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FAQ: "Mistakes" on the Gallaudet/Cogswell statue   Tags: deaf, faq, gallaudet history  

This brief guide covers features popularly perceived as mistakes on the campus statue of Edward Miner Gallaudet and his pupil, Alice Cogswell.
Last Updated: Jul 9, 2014 URL: http://libguides.gallaudet.edu/content.php?pid=351800 Print Guide RSS Updates
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Gallaudet/Cogswell statue

This statue stands at the front of the Gallaudet University Campus. It portrays Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet teaching Alice Cogswell the manual letter "A". A picture may be seen to the right. This statue represents the moment Gallaudet began Alice Cogswell's education, beginning the chain of events that led to the founding of American's first permanent school for the deaf three years later, and to the establishment half a century later of what is now Gallaudet University.

There are no actual errors on this statue, despite what some people claim.

The chair on which Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet sits has three curved legs and one rear straight leg. It also has only one arm, on his left side. Some people see these as obvious mistakes, but they aren't. The chair is modeled after a real type of chair that was common in Gallaudet's time, known as a "roundabout" or "corner" chair. As the "corner" name implies, it was designed to stand in the corner of a room. The straight leg went into the corner, allowing the chair to nestle closer to the walls and leaving the other three ornamental curved legs exposed to the room. The single arm was also characteristic of those unusual chairs, allowing a person to sit in the chair from either of two directions. In this case, the sculptor has taken advantage of the "missing" arm to allow the little girl Alice to lean against Gallaudet's side.

It may also be noted that the sculpture's chair is not hollow underneath, between the legs. It had to be left filled in there to support the weight of the statue's original plaster model, and this filling was carried over to the final cast-bronze statue. This is not an error, simply a structural necessity.

It is documented that the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, had made Gallaudet's legs too short in the original model. This was pointed out to him by his friend, the noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and French took the additional time to correct this mistake, though it meant also changing the figure of Alice Cogswell and modifying the chair. This was one of several delays that meant the statue was finally delivered late.

The text that appears on each side of the red sandstone pedestal supporting the statue is:

Front

 

FRIEND
TEACHER
BENEFACTOR

Left side (looking at the front of the statue)

 

BORN AT PHILADELPHIA DEC 10 1787
FOUNDED
AT HARTFORD THE FIRST SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF
IN AMERICA
1817
DIED AT HARTFORD SEPT 10 1851

[Note: It may be argued that the school at Hartford-now the American School for the Deaf-was not the first school for the deaf in America, and indeed there were a few short-lived attempts to establish schools for the deaf as early as 1811. However, the Hartford school was and is the first successful and permanent school for the deaf in America, so this is a matter of semantic debate.]

Right side (looking at the front of the statue)

 

THE DEAF PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES
IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF
THOMAS HOPKINS GALLAUDET
MARK THE CENTENNIAL OF HIS BIRTH
WITH THIS MEMORIAL
1887

Back

 

ERECTED BY CONTRIBUTORS FROM EVERY STATE
TERRITORY AND DISTRICT OF THE
UNITED-STATES.
------
  EDWIN A. HODGSON.
PRESIDENT OF THE ASSOCIATION.
THEODORE A. FROEHLICH.
CHAIRMAN OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE.
AMOS G. DRAPER.
TREASURER OF THE FUND.

[Note the hyphen in "United-States". This is not really an error, as it was sometimes used that way in the early United States. By 1887, it was archaic, though not really incorrect. However, there is an inconsistency in that the name "United States" on the right side does not have the hyphen.

There is another inconsistency in that the sentence, names and titles on the back all have terminal periods, while the front and both sides do not use any periods. Terminal periods like this were customary during the 19th century, but fell out of general use during the first part of the 20th century. The lack of periods on the pedestal's other faces seems to be a stylistic decision for a "cleaner" look, but there is no known reason for the difference on the back face.]

On the base of the statue itself, on the right side near the rear, appears the sculptor's name and date:

 

D.C. FRENCH SC.
1888

["Sc." stands for the Latin word sculpsit, meaning "I made this", that is, "D.C. French sculpted this in 1888". "Sc." was commonly used by sculptors of that time when signing their works. Note that the year, 1888, does not match the year 1887 on the pedestal or the year 1889 on the other side of the statue's base. Though the deaf organizers originally had hoped to have the statue ready and dedicated during Gallaudet's birth centennial year, repeated delays meant the statue was completed a year late, it was not cast in bronze until the year after that, and the official unveiling did not finally occur until June 1889. Again, this is not actually an error, just the result of delays.]

On the base of the statue itself, on the left side near the rear, appears the foundry's mark:

 

CAST BY THE HENRY-BONNARD BRONZE Co.
NEW-YORK. 1889.

[This abbreviation for "Company", "Co" with a raised "o", was common in the 19th century. The "Henry-Bonnard" company was previously named "E. Henry & Bonnard", so that hyphen simply indicates two separate surnames. As already noted above for "United-States", the use of a hyphen in "New-York" also was still sometimes still used though already archaic, and is no longer practiced today.]

 

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Prepared by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
April, 2006
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