf students in Hartford, which later became known as the American School for the Deaf. Young Alice was one of the seven students in the United States. (The American School for the Deaf still educates deaf students today. It is first permanent school for the deaf children established in the United States.) Gallaudet served as principal of the school from 1817 to 1830. He resigned his position on April 6, 1830, to devote his time to writing children's books and to the ministry. In 1893, at the request of the alumni association, the name of the College in Washington, DC was changed to Gallaudet College in honor of T.H. Gallaudet.