In 1856, Amos Kendall, a postmaster general during two presidential administrations, donated two acres of his estate in northeast Washington, D.C. to establish a school and housing for 12 deaf and six blind students. The following year, Kendall persuaded Congress to incorporate the new school, which was called the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind. Edward Miner Gallaudet, the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of the first school for deaf students in the United States, became the new school's superintendent.
Congress authorized the institution to confer college degrees in 1864, and President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law. Gallaudet was made president of the institution, including the college, which that year had eight students enrolled. He presided over the first commencement in June 1869 when three young men received diplomas. Their diplomas were signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, and to this day the diplomas of all Gallaudet graduates are signed by the presiding U.S. president.
In 1894 the name of the college portion of the institution was changed to Gallaudet College in honor of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and through an act of Congress in 1954, the entire institution became known as Gallaudet College.
In 1969, President Lyndon Johnson signed an act to create the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD). That same year, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and Gallaudet President Leonard Elstad signed an agreement authorizing the establishment and operation of MSSD on the Gallaudet campus. A year later, President Richard Nixon signed the bill that authorized the establishment of Kendall Demonstration Elementary School. Today, the two schools are part of Gallaudet's Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, which is devoted to the creation and dissemination of educational opportunities for deaf students nationwide.
By an act of the U.S. Congress, Gallaudet was granted university status in October 1986. Two years later, in March 1988, the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement led to the appointment of the University's first deaf president, Dr. I. King Jordan, '70 and the Board of Trustees' first deaf chair, Philip Bravin, '66. Since then, DPN has become synonymous with self-determination and empowerment for deaf and hard of hearing people everywhere.
In the 1990s, a generous contribution from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation enabled the University to construct the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University, which has become a popular venue for meetings, seminars, receptions, and other events for both on- and off-campus groups.
The new millennium has brought events such as the Deaf Way II festival that attracted 10,000 deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people from around the world; the opening of the technology-rich I. King Jordan Student Academic Center; and, thanks to the generosity of James Lee Sorenson, chair of Sorenson Development, Inc., the James Lee Sorenson Language and Communication Center, a unique facility that provides an inclusive learning environment totally compatible with the visu-centric "deaf way of being."
The University's undergraduate students can choose from more than 40 majors leading to bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees. A small number of hearing undergraduate students-up to five percent of an entering class-are also admitted to the University each year. Graduate programs at Gallaudet are open to deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students and offer certificates and master of arts, master of science, doctoral, and specialist degrees in a variety of fields involving professional service to deaf and hard of hearing people.
Through the University Career center, students receive internships that provide a wealth of experiential learning opportunities. Recent internships were offered at Merrill Lynch, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, and the World Bank. Students also benefit from an array of services provided by such campus units as the Burstein Leadership Institute, Language Planning Institute, Hearing and Speech Center, Cochlear Implant Education Center, and the Center for International Programs and Services.
Today, Gallaudet is viewed by deaf and hearing people alike as a primary resource for all things related to deaf people, including educational and career opportunities; open communication and visual learning; deaf history and culture; American Sign Language; and the impact of technology on the deaf community.