Sophia Fowler Gallaudet (1798 – 1877)

Sophia Gallaudet

Sophia Fowler was born March 20, 1798 near Guilford, Connecticut. Sophia was born deaf and at the time there were no schools for the deaf in America and only three in the world.

In 1817, Sophia’s father learned that a gentleman, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, was working toward the establishment of a school for the deaf and mute. Hopeful that his daughter could be a student at the school, Mr. Fowler took Sophia to meet Mr. Gallaudet in New Haven. Sophia was 19 years old.

In the spring of 1817, Mr. Gallaudet opened his school for the deaf and mute and Sophia Fowler was accepted as the school’s fifteenth student. Sophia studied at the school for three years then, in 1821, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet asked Sophia to marry him. Concerned that her schooling would end, it was not until Gallaudet assured that her education would continue that she agreed to marry him.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Sophia Fowler were married on August 29, 1821. Thomas and Sophia were married 30 years and had eight children. In 1851, Thomas died – their youngest child was fourteen years old. In 1857, Sophia’s son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, was offered the position of principal at the first school for the deaf and blind in Washington, DC, known as Columbia Institution. Knowing that his mother had no more children to raise and that none of his siblings were still at home, Edward asked Sophia to move to Washington, DC with him to become the founding matron of the school. She gladly accepted.

Sophia lived out the rest of her life in Washington, DC. She saw her son make significant changes in the deaf education system, including transforming Columbia Institution into the first college for deaf students in 1864. On Sunday, May 13, 1877, Sophia was found dead. According to Amos G. Draper in his article titled “Sophia Gallaudet,” she spent the previous evening “in animated conversation with her friends, manifesting all her wonted enjoyment of society, and apparently in vigorous health. But scarcely had she withdrawn to the retirement of her own room and knelt in grateful prayer, when the fatal stroke fell upon her. All her faculties were at once obscured. She never again made a sentient movement, and ere the dews of the next morning were exhaled her spirit passed away quietly.”

American School for the Deaf.  History Overview.  Accessed at on July 23, 2010.
Draper, Amos G. “Sophia Gallaudet,” American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 22, Number 3, July 1877, pp. 170-183.  Accessed at on July 23, 2010.
Gallaudet University. History.  Accessed at on July 23, 2010.
Wikipedia. Edward Miner Gallaudet.  Accessed at on July 23, 2010.
Wikipedia. Sophia Miner Gallaudet.  Accessed at on July 23, 2010.

Photo Credit: Sophia Fowler Gallaudet, Public Domain