In 1856 Amos Kendall, a Postmaster General under President Jackson and Van Buren established a small school for the deaf and blind in the District of Columbia. In 1857 he encouraged Congress to incorporate the Columbia Institution of the Deaf and Blind in a house that sat on 2 acres of land that he donated. The school is located about one mile from the Capitol, and originally held 16 students. Edward Miner Gallaudet, the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, was the first Superintendent. Thomas Gallaudet was the founder of the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, which was the first public residential school for children in the US.
On April 8th, 1864 President Lincoln signed into law an act that enabled the Columbia Institution to grant college degrees in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Since then the college has undergone many changes but some of the traditions are still part of Gallaudet.
Jumping ahead to the 1970's, Gallaudet evolved into a multi-purpose institution. The college established a center for continuing education and began to open adult education programs for the deaf. The college also began to focus national attention on the needs of the deaf through a wide variety of workshops, seminars, and research.
As programs developed and the campus grew to more that 1,500 students, several buildings were expanded, renovated and restored. The older buildings built in the early 1900's were designated a National Historic District by the Department of the Interior.
On March 6-13th, 1988, Gallaudet University was the place of a significant event in contemporary deaf history. The Gallaudet Revolution known as the "The Deaf President Now (DPN) Movement" changed many views about the deaf community. Perhaps, for the first time, the world heard the deaf population. Out of the 3 final candidates for the Gallaudet presidency one was hearing, and had little knowledge of the deaf or sign language unlike the other two candidates. Her name was Elisabeth Zinser and she was elected President of Gallaudet University by the Board of Trustees.
The school, staff, faculty, students as well as deaf communities around the world were outraged. Since 1864 no President had been deaf and that's exactly what they wanted... a Deaf President.
The school closed down with students blocking the entranceways and holding signs that said "Deaf President Now". For a week they protested, some camping on the Presidents lawn, a sit-in was held at the Mayflower hotel where the board was meeting to discuss the presidency, and the others held a protest march to Capitol Hill. The students and their backers then presented the Board of Trustees with four demands: