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(A History of OSD Since 1829)

Alumni Day at the Ohio School for the Deaf provides the perfect setting for the exchange of information regarding the traditions of bygone days and the challenges of OSD today.  Alumni from the graduating classes of 1916 and since reminisce about the undefeated basketball team of 1936-37, the Spring Dance, and "the old school." Present day students show off new dormitory furniture, trophies from the recent Central State School for the Deaf Tournament, and the latest publication of The Ohio Chronicle, printed by OSD students since 1868. All of the attendees at Alumni Day, both young and older, savor the friendships, cherish the learning, and complain about the hard work --- some things never change.

The birth of the Ohio School for the Deaf was tied to Ohio's early commitment to education for all children. The 1803 State Constitution states, "Religion, morality, and knowledge — and the means for instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision."  

The Reverend James Hoge was primarily responsible for the creation of the public facility in Ohio for the education of deaf persons. Dr. Hoge was inspired by a letter he read from the Pennsylvania Institution, which invited Ohio to send its deaf children across the state line for educational purposes on a tuition basis. Consequently, an enumeration (counting) of deaf persons in Ohio was completed in 1823 which, at Dr. Hoge's urging, culminated in the conceptual establishment in 1826 of an Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb.

In 1827, the Ohio legislature, changing the facility's name from the Asylum to the Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, created a Board of Trustees to facilitate the founding of the Institution. Reverend Horatio N. Hubbell was appointed teacher/superintendent of the Institution in 1828 and was sent to the American Asylum in Hartford, Connecticut for specialized training in sign language and methods of instruction for the deaf. Rev. Hubbell's eighteen month training period cost the Board $394.83 in addition to his $500 per year salary.

It was soon determined that the city of Columbus would be the location of the Institution due to its centrality and its close proximity to the State Legislature. As a result, about ten acres of land were purchased for $300 on East Town Street.

Because Ohio revenues were generally being absorbed by the construction of canals in the early 1800’s, the legislature did not immediately authorize the building of the Institution. Rather, a small house was rented on the corner of Broad and High Streets in Columbus. Reverend Hubbell's first pupil was Samuel Flenniken, a twelve year old boy from Franklin County. By 1831, Reverend Hubbell was assisted by two more instructors at the Institution in order to serve the 20-25 students. The Ohio Institution became the fifth residential deaf school in the United States. 

Between 1829 and 1834, instruction was provided in three other locations.  In 1830, the Board of Trustees fixed $80 per annum per pupil as the rate which would be charged to parents/local communities to cover the costs of tuition, room and board, and incidental expenses. However, it was also decreed by the Ohio Legislature that one indigent pupil from each of the nine judicial districts might receive a free education for three or four years at the Institution. Children could be admitted to the Institute at age twelve and remain for the five year educational program available at that time.

While the students' classrooms were housed in the various locations mentioned previously, the female children were boarded at the home of Miss Jane Nashee at the rate $1.25 per week. The Board also furnished furniture, fuel, and candles. The teacher and the male students lived in a room adjoining the classroom.

In 1832, the new facility was erected on East Town Street for $15,000. The main building was three stories high, fifty feet by eighty feet. A barn and several outbuildings were also built.  The facility was designed to accommodate 60-80 pupils and, at the time, was supposed to meet the needs of the population for many years to come.  The Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb moved to its newly constructed East Town Street location in 1834 and remained there with additions and reconstruction until 1953. Children were both taught and housed on the Institution grounds, which necessitated the creation of the position of matron to care for the children during out of school hours.

Initially, the only vocational training provided to the students was to use the boys to cut wood for fuel and to maintain the grounds, including farming and the operation of a small orchard.  The girls assisted in household duties.  However, commencing in 1838, several trade shops were established and furnished with work tools.  The shops were housed in a two story brick structure, 60 feet by 20 feet, built at a cost of $1,431.46.  Private tradesmen were used to instruct the students, whose labor was offered without charge in exchange for the instruction.  Shoemaking and a machine shop were among the first vocational areas.

It is interesting to note in Superintendent Rev. Hubbell's report in 1838 that he stressed the importance of educating the deaf and strongly advocated sign language.  He stated that the great difficulties faced by deaf educators are the teaching of English idioms and lack of availability of suitable textbooks — needs common to instructors in modern times.  Unlike public schools of the time, the school term at the Institution began in October, after the fall harvest, and extended through July.  The annual budget was listed at about $8,000.00.

In 1843, the superintendent/principal had his teaching responsibilities delegated to an additional teacher, so that he might fully concentrate on managing the school.  Also, until this year, it had been the responsibility of the superintendent to furnish the contents of all of the Institution buildings, except for the classrooms, out of his own salary.  The following year, the position of steward was created in order to allow a person separate from the superintendent to provide for building maintenance, housing, and boarding of students.  The addition of the steward, along with his family, at the facility affected what was already developing into an overcrowded building.  Therefore, in 1843, the Board of Trustees sought $10,000 from the legislature for additions to the 1834 structure.

The oral-manual controversy was a large section of the Superintendent's Annual Report in 1844.  It was at this time that educator Horace Mann had written of his observations of the oral classes in Germany, advocating its exclusive use in America as well.  Dr. Hubbell, however, cautioned against drawing conclusions about the speech skills of the adventitiously deaf and reminded the reader of the advantages of a visual-gestural language system.  The Ohio Institution was responsible for the training of many deaf educators during this era; these educators were subsequently employed at newly-founded residential schools west and south of Ohio.

Starting in 1845, a new building was erected on the Institution grounds for approximately $3,000 being spent for the heating apparatus and furnishings.  One hundred four students were enrolled in the facility in 1845; however, the new wing increased the school's capacity to one hundred fifty students.  Other improvements of the era included the replacement of tallow candles by coal oil at the Institution.

An 1850 account of daily life at the school indicated the following schedule of activities.  The children were awakened at about 5:00 a.m. so that they might eat breakfast, family-style, with all teachers and officers (administration) in attendance.  Students then completed all "household" chores followed by a study hall until 8:30 a.m., supervised by responsible students.  Recess lasted until 9:00 a.m. at which time all the students and staff congregated in the chapel for prayers.  The one hundred students then went to one of six classrooms for instruction until noon.  After lunch, the children returned to their classrooms to study until 4:00 p.m.  (School was also held on Saturday morning.)  The boys worked on the grounds at various duties and the girls sewed from the time school ended until supper at 6:00 p.m.  The students studied once again in the evenings.

Structural and instructional changes continued to occur throughout the later half of the nineteenth century. Gas lights replaced coal oil as an illumination element. Deaf tradesmen were hired to instruct students in the vocational shops, rather than their hearing counterparts, who seemed to lack the communication skills and understanding necessary to teach deaf students. The first female teacher was employed in 1866.

In 1868, a new main building of Franco-Italian architecture, having towers, steep roofs, and dormer windows, replaced the dilapidated 1834 building. Printing, book binding, and publication of a daily newspaper, The Ohio Chronicle, were added to male students' curriculum, while a Sewing Department taught mending and handiwork to the girls. Male teachers provided religious instruction on Sundays. In 1870, the age of admission was reduced to ten years of age; lip reading and articulation instruction were initiated at the schools, which coincided with the famous Conference at Milan (Italy), where the merits of the oral approach was promoted internationally.  Also, in 1870, the Alumni Society was founded. Rugby and baseball teams were popular at the school at that time.  Capital improvements included a forty-foot diameter fountain constructed on the front lawn, a green house/conservatory, and a new vocational building, which housed new shop areas of carpentry, cabinet making, and tailoring. In addition, plumbing (involving the installation of marble and tile in the lavatories) was completed, steel ceilings were installed in the students' wings, and plastering and painting (instead of calcimine treatments) became popular for use on the walls. A new school building, a gymnasium, and an electric light plant were completed in 1899.

The beginning of the twentieth century saw the school's highest attendance — 532 pupils in 1904. The school's name was officially changed to the Ohio State School for the Deaf and its operation was placed under the auspices of the State Department of Education. A fireproof hospital was erected in 1906 at a cost of nearly $30,000. A complete system of hot water heating was installed. Direct current electrical motors were replaced by alternating current models. A new well with a forty-inch pipe replaced one with a ten-inch pipe. The principal, Dr. Robert Patterson, who lost his hearing at twelve years of age, developed the school's first formal curriculum. Separate classes for oral and manual (sign language) were taught.

In 1941, school administrators and the Ohio Legislature were concerned that the East Town Street school buildings were in great disrepair.  A commission was established to investigate the need for a new facility.  As a result, 235 acres were purchased on the far north side of the city.  This site, originally a golf course, contained wooded areas, grassy knolls, and a lovely ravine with a wide stream, and would soon be the locations for the Ohio School for the Deaf and the Ohio State School for the Blind.  Construction was delayed until after World War II and after the state highway projects were finished.

The newer campus eventually contained eleven buildings with "cottage-style" housing for students, patterned after the California School for the Deaf.  Staff members finished painting the interior walls of the classroom prior to the opening of school in November of 1953.   Outreach projects, such as the Evaluation and Medical Clinics, which began in 1960, and the Parent/Child Program (early intervention for pre-school children and their parents) in 1968, provided valuable services statewide.  The vocational training program became state certified and was expanded to include auto body repair, business office education, printing, masonry, graphics arts, auto maintenance, and commerical baking.  Special support services included speech therapy in 1969, auditory training using newly purchased Suvag units in 1970, occupational therapy in 1972, and school counseling in 1976.

Changes in philosophy resulted in innovative programming, adjustment in instructional methods, and increased emphasis on out of school programming. Intensive inservice training for staff in American Sign Language, behavior intervention, and computer-assisted instruction were provided to meet changing needs. The school's technology was updated to include walk-away Telex auditory trainers, its first computer lab, state-of-the-art equipment in the vocational shops, portable TTY's, videotaping equipment, and captioned educational films through the establishment of a depository at OSD.

The population at OSD slowly decreased following P.L. 94-142 in 1975, as some students returned to local areas for programming. Work-study programming for multi-handicapped students began in 1976. Some OSD students were partially mainstreamed into the Columbus City Schools with interpreters starting in 1978, while Columbus Hearing Impaired Program students joined OSD for vocational training starting in 1977.

In 1989 OSD educated averaging 140 - 150 students annually, who ranged in age from 3 to 22 years.  Forty-five professional staff members provided instruction and specialized services (speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychological service, counseling, instructional media, computer instruction, physical education, art instruction, audiology, and behavior management).  A sixteen-bed health clinic with registered nurses and staff physicians provides a full range of care.  During after school hours, students participated in intramural sports, clubs, cheerleading, and recreation activities planned by the staff.

Building on Our Proud Past to Create the Future

2004 marked OSD’s 175th anniversary. OSD student, faculty and staff, alumni, and other stakeholders celebrated the event with an assembly and erection of an engraved bronze historical marker on the grounds in the area known as Alumni Park.  Agnes, the name of the statue which originally graced the massive fountain at the 1868 school, stood nearby and “nodded” her approval.  As the 21st Century got underway, it’s natural to consider the future of Ohio’s residential school for the deaf and to engage in a process to assure its continued existence for students well into this century.

As we look back in history, we recognize that the political and social pressures present in 1829 demanded that Ohio’s young government assure that its citizens, all of its citizens, could contribute to its economy and the common good.  That meant promoting job skills and nurturing the capacity for citizenship and leadership.  Education was the path.  Deaf citizens deserved no less and, in fact, became among Ohio’s best resources.

We can visualize that 1829 classroom - three deaf students in a rented building with their teacher/superintendent seated around a wood stove for heat; their teacher used the sign language learned from France to discuss the concepts of the day – agriculture, use of money and banking principles, the system of locks along Ohio’s canals, anti-slavery writings, the newly invented gas lights, and even religion.  The teacher often wrote on slate and students shared the few books that were available at the time.  

Through the years OSD changed and grew, meeting the challenges of each new era and each new generation of students.  Community leaders built a large, new school on a lovely campus.  The superintendent hired and trained more teachers.  More courses and vocational training were added.    The curriculum was revised several times and eventually included college preparatory coursework.  The controversy about oralism and manualism prevailed.  Modern inventions made the school more comfortable over time.  Student organizations were developed to nurture leadership skills and a social conscience.  Those who attended or graduated from OSD organized themselves into the Alumni Association and supported OSD along the way.

Continue to Next Page "Preparing for OSD's Future"

Dr. Edward E. Corbett, Jr. 1942-2012
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