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  • The History of Gallaudet University: 150 Years of a Deaf American Institution by David F. Armstrong
  • Harry G. Lang (bio)
The History of Gallaudet University: 150 Years of a Deaf American Institution, by David F. Armstrong (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2014, 212pp., hardcover, $75, ISBN 978-1-56368-595-8)

One of the last things I said to my best friend of forty-four years, Robert F. Panara, on the day before he passed away last summer, was that T. Alan Hurwitz, Gallaudet University president, and his wife, Vicki, had left him a copy of The History of Gallaudet University that morning. They had stopped by to see him, but he was sleeping, and they did not wish to disturb his rest. Having glanced through the excellent work by David F. Armstrong, I told Bob that the book mentioned that William C. Stokoe had described the beauty of Bob’s signs, which Bill had observed numerous times while doing research on American Sign Language. I also told Bob that the book had a full-page summary of the story of his lipreading Queen Elizabeth during an American football game. Bob always enjoyed telling that story, and he would have loved Armstrong’s summary of the 150-year history of Gallaudet. With more than 350 photographs (so ably chosen with Gallaudet archivist Michael J. Olson’s assistance) and many anecdotes, the book is one that all alumni and friends of Gallaudet University should have.

Many times in the past four decades I have walked on the paths of the beautiful campus, partly designed by American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and as a lover of history I am often struck by the beauty of the mix of old and new buildings, groves of trees and open fields, and especially the preservation of historic structures such as College Hall, Chapel Hall, Ole Jim, the Gate House, and the Faculty Row houses, still in use. Walking across Kendall Green, [End Page 363] one is reminded of the rich history of this institution, the collegiate program chartered by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of a national crisis, the Civil War. And it was not long after the inauguration that the deaf students and their professors watched from their high vantage point as train after train brought soldiers home when the war ended. In contrast, modern structures on campus were created with visually accessible space for people who communicate in sign language in mind.

But the buildings and the campus are only a small part of Gallaudet University’s history, as Armstrong so well illustrates in this beautifully designed book. The History of Gallaudet University strikes a nice balance among its various sections, which include academic history, campus life, athletics, theatrical productions, successful graduates, and other topics. Photographs such as the one of Sophia Fowler Gallaudet have rarely appeared in other publications, and athletic photographs such as the one of the “Five Iron Men” basketball team make this book all the more a conversation piece. Student traditions such as the “rat funeral” and the “hare and hounds chase” will be fun to read about for those who have attended the university, bringing back memories of their own days on Kendall Green.

Academically, the book walks the reader through 150 years of history, beginning with the establishment of the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, as well as the chartering of the collegiate program to grant higher education degrees to young deaf people. Then it progresses through different administrations, from Edward Miner Gallaudet’s pioneering work to the most recent leadership by T. Alan Hurwitz. Importantly, the book does not hide controversial aspects of the presidential legacies. Instead, it presents interesting discussions about the delay in admitting both deaf African American students and female students during the Gallaudet years, the anger of deaf professor Frederick Hughes when he was removed as instructor of a drama course during the accreditation process, and the reason that I. King Jordan changed his mind during the Deaf President Now! movement in March 1988. The growth of the Alumni Association, life during the world wars and the Great Depression...


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pp. 363-366
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