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.
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.