1838: Samuel Bayard Woodward to Thomas Hopkins Gallaudett

Samuel Bayard Woodward

This brief letter was written by Dr. Samuel Bayard Woodward (1787-1850) who was the medical superintendent of one of the first public hospitals for the mentally ill in the U.S., the Worcester State Hospital in Worcester, Mass. A biography for Dr. Samuel B. Woodward claims that he “brought a significant paradigm shift to the dark world of mentally ill indigent citizens of Massachusetts in the early 19th century. When Dr. Woodward became the first superintendent of Worcester State Hospital in 1833, mentally ill patients were viewed with suspicion and fear and were usually relegated to prisons and poorhouses. Woodward rejected a supernatural explanation of mental illness that was very popular at that time. He believed mental illness was a somatic disease, not unlike other diseases. His approach, called “moral therapy,” consisted of kind, compassionate, individualized care that respected the patient as a human being. Dr. Woodward was also instrumental in the burgeoning field of psychiatry. He was a prolific writer and became the first president of the organization that would later become the American Psychiatric Association.”

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudett

Dr. Woodward wrote the letter to Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudett (1787-1851), the son of Jane Hopkins and Peter Gallaudet of Philadelphia. “By the time Gallaudet was thirteen years old, his parents moved to Hartford, Connecticut in preparation for his college education. He despised the idea of leaving the church to which he dedicated most of his time, and evidently stayed behind in Philadelphia to work as a young minister. After a short time, Gallaudet began to experience serious health problems, forcing him to move in with his parents in Connecticut and turn down a much desired ministerial position. Upon arrival, he attended Yale College (now Yale University) to concentrate on the study of education. He graduated from Yale in 1805 with a degree in education, but was unsure of where to take his education.

Gallaudet’s interest in education began when considering the religious principle of educating, and further grew after he met Alice Cogswell. Cogswell, the deaf daughter of Gallaudet’s doctor, intrigued his curiosity after he attempted to teach her at the request of her father. He discovered the difficulty of teaching a deaf student like Alice and realized the necessity for special instruction and more effective education for both deaf and mute students in the United States. Soon after, the Cogswell family along with other families aware of the situation funded a trip for Gallaudet to Great Britain to further study deaf instruction. He returned quickly after becoming aware of the deaf instruction monopoly that was held by only one British family. The Braidwood family attempted regular instruction of the deaf and made proceeds the priority of their schools. Directly after his return to Connecticut, the Cogswell family then aided Gallaudet in establishing the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons. The Connecticut Asylum, later named the American School for the Deaf was a free institution which operated solely on state grants and private donations. Gallaudet remained principal until 1830; however, during his stay, the school became known as a place of instruction for not only students, but also instructors seeking to establish similar institutions for deaf-mute instruction.

Upon departure from the Connecticut Asylum, due to age and health, Gallaudet continued his educational work through advocating religious and social activities. He died in Hartford, Connecticut in 1851, where he lived during his elder years, due to a combination of health issues and age.” [Source: Pabook Libraries]

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mr. Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudett, Hartford, Connecticut

Worcester [Massachusetts]
February 16, 1838

My Dear Sir,

Page 1

We have introduced religious worship into our Hospital in a manner quite satisfactory and with very complete success. I am very desirous to have you come out and preach for us at some time and would name the first Sabbath in March, or any one that you can name afterwards, excepting the second Sabbath in that month, on which day we are supplied. I can offer you no great encouragements but will pay all your expenses of the journeys and housed here at the American Temperance House while you stay.

My object in writing to you now is that i wish to consult you on the subject of the chaplaincy. We are hoping to have a regular chaplain next summer. we would be glad to procure a man with a moderate salary, to preach for us on Sunday. If he can pursue some other employments a part of the time, t will be agreeable. We have thought of you, my dear sir, as a preacher of the character which we should like, & hoped that you could pursue book making as profitably in our pleasant village as in the City of Hartford.

Page 2

We have 210 patients, 150 of whom attend our chapel, which with our help & my family make a snug congregation of 200. We have a beautiful room of 40 by 32 feet; have a very good choir of singers — all of our own household, & perform all the parts common in a New England Congregation twice every Sabbath.

May I hear from you in the course of a few days?

I am truly & respectfully yours, — S. B. Woodward


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