(Be Thou Opened! from the original minutes of the board, May 24, 1964. Drawn by Jonathan Hall)
How much do you really know about the seal and the diploma of Gallaudet College as a corporate body? Do you know that, as a corporate body, it has had two different seals? That the seal contains three languages (English, Syriac and the manual alphabet of the deaf)? That the five Syriac characters (reading from right to left) have the same meaning as the nine hand symbols (manual alphabet, reading from left to right)?
Do you know that the fourth Syriac character is correctly joined to the third character (reading from right to left), but that the fourth character should be like the second one (resembling a great deal the letter “L” in our language)? That the fourth Syriac character on the Gallaudet College seal varies just enough to make it difficult for even students of the Semitic languages to translate it?
Do you know the names of the three men who were mainly responsible for the design of the seal and the diploma? This article, including its photographs of the seal and illustrations of the Syriac characters, will, I hope answer the above questions.
Before there can be a college seal, there must be a college or the nucleus of a college. The birth of Gallaudet College is a result of the establishment of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf as a corporate body (now Gallaudet College) in 1857. The Institution opened with deaf and a few blind children of varying ages.
However, the Institution had no seal until the U.S. Congress passed an Enabling Act authorizing the setting up of a collegiate department within the confines of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf. Abraham Lincoln signed the Charter of the infant college on April 8, 1864.
Although this article deals mainly with the seal and the diploma of the college, it will provide necessary background information.
An Act of Congress to incorporate the Columbia Institution was approved February 16, 1857. A founder of the Institution was Amos Kendall, philanthropist and Postmaster General under Presidents Jackson and Van Buren. Kendall served as first president of the Columbia Institution….until June 30, 1864. The Gallaudet College campus, as well as that of the Columba Institution, is a part of the Kendall estate and is known as Kendall Green.
After the incorporation of the Columbia Institution, its Board of Directors, on Kendall’s recommendation, appointed at its May 30, 1857, meeting, Edward Miner Gallaudet as superintendent of the new Institution. Edward was the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of the first permanent public school for the deaf in America, now the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut. His mother, Sophia Fowler, was a deaf student of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and later become Thomas’s wife.
Under the able administration of Edward Miner Gallaudet, the guiding hand of Amos Kendall, and an active, interested Board, the Institution flourished.
In the Annual Report of the Columbia Institution for the year ending June 30, 1862. Gallaudet brought to the attention of the Board and of Congress the need to establish a college for deaf students.
“A great want has existed among the deaf….of our country for a number of years, which is yet unsupplied,” he said.
He pointed out that state institutions had multiplied but their study was limited to afford the deaf pupil a common school education only but that high schools, free academies, colleges, and universities had been established for those possessed of all their faculties.
“Nothing, on any considerable scale, has been done in this direction for the deaf,” he said. “Well-educated deaf…are and will continue to be, needed as teachers throughout the country,”
He felt no greater boon could be given the deaf than a “college where those possessing the requisite amount of intellect might press forward their education to a point which would enable them to conduct the education of their fellows in misfortune and to engage in many pursuits from which they are now (from simple lack of culture) necessarily barred.”
Gallaudet said the organization of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf afforded an opportunity to the location of a collegiate department with fewer difficulties in the way than existed in other institutions for the deaf in the United States.
“An institution like this, situated at the federal metropolis, should be more than a local school,” Gallaudet told the Board of Directors. “It should exert a national influence, and impart benefits to the whole community. This desirable end would be most happily attained if a college for the deaf should be here established, which could receive and educate on moderate terms those from all parts of the land fitted to enjoy its instructions. Until this proposed feature of our institution is realized, our labors will be incomplete, our duty to hose committed to our charge but partially performed, and the expectations of the deaf….and their friends throughout the country be unfulfilled.”
Before two years ha passed, the efforts of Gallaudet, Kendall, the Board and others resulted in the Enabling Act of Congress authorizing the Columbia Institution for the Deaf…”to grant and confer such degrees in the liberal arts and sciences…..as are usually granted and conferred in colleges: and to grant to such graduates diplomas or certificates sealed and signed in such manner as” the Board of Directors, “may determine, to authenticate and perpetuate the memory of such graduation.”
Gallaudet reported this action of Congress to the Board at its May 7, 1864, meeting. He said the progress already made by the most advanced pupils now in the Institution called for the establishment of the collegiate department at this beginning of the next academic year.
The Board then appointed Gallaudet to be in charge of preparing suitable forms for diplomas and certificates to be presented in the conferring of collegiate degrees or the “honorable dismissal of pupils leaving the academic department of the institution.”
At the next meeting of the Board, May 24, 1864, Gallaudet presented forms for certificates and diplomas: the certificates to be in English and be given to pupils completing the course of study in the academic department or leaving in good standing before finishing the course; the diplomas to be in Latin and to be used in conferring degrees to those meeting the requirements of the collegiate department.
Gallaudet said he had not thought there would be any differences of opinion in using Latin in the diplomas: but he had consulted Amos Kendall a few days before the Board meeting. He had found Kendall very much opposed to the use of Latin and in favor of having them in English. On learning the opinion of Mr. Kendall, Gallaudet said he was referring the matter to the directors to decide what should be done.
After discussing the question of Latin versus English in the diplomas, the Board unanimously adopted the forms presented by Gallaudet.
At the same time, Gallaudet submitted a design for corporate seal as follows (see photographs of seal officially adopted at a later meeting): The seal to have an open Bible, bearing the word “Ephphatha” (“Be though opened” or “Be opened”) inscribed in Syriac, the Aramaic class of the Semitic languages–the one said to have spoken by Jesus, around the Bible the same word (“Ephphatha”) in the characters of the manual alphabet used by the deaf; and the rim of the seal to contain the words “Academia Columbiana.”
The Rev. Byron Sunderland, a Board member, suggested that thirteen stars be inserted in the rim to fill the spaces between the words “Academia” and “Columbiana”; and the shielf of the United States be placed within the rim of the seal at the foot of the Bible (the shield of the United States also has thirteen stripes, representing the original thirteen states)
The Board agreed to thee suggestions and unanimously adopted the design of the seal as completed. At the close of the meeting, Gallaudet was given a roll of parchment containing 27 sheets for diplomas.
The seal adopted at the May 7, 1864 meeting and the use of Latin in the diplomas did not become a reality.
The Board held a special meeting on June 7, 1864. After the reading of the minutes of the May 7 meeting, Amos Kendall said that indisposition prevented his attending the last meeting. He asked the Board of Directors to reconsider its decision in “favor of the use of the Latin language in diplomas to be issued by this Institution and upon its Corporate Seal.”
Kendall, in a paper read by William Stickney, secretary of the Board, presented his views in support of the use of English instead of Latin. He said his objections were twofold: “First, that it is an imitation of a custom in the Colleges of Great Britain and the United States which has ceased to be respectable and is fast losing respect; Secondly, that it is unbecoming in our Institution and calculated to expose us to ridicule.”
In his paper, Kendall gave a brief history of the ages embracing the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, when learning took shelter in the Monasteries “where it was cherished in the Latin language, the language in common use, by the monks and priests, while barbaric dialects and universal ignorance prevailed without…”
He said that during certain periods in the history of the world, the Latin language was not entirely a dead language. “being a sort of official language and in use by a large class of learned men in most European countries…But the discovery of the art of printing improvements in the modern languages, the extension of learning and the common sense of rulers and ruled, have nearly if not quite, banished it from official documents, records, and correspondence, as well as from ordinary use throughout the world.”
Kendall emphasized that a “knowledge of Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages has ceased to be the chief object of education and they are studied only as auxiliaries. Nobody now talks, writes, or prints in Latin or Greek,” he said. “The study of Latin is now practically useful only as a means of better understanding only as a means of better understanding the numerous words of our own language which have been derived from it. But who ever thins, if he thinks at all, of studying Latin for any other practical purpose?”
He added, “In short, Latin which was once the language of learning has become the language of pretension. A knowledge of Latin is now no longer an evidence of superior attainments; that language is never heard in conversation and never seen in epistolary correspondence or original composition outside of schools and colleges.”
Suggesting that Latin he studied only as a means of acquiring a better knowledge of our tongue, Kendall asked the Board, “Is the living present to be forever bound to be the dead past?”
Kendall said the Columbia Institution for the Deaf had without show or pretension “made its way to public confidence and respect.”
He recommended that the progress of the Institution “be as it has been, cautious, safe and unpretending, and it will be as it has been, rapid enough to satisfy all reasonable ambition…let us do nothing which can excite the jealousy of other Deaf Institutions, the ridicule of existing Colleges or that of the public.”
In his conclusion, Kendall said, “Let me ask what possible benefit can accrue to the Institution or to those whom it may delight to honor by giving the Diplomas in Latin? Will they prize the honor the more because it is in a language which, perchance, neither they nor their friends understand? If that be a merit, why not use Hebrew or Chinese which are still more unintelligible? Does it merit consist in being intelligible to a few scholars in foreign countries? If that is the object, then our Diplomas should be in French which is much more generally used and understood.
“But,” he continued, “if we are to have something not understood by a class in foreign countries, why not put out Diplomas in the sign language of the Deaf…? Why not confer degrees in that language? To the multitude it is equally as unintelligible as the Latin and much more impressive from its very silence.”
Kendall ended by saying, “Finally, I cannot divest myself of the feeling that the use of Latin in our Ceremonies and Diplomas would be but the adoption of a custom which is fast losing respect among practical men and the old Colleges for mere purpose of inspiring awe in the ignorant multitude. There is less excuse for us than for them; because they but follow the footsteps of their predecessors, while our Institution, as a College for the Deaf….is believed to be the first in the world has ever seen and should strike as a course for itelf which other Institutions of like character shall not be ashamed to follow.”
After the reading of the Kendall paper, the Board members had a somewhat heated discussion. They then decided to use English in the diplomas and certificates. They voted “That the words ‘Columbia Institution’ be inscribed upon the seal, with the other insignia adopted at the last meeting of the Board.”
The motion passed by one vote (three for the use of English; two against) Thus, as stated in the first paragraph of this article, the Gallaudet College seal contains three languages: the English, the manual alphabet of the deaf and the Syriac (please note that the Syriac languages are written and read from right to left, the opposite of ours, which reads from left to right) The two units on the seal, which have the same meaning, are the Syriac characters and the manual alphabet. (“Ephphatha”)
Suggestion: For the Biblical story of “Ephphatha” see Chapter 7, verses 32 to 37, Book of St. Mark in the New Testament of the Bible.
On June 22, 1864, Amos Kendall resigned as president of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf, effective on June 30. At Kendall’s recommendation, the Board of Directors unanimously elected Edward Miner Gallaudet to serve as president of the Institution, which now had a collegiate department.
As retiring president, Amos Kendall, and William Stickney, Board secretary, signed the first diplomas bearing the original seal of the Institution. These were presented to the members of the first graduating class of the academic department of the Columbia Institution at the exercises and the inauguration of the first college for the deaf. These were held June 28, 1864, in the First Presbyterian Church at Four-and-a-Half Street (Now John Marshall Place, N.W.) Washington, D.C.
After the inaugural program and the presenting of the diplomas to the graduating class of the academic department, one college degree was given in accordance with a motion passed by the Board at its meeting on May 24, 1864: “Resolved that the honorary degree of Master of Arts be conferred upon John Carlin of New York City, at the close of the present academic year.”
Presenting the diploma to Carlin, Amos Kendall said (in part), “John Carlin, for the first time in the world’s history has an institution for the instruction of the Deaf….been authorized to confer collegiate degrees…While we bestow upon you this deserved honor, we hope thereby to induce other deaf…to emulate your example, and not rest satisfied with the attainments now available in existing institutions….”
Thus in a fitting and impressive manner, the world’s first and only college devoted specifically to the education of the deaf bestowed its first collegiate degree (an honorary one) on a distinguished deaf man who was influential in the founding of the college itself. Deaf from infancy, John Carlin was a graduate of what is now the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, Mt. Airy, Philadelphia. He became a well-known artist, poet, and writer.
The original seal was used for 90 years. On June 18, 1954, Public Law 420, 83rd Congress, was approved and signed by President Eisenhower. Public Law 420 reads in part: “AN ACT–To amend the charter of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf, change its name, define its corporate powers, and provide for its organization and administration, and the other purposes.
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of American in Congress assembled, That the Columbia Institution for the Deaf, created a body corporate by the Act of Congress approved February 16, 1857 as amended, is herby continued as a body corporate under the name of Gallaudet College, and herafter a perpetual succession and shall have the powers and be subject to the limitations contained in the Act….”
Section 6 (b) of this Act states: “The Board of Directors shall have the power to provide for the adoption of a corporate seal and for its use.”
The Board of Directors of Gallaudet College adopted a new seal, different in two ways from the first seal. The name “Gallaudet College” replaced “Columbia Institution”; and the date of the founding of the institution as a corporate body was added to the seal–1857. Article VII of the Bylaws of the Board of Directors states in part: “Gallaudet College shall adopt an official seal which shall be two concentric circles between which shall be the words ‘Gallaudet College 1857’…..”
To avoid confusion for those people who know the collegiate department was established in 1864, an explantation of the date “1857” is that changing the name of a corporate body does not change the date of its founding. For years Gallaudet College had been a part of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf, the corporate body. Then the name of the corporate body was changed to Gallaudet College. A corporate body is made up of parts: for example, the Columbia Institution was composed of the Kendall School; Gallaudet College; a graduate department (Normal School); faculty and staff, etc.
Gallaudet College, the name adopted by AN ACT of Congress to replace the name Columbia Institution for the Deaf, contains various parts, such as the undergraduate school, the graduate school, the preparatory class, the high school, the Kendall School, the hearing and speech center, and the preschool and so forth. The child had come the parent.
*The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of THE DEAF AMERICAN or of any organization, college, or person.
Mrs. Holden expresses her appreciation to Mrs. Lucille H. Pendell, Gallaudet’s librarian; her staff; and Mr. Hall for their help in the research necessary for this article.
Georgie E. Holden
February 9, 1970.
****Jonathan Hall, professor of biology at Gallaudet College and son of its second president, has from time to time drawn attention to the errors in the Syriac characters on the seal and all its unofficial variations. Mr. Hall hopes that, in the near future, Gallaudet College will have a correct basic seal, together with a revival of the philosophy it represents. He hopes that Amos Kendall’s interpretation of the philosophy will predominate and summarizes Kendall’s message by saying that “educators, especially those who teach the deaf, have a moral obligation to approach each student at a communication level reasonably suitable to that student, and with continuous, patient effort toward complete understanding, repressing always any temptation toward self-elevation through use of a communication type not easily understood by the student.”
To Mr. Hall, the seal has a special significance. He says that we have not yet made full use of simple, well-known, successful means of improving learning that are applicable to the deaf. To him, “Be Thou Opened!” is both a message to the student and the teacher. “It should be understood, however.” Mr. Hall says, “that in all the probability not one of the original board members (and hardly anyone associated with Gallaudet College to this date) actually knew that the combined unit of the third and fourth characters is actually a combination of two Syriac characters written together and not one character. “Therefore, even to those who knew the meaning of the group of Syriac characters, the difference as used on the seal and the correct version was barely noticeable.
The only difference appears to be the lack of an ‘unimportant’ serif in one case”. Mr. Hall has a gold pin in which the engraver “improved” the unit by adding what he thought to be a correct serif to character number 4. “This explains why my father, Dr. Percival Hall, Sr. did not review the original minutes of the Board at an earlier date. The Syriac characters as seen on diplomas were, to all appearances, sufficiently accurate. Also, there is the probability that, when scholars of Semitic languages were asked about the Syriac characters, they were not told what the manual alphabet engravings on the seal meant: ‘Ephphatha’, Mr. Hall says.