Do Lincoln's Hands Reflect Sign Language? | HistoryNet MENU

Do Lincoln’s Hands Reflect Sign Language?

11/18/2014 • Ask Mr. History

Mr. Guttman,

I used to sponsor our annual 8th grade trip to D.C. When we visited the Lincoln Memorial I was told by some that French, the sculptor whose daughter was deaf, designed Lincoln’s hands to display an “A” and “L” in ASL sign language as a tribute to Lincoln because he signed the law creating Gallaudet School for the deaf in D.C. Others say this is pure myth. The hands only reflect his resolve on one side and compassion on the other as one can see on his face when standing on either side. Is the story real or myth?

Thanks,
Rick Carpenter

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Dear Mr. Carpenter,

The sign language myth regarding the Lincoln Memorial is based on fact—in regard to another work by Daniel Chester French. He also carved the statues of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, co-founder of the United States’ first school for the deaf, and of his first student, Alice Cogswell, who is hand-signing the letter “A.” They can be seen at Gallaudet University in northwest Washington, D.C. French had a completely different symbolism in mind when he made one of Abraham Lincoln’s hands clenched into a fist of resolution and the other relaxed in a sign of compassion…and that was all there was to it.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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