Seeking Asylum

1960_93_20

Detail of City of Hartford, color lithograph by John Bachmann, 1864. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1960.93.20. Asylum Avenue and Farmington Avenue are in the foreground, with the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and the City Reservoir at the left. The railroad station is in the right background.

What nationally famous Connecticut institution was once located near the junction of Farmington Avenue and Asylum Avenue? How many people notice the statue that stands in the little wedge-shaped green park at this busy intersection, and how many people know what it commemorates? In 1817, one of the first schools for the deaf was erected near this site. Known as the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, it pioneered the use of American sign language. Asylum Avenue was then a very new road—the CHS has an 1802 manuscript map showing it as “the road now laid”—and it took its name from this institution. The word “asylum” in those days had none of the negative connotations that it acquired later. It suggested a place of refuge rather than a place of imprisonment. The monument was commissioned from local sculptor Frances Wadsworth in 1950 by the New England Gallaudet Association in commemoration of the asylum’s founder, Thomas Gallaudet. The monument depicts Alice Cogswell, the young girl who was Gallaudet’s first pupil. She is shown clutching a book and being supported by two enormous hands in the shape of the deaf-mute sign for “light.” Today the American School for the Deaf, as it is now known, continues to educate the deaf and hard-of-hearing at its spacious campus in West Hartford.

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