100th Anniversary

of the

Tennessee School for the Deaf


A History of the School
- : (Substantially Carr's History, with Modifications and Additions) : -

Origin and Early History, 1844-1861


General John Cocke, a Senator of Grainger County, Tennessee, made history in December, 1843, by leaving his bed during an illness and going to the General Assembly in session in Nashville to plead for an appropriation of $2,000 to establish a school for the deaf. The Senate reduced the amount specified to $1,000 and sent it back to the House as an amendment to the bill ,to establish a school for the blind. The bill was passed by the House on January 29, 1844.

In the spring of 1844, Governor James C. Jones appointed a board, which met on July 27, 1844, in the counting room of the firm of Cowan and Dickerson, to determine the first steps in establishing a school for the deaf. The board consisted of Messrs. R. B. McMullen, Joseph Estabrook, President of East Tennessee University, and Reverend D. R. McAnally. They wrote to the American Asylum in Hartford, Connecticut, to the New' York Institution in New York, anal to other schools, inquiring as to the steps necessary to proper organization of the school. They also sent a circular letter to the people of Tennessee requesting information in regard to the deaf of school age throughout the state.

After a great deal of study and correspondence over a period of several months, the board got in touch with Reverend Thomas MacIntire, a highly recommended teacher from the Ohio Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and asked that he take charge of the school as principal and teacher. Mr. MacIntire wrote the board that he would accept the position and suggested that a deaf man from the school in Ohio, Mr. Charles Myers, come with him, at his expense, with the promise of a place in the school as soon as there was need for an assistant teacher. To this suggestion the board readily acquiesced.

Later, in January, the Trustees at regular meeting decided to rent the Churchwell house in East Knoxville from Mr. G. W. Churchwell for $100 a year. This house, a large frame structure, seemed best suited to house the school at the time. (The Churchwell house was located on the southeast corner of East Main and Henderson Streets according to the best available data at this late date.)

They decided. to publish the cost of board and room for the school term of ten months at $100 and to those unable to pay they resolved to make every effort to extend instruction "so that none of that unfortunate class of our citizens within the state should be without the means of acquiring an education."


The First Session of the School

Mr. MacIntire began his duties on April 1, 1845. He advertised in the newspapers that the Tennessee Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb would open on April 14. He had bought slates in Ohio and brought them to Tennessee. The Trustees had furnished the schoolroom with a large table, a sufficient number of stools, one dozen chairs, and two pounds of "whiting." After this equipment had been assembled, school began on the first Monday of June, 1845. The class of six pupils which was enrolled increased to nine before the end of the session in September. For the support of the first session of the school there was available about $1400, the appropriation of $1000 having been added to by private subscription to the amount of $400.

The First Biennial Report, 1845

In September the First Biennial Report was drawn up by the Board and the Principal, Mr. MacIntire. In it recommendations were made to the General Assembly that a building of not less than fifteen rooms be erected in, a less crowded section of the city. The cost of such a building was estimated to be about $15,000. The Board also recommended that furniture and other equipment be bought.

The principal reported that much progress had been made in improving public relations in favor of the school and in the advancement of the nine pupils taught in the three months the school had been in session.

When the session closed they had all learned the manual alphabet, the written and printed characters; could write a neat hand on the slate with the crayon, and had begun to use the pen with considerable facility. They had also acquired a knowledge of the meaning and spelling of several hundred words, and had commenced writing short, simple sentences, dictated to them by signs, involving the use of the noun, the adjective, the verb, the adverb and the preposition.

Mr. MacIntire advanced the opinion that there were many more deaf in the state than the census revealed. Barring the unfit-those not of school age, mental incompetents and such there would be about 100 or 125 to be educated by the institution. Moreover, other states might send pupils to the school, should it be open to them, since there were no other schools south of Tennessee.

In regard to the proper building, he stated:

The building to be built should have two distinct sets of apartments, one for the males and one for the females, in which they can be kept apart, except when they are at meals or in the classrooms. It is also considered indispensible [sic]  to have separate school-rooms for each class and a large room, in which to assemble the pupils mornings and evenings for prayers.

The fee for the next term of school was fixed at $125 for all pupils who could pay. In the first term not one pupil admitted could pay the tuition asked. The age of admission was placed at from ten to twenty-five years.

In the fall of 1845 school re-opened and continued in operation until the following February 16, at which time it was closed because of insufficient funds and lack of a suitable plant, since Mr. Churchwell wanted the building for his own use at that time.

Act of Incorporation

On January 31, 1846, the General Assembly passed an act providing that the school be incorporated under the name of the Tennessee Deaf and Dumb School and under the direct control and management of a Board of Trustees composed of these six men: Reverend R. B. McMullen, Reverend D. R. McAnally, Reverend T. Sullins, Joseph Estabrook, James H. Cowan, and Campbell Wallace. This act increased the number of men composing the Board from three to six. Later the number was further increased until, in 1893, there were fourteen members of the Board. The Trustees were required to report the condition of the school to each General Assembly of the state. This act superseded the original act establishing the school in 1844. After the act was passed, the Board set about acquiring land and erecting buildings suitable to the purpose of the school.

Buildings and Support

On June 8, 1846, Calvin Morgan of Knoxville gave the school two acres of land situated just west of the center of town. It was a very valuable and beautiful tract, well adapted to the purpose for which it was given. Its location was convenient to the market, yet far enough away to be "free from all those bad influences so often found in towns."

Mr. William G. McAdoo, later a teacher in the East Tennessee University, was appointed an agent of the Trustees for taking subscriptions for buildings. He was instructed to canvas Knox and adjoining counties in the interest of the institution. He held this appointment for three months, when he resigned to serve in the army in the war with Mexico. The task of soliciting funds for the building program was taken over by Colonel John M. Davis. He and McAdoo secured about $5,000, which helped in the erection of the first building, the east wing. This structure, twenty-five by eighty feet, was built with these subscriptions. The Board reported that they had been

Very particular not to sacrifice permanent and future good for present convenience; and although the present construction by itself is not very well adapted to the wants of the school, even for a few pupils, yet it has this excellency-it has been built that additions may be made to it without inconvenience so that when the whole plan is carried out, it will be well adapted to the end for which it has been designed and will present as a whole a beautiful appearance.

In the spring of 1848 the main building was begun. Bids were opened in February, and on May 13 the cornerstone was laid. Reverend Thomas W. Humes, who later became President of East Tennessee University, gave the main address. It was quite an interesting and important ceremony for the deaf. Many civic organizations participated as well as the Trustees. President, faculty, and students of the University. The building when completed in 1851, was a handsome anal imposing structure, fifty by 100 feet, costing in the neighborhood of $28,000. Tennessee white marble was used for the steps in front of the main entrance. The columns on the front added much to the grandeur of the structure. The use of the marble, thought by many to be an unnecessary extravagance at the time, proved to be an economy, since it has demonstrated its durability with the years. When the City of Knoxville purchased the buildings for City Hall in 1924, it was in good condition, and, although it has been in constant use during the ensuing years, it shows little sign of deterioration.

At the close of the 1848-49 session, Mr. MacIntire made a plea for an appropriation of $15,692 to put up new buildings and to pay the remaining debt of $3,682 on the main building. The. general appropriation of $5,000 made by the Twenty-seventh General Assembly included no provision, for buildings, and the amount set aside by the Board had not been sufficient to carry on the work. Since the main building was but half completed MacIntire estimated the cost of finishing it at approximately $8,000. Also, he wanted the west wing built. In order to carry out his plans for housing both sexes, the west wing was essential since

In planning the house, the main object kept in view has been to preserve as distinct as possible, the two departments for the two classes of pupils to be educated in the Institution. By the plan adopted, they will be entirely separated only when brought together at meals and for the purposes of instruction. They will be as it were from two communities; they will go in and out of the chapel, dining room, and school rooms by different doors and have separate playgrounds.

During the session many pupils had been turned away because of insufficient room. Also no more "females" could be housed than could be accommodated by the principal and his wife in their apartment, since the east wing was used exclusively for the boys.

The legislature of 1849-1850 appropriated $5,000 annual  for the support of the school for a ten-year period an  extra $5,000 to pay debts and complete the buildings. After the debts were paid $1,318 remained for completing the building This sum was inadequate, the Board having asked for $8,000 additional for finishing the one building then under construction. The Legislature had passed an act stating that "each Senatorial District in. the state shall have the right to ser free of charge, two pupils to the Institution for the education the Deaf and Dumb, in preference to all others, whether free or paying scholars." As a result, the number of pupils who wanted to enroll was much larger than could be accommodated in the building then available. On March 1, 1850, therefore, school  was discontinued, and Mr. MacIntire was delegated to superintend the building program. He continued in this capacity until his resignation in August, 1850. The work on the building continued without interruption until it was finished. When completed, the Board made this reference to it: "Substantial in its arrangement, and elegant in its architectural design and finish . . . . it reflects honor upon the State, whose benevolence has erected it." In keeping with the original plan, the west  wing, like the east, when completed in 1852 was twenty-five by eighty feet and three stories high.  Before the completion of the buildings, Mr. Morris arrived to take over the duties principal, his election having been announced by the Board in 1851.

Pupils and Curriculum

During the fall and winter of 1846-47, twenty-five pupils were admitted to the Institution. Twenty of these were supported entirely by the school; five were helped partially by friends and relatives. The annual appropriation of $2,500 made by the legislature of 1846 was entirely inadequate. After the principal and teachers were paid, $1,100 was left for boarding the indigent pupils and purchasing equipment and books.

At the end of the session a two-day examination was held.  The public and Board of Trustees were invited to attend. The pupils were divided into four classes, according to their progress, and all showed remarkable advancement. The course of study, as outlined by Mr. MacIntire, covered six years. included:

the alphabet, manual, written and printed: Natural Pantomime; Language; Reading„ both manual and by signs; Writing; Drawing; Geography; History; Arithmetic, both mental and written; Natural History; Bible History; and the Elements of Natural Philosophy; Chemistry, Astronomy and Physiology.

In the Third Biennial Report of 1848-1849, the Trust reported that the Institution was in "a flourishing condition."  Thirty-one pupils had been enrolled in the school and two had finished the work as outlined by Mr. MacIntire. During that  year three pupils from other states had been admitted: one from North Carolina, one from Kentucky, and one from Missouri.  Mr. MacIntire stressed the importance of having m pupils and teachers because of the organization of classes.  There were four distinct grades, and the attention of the two teachers had to be divided between two classes.


Mr. Morris's experience as a teacher had been gained in the New York Institution, from which he came to his post in Knoxville.

He and his family lived within the building and had their room and board provided by the school. In December 1851, Mrs. Morris was appointed Matron, with duties prescribed by the Board. Some of these were:

To superintend the females in all things except their instruction in school, to attend to their manners, habits and work when out of school, to attend to all clothing of both male and female pupils except in washing and to superintend the hospitals or pupils in sickness.

Mr. Morris's duties were likewise prescribed by a special committee composed of Trustees of the Board. These were to be:

Have charge of all the educational arrangements of the school, of the employments and manners of the pupils out of the school, to hear . a class, preside at meals, receive visitors, open and close the school morning and afternoon., and for the present lecture on the Sabbath: Rise at 5 1/2 A.M. in summer and 6 A.M. in winter.  Breakfast at 6 and 6 1/2. Work until 8 3/4.  At 9 A.M. go to the chapel and thence to school.  Remain in school  till 12 M.  Dine at 12 1/4.  Play 1 1/2 P.M. school till 3 3/4.  Thence to the chapel and thence to work till 6. Supper at 6 - play till 7.  Then study - the younger till 81/2 and then retire - the older till 10, then retire.  Saturday A.M. school till 12 M. and P.M. bathe, visit, play.  Sunday - chapel service 101/2 A.M. and 3 P.M. intermediate time study and read.

Such was the recommendation of this special committee the daily schedule of duties for each day.

On February 16, 1852, the legislature made a special appropriation of $8,000 to be used for physical improvements.   With it the Board endeavored to purchase additional ground for the institution and to enclose the grounds with a substantial fence.  In June the Trustees completed negotiations.  Mr. Calvin Morgan for three and a half acres of ground on east and north of the school. They paid $2,000 for this  land with the request that "Asylum Street" be made sixty-six feet wide by Mr. Morgan. During May, 1858, two and a half additional acres were added on the west at a cost of $5,000, making the entire grounds contain eight acres at a total cost of $7,800.

Mr. George E. Branson had been elected assistant teacher on September 3, 1851 and a year later Mr. H. S. Gillet was added to the teaching personnel.  Mr. A. G. Scott came to the school as assistant teacher in April, 1852, and about this same time Mr. Branson resigned.


After Mr. Morris' resignation in 1853, Mr. Gillet was appointed acting principal until the services of a regular principal could be secured.

Pupils and Teachers

During the summer of 1853 Mr. Gillet and Mr. Scott made excursions through the state hunting pupils for the next school term.  Due to the cholera scourge, many of the pupils found were unable to come to school in the fall.  The Board and teachers in charge were disappointed at the small number of pupils enrolled.  Because of the enlarged accommodations, they had expected an enrollment of from eighty to one hundred pupils.

In July, 1854, a committee, especially appointed, present to the Board a new set of regulations for the principal and steward.  In these the principal was given much more power than either of the former principals had been granted.  The authority to dispense with the services of anyone not meeting his standards of efficiency is noteworthy.

Mr. Gillet, elected principal in July, 1854, and the teacher's were requested by the Board to attend the convention of Teachers of the Deaf and Dumb in Staunton, Virginia, in the summer of 1855.  They were also asked to invite the Convention to hold its next meeting in Knoxville.

During the meeting of the General Assembly in Nashville in the winter of 1855, a demonstration was given by Mr. Gillet and some of the pupils in the school.


In May, 1856, Mr. Gillet resigned and Mr. Scott was appointed principal pro tem, with all the powers and the salary of principal until another could be procured.  A year later, the Board voted unanimously to retain him as principal.


In 1857 gas was installed in the buildings of the school, and the Building Committee authorized that all necessary repairs, such as painting, plastering, papering, be done.  A horse, buggy, and market wagon were bought for the use of the institution. 

The legislature in March, 1858, appropriated $5,000 for the erection of a building for workshops.  Instead, the house and lot of M. C. Baker, adjoining the grounds, was bought for use of the institution, at a cost of $5,000.  Later, during the principalship of Reverend Park this house was remodeled and used as the home of the principal.


Mr. Scott resigned in June, 1859, and Reverend James Park, a Presbyterian minister of Knoxville, was chosen as principal of the school.  Although he had had no previous experience in working with the deaf, he ably performed the duties of his office. At this time expenses were of necessity being curtailed. It was a time of unrest because of the impending war between the states. The state was so divided in its political beliefs that little thought was given the school. This, with the political upheaval all over the nation, made the new principal's duties doubly hard to perform.

In the spring and summer of 1860 much reduction of expenses was necessary.  The principal took over the duties of the steward; the resignation of Mr. Scott was accepted and no new assistant teacher was employed to fill his place; the principal's salary was reduced from $1600 to $1400 a year; and the Board authorized the principal to dispose of all of the institution's useless furniture.

On June 3, 1861, Reverend Park made his monthly report to the Board of Trustees.  In it he stated that the parents were anxious to have their children at home.  Since the pupils were in a general state of excitement, due to the outbreak of the Civil War, with little school work being accomplished, he thought that the school session should be terminated earlier than the usual time.  Should conditions become worse, he asked to be allowed to use his own discretion as to the time of closing.  Consequently, fifty-two pupils were returned to their homes on June 19, two weeks before the usual time of closing the school session.

The Board released all employees from any further duties on August 3, 1861; their salaries were paid up to that date. T his act constituted the formal suspension of the school. Soon afterward, the state authorities took possession of the property for a military hospital. All perishable and movable articles were sold to the Hospital Department for $1,120, and other property to the amount of $562 was loaned.  The buildings were used by the Confederate forces until September 3, 1863, at which time General Burnside, with an army of 20,000 men, arrived in Knoxville.  The Northern army occupied the plant from that time until September 1, 1865, when it was vacated and the Trustees took charge again.

The main building was much abused; the furniture, library, shrubbery, school equipment, some of the outbuildings, and trees had been destroyed.  In many places earthworks were thrown up as a defense measure and had been left as they were when the army evacuated at the end of the war.  The roof showed evidences of cannon balls having hit it in several places.  The dining room had been used as a hospital for the wounded soldiers for a while; then, later, it was used as a stable for the horses.   As a result of these conditions, the task of rebuilding and reequipping the school was a tremendous one.  The shoulders upon which it was to fall were to be those possessed of the extreme ability necessary to undertake such a stupendous responsibility.  The Board reported that "the premises are unfit for their being occupied as a school," and that a much larger appropriation would be necessary to repair and furnish the institution before school could be resumed.


The school in the sixteen years of its operation had risen from a very small beginning to an institution of which the state could justly be proud. It had grown in personnel from a one-teacher school to a school employing eight teachers and officers.  From a rented frame house, it had moved to a large brick building with two wings and a cottage for the principal.  The student body had grown from nine pupils in 1845 to fifty-five in 1861, one of the largest in the United States.

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