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Miss Storrs, Professor Storrs and the American School for the Deaf

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

From the 1840's to the 1880's the connection between the American School for the Deaf in Hartford and the Storrs family of Longmeadow was a strong one. In recent years the Longmeadow Historical Society and the American School for the Deaf (today in West Hartford) have reconnected as we have sought to learn more about the time that Sarah Storrs and her brother Prof. Richard “Salter” Storrs spent at the school.

American Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford Asylum Ave. is named for it, though today the school is in West Hartford

Sarah Storrs was born in 1832, the granddaughter of the town’s 2nd minister, Richard Salter Storrs. As a baby, Sarah lost her hearing after contracting whooping cough. Deafness and blindness were common results of many childhood illnesses in the days before vaccinations. Countless children were left deaf and/ or blind by illnesses like whooping cough, measles, and scarlet fever. They were fortunate to survive their illness, but faced an uncertain future if they could not be educated to read, write and do math and therefore participate more fully in their communities. As a result, schools for the deaf and schools for the blind were created to educate this generation of children who were capable in so many ways of learning and growing as citizens and scholars.

Image of young Sarah Storrs signing the letter "A."

Fortunately for Sarah Storrs, one such school existed in nearby Hartford, CT. Founded in 1817, the school was called The American Asylum at Hartford for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb - dumb, of course, meaning mute in 19th century parlance. The school aimed to bring the light of learning to children and young adults affected by hearing loss. At age eleven, Sarah Storrs was enrolled as a student. She was a bright student, and after eight years of study was asked to stay on as a teacher as well. She was a beloved teacher at the school for another fifteen years until her retirement in 1871 when she returned full time to Longmeadow to care for her aging parents.

On faculty was her brother, also named Richard Salter Storrs. Salter, as he was known, was not deaf, but upon graduating from Amherst College in 1852 as class valedictorian, he committed his life to the field of deaf education and spent nearly all his career as Prof. Storrs teaching alongside his sister and other talented faculty at ASD. Sarah and “Salter” were important faculty members at a time of incredible growth in the field of deaf education. Prof. Storrs wrote extensively on the topic of deaf education, and even moved briefly down to Washington D.C. to help establish the first college for the deaf in the country, Gallaudet University.

Though they lived and worked in Hartford during school terms, the Storrs’ parsonage at 697 Longmeadow Street was always home. Salter Storrs was a true keeper of the town’s history and wrote and published the Centennial Book for Longmeadow, which is a treasured resource for our work today.

Prof. Richard Salter Storrs' Business Card

After Salter’s death in 1884, Sarah continued living in the family home for another 23 years. She remained active in life in town through her involvement in church activities. She was known to frequently host colleagues and former students for weeks at a time as guests in her home. Upon her death in 1907, she left the house, family land and $5000 to establish the town library for Longmeadow, to be known as the Richard Salter Storrs Library.

Storrs Library as it appeared in 1910. Today this building stands in the rear of the current Storrs Library.

Male Faculty at American School for the Deaf Prof. Salter Storrs in back far right leaning over with a book. Image from the collection of the ASD Museum's Archives

Female Faculty at American School for the Deaf Sarah Storrs in back row, second from right. Image from the collection of the ASD Museum's Archives

Contributed by Melissa M. Cybulski, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member

Originally published June 24, 2021

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