Early 19th Century Deaf Education
"A cup of consolation for the deaf and dumb who heretofore had been wandering in a moral desert, from the same fountain the Hindoo, the African, and the savage are beginning to draw the water of eternal life."
The Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet
The character and philosophy of the early schools were fundamentally shaped by the larger cultural context of the time. The early nineteenth century was a time of tremendous social reform, much of it generated by a dramatic transformation in the character of American religious belief. Historians have termed this period the Second Great Awakening, which saw not only an upsurge in church attendance but also the rise to dominance of evangelical Protestantism.
Not only the venue but the message of these evangelical ministers was new. The message preached by the evangelical ministers was that humans had been given free will and that, therefore, anyone could achieve salvation by choosing to believe and to experience conversion. This was a radical departure and it had radical effects. If individuals could be saved, then it was the responsibility of every believer to convert others and save them from eternal damnation. This belief stimulated not only the revival meetings but a steady stream of missionaries sent round the world—to China, to Africa, to all who lived in ignorance of the Christian gospel and, therefore, of their one chance for salvation. Within the United States there were American Indians to be saved. And there were deaf people. While this was not the exclusive motivation for all teachers, many explicitly equated their work with that of the missionary.