100th Anniversary

of the

Tennessee School for the Deaf


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

The Period of Reconstruction and Growth
of the
Tennessee Deaf and Dumb School, 
1866 - 1921

At the opening of the Thirty-fourth General Assembly in 1865, Governor William G. Brownlow made a forceful speech citing the needs of the institutions of the state and the duty of the legislature then in session in their behalf.  In referring to the deaf of the state, he said, "We must not lose sight of those whose misfortunes so strongly appeal to us for aid and comfort."  He stated further that the Board of Trustees had been broken up because so many of the members had joined the Southern army during the War between the States and had become scattered as the war proceeded.  Also, many of the teachers and officers had turned "rebel."  The governor recommended that the school be reorganized on a "loyal" basis as soon as it could be done.

The Re-opening of the School

Keeping the wishes of the Governor in mind, the Board was reorganized with thirteen members. In September, 1865,  they undertook to make estimates of the damage done to the school by military occupation of the buildings and the cost of equipping it, so that the school might be opened at an early date. They also went about the task of hiring a principal of "loyal" faith and teachers likewise endowed. 

The legislature, at the late extra session, acting upon the Governor's recommendation and a report from the Trustees on May 22, 1866, passed an appropriation act on May 25, by which the school received a $5,000 appropriation to repair buildings and grounds and to refurnish the school with books, materials, and equipment.  In addition, $5,000 was appropriated annually for sustaining the school.  Late in March, 1867, the act of January, 1860, was put into force again, and a per capita appropriation of $200 per pupil in the school was passed.


In October, 1866, the Committee on Education, composed ' three trustees of the school, recommended that J. H. Ijams, from Iowa, a teacher in the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D. C., be elected principal of the school at a salary of $1200 a year and board.  Mr. Ijams, a young man of very high professional qualifications and character, was elected and took over his duties on November 24, 1866.


School began December 3, with thirty-nine pupils in attendance.  To that date only the main building had been reconditioned and refurnished, since the Trustees had planned to accommodate only thirty pupils.  They were surprised that so many were eager to be re-admitted.  When the examinations here held at the close of the session., everyone was pleased at the progress of the pupils, at their appearance and behavior.   The next session opened in September and ran until June 15, with fifty-six pupils enrolled, only five of these paying tuition.  In Mr. Ijams' report of 1867 to the General Assembly, the first account of any social life among the pupils was given. 

Once each fortnight both sexes are permitted to meet, and spend an hour or so together for social intercourse. These gatherings are always anticipated with pleasure by our pupils and have been so productive of very beneficial results in improving their manners, etc., while affording them the means of innocent amusement.

Finances and Control

Mr. Ijams recommended in 1866 that the summer vacation be lengthened two weeks and that the teachers not be allowed to board in the institution during the vacation.  This practice had been in effect since the school was established, but for the sake of economy and in accordance with the custom in, other schools for the deaf in this country, he thought it best that the school do away with this extra expense.

Mr. Ijams at a meeting of the Board on April 6, 1867, asked that his salary be used to help pay the salaries of the other teachers and officers and for incidental expenses.  He felt that by so doing the Board would not be forced to borrow money before the next quarterly payment of the appropriation was due.

The Treasurer of the Board, Mr. Jackson, had difficulty in getting cash for the Treasury warrants issued by the state. Frequently during 1869 and later he reported his difficulty in this respect.  It was indeed a time of "pinching pennies" for the school.

In January, 1869, the Board decided to hold its regular meetings quarterly thereafter and resolved to operate the school strictly on a cash basis.  By this act, the Board showed its confidence in the ability of the principal and vested in him much more power.  He had to transact most of the business formerly taken care of by the Board.  The primary purpose of these quarterly meetings was to elect the teachers for the following year, to elect officers of the Board, pass on the Treasurer's report, decide on the closing date of the school, and every two years receive the biennial report of the President and principal.

In the Thirteenth Biennial Report to the General Assembly John C. Moses, President of the Board, in comparing the school with the thirty-seven other schools for the deaf in the United States, pointed out that it rated tenth in the number of pupils under instruction, while in the expenditures per pupil it rated lower than any school on the list.


After Mr. Ijams's marriage in 1868 the subject of a home for the principal arose.  In the fall of 1869 the Executive Committee was authorized to draw up plans for a home and to make plans by which economy could be exercised in the general expenditures of the institution so that a special appropriation would be unnecessary.  The house was begun in October, 1870, and completed in February, 1871.

Mr. Ijams listed many needs in the Eleventh Biennial Report of 1869.  Some of these were: a stable, a woodhouse, the painting of the main building, a library, and new furniture.  The stable and coal and woodhouses were built from the material saved from the Butler house which was torn down so the material might be utilized for this purpose. But not until an appropriation act of $10,000 was passed in 1873 did the school realize some of the other needs listed in 1869.

In 1872 the Board had asked for $20,000 for building workshops, a building with classrooms, a study hall and dormitory for boys, a conservatory, and for enlarging the chapel, paving the walks, and fencing the grounds on three sides.

The building of a new chapel at the end of the girls' wing of the main building and the converting of the old chapel into a dormitory for the girls partially relieved the crowded housing. The school was enabled to accommodate a total of 125 pupils 'after these improvements were completed in 1879.

In 1881 the Executive Committee authorized the construction of a new building for the printing department, the shoe shop, and the laundry. The laundry had previously been directly under one of the girls' dormitories and had been the source of much dampness. The school physician thought it had contributed to the prevalence of colds among the girls and that by the eradication of this menace, the health of the pupils would be improved.

The Literary Department

In the Twelfth Biennial Report the principal asked for a teacher of articulation for a class of pupils who could profit from this type of training.  He had done some work with these pupils himself and he wished the work to be continued by someone especially trained.  In the Fourteenth Biennial Report he again spoke of the need for a teacher of articulation.  He deplored the fact that the school was "behind others in providing every facility for advancement of our pupils."  The next report likewise asked that a skilled teacher of articulation be secured.

The school had gone a long way in its advancement when in 1876 Mr. Ijams made the statement, "It is very obvious that the smaller the class the greater the chance the pupil has for improvement." Mr. MacIntire, in the Third Biennial Report, had stated that "a class of fifteen or twenty can be taught with more ease to the teacher, and more profit to the pupil, than one of five or six."

Mr. Ijams attended the Conference of Principals at Northampton, Massachusetts, in. May, 1880.  While in the North, he visited a number of schools for the deaf, and upon his return he made a report to the Board on his observations while there.  He was particularly interested in the oral method of instruction used in these schools.  He was convinced, more firmly than ever before, that a trained teacher of articulation should be employed by the school.  He had reached the conclusion, however, that the combined system ought to be used in the school rather than that a radical change be made to the oral method of instruction.  He pointed out that there were two main reasons for his point of view.  The schools in the North permitted the pupils to remain in the school for a longer period of time.  The curriculum covered a period of from ten to twelve years, while that of the Tennessee school covered only seven years.  It was a well-known fact that the oral method required a much longer time.  The schools in the North were permitted to choose their pupils from a select group of prospective candidates, while the Tennessee school had to take what came to its doors if they were capable of benefiting from instruction

At a Board meeting in July, 1880, a motion was passed that a teacher of articulation be secured for the next session of school.  Mr. Ijams was not successful in his attempts to get a teacher especially trained to teach the deaf, but he did secure the services of a capable teacher from the Knoxville schools, Miss Kate Ogden.  The articulation class consisted

of those who before coming to school had learned something of speech through the ear, and have the partial ability to communicate orally.  Our immediate efforts are intended to improve the speech of those and at the same time to advance them equally with the other pupils in scholarly attainment.

The Mechanical Department

In 1869 Mr. Ijams asked that facilities be given for the opening of a mechanical department.  With the approval of the Board he bought a hand press and a small amount of type in 1870.  In December, 1871, the House passed a bill establishing a mechanical department.

In the Thirteenth Biennial Report the President of the Board said

We are aware of one striking deficiency in our system of instruction.  We need workshops in our system of instruction.  We need workshops in which the boys may be taught mechanical trades.  We desire to connect with the institution a shoe-shop, a cabinet-shop and a printing office.

The principal added,

We expect to see, under the instruction of a practical printer, a class of our boys being taught of a practical printer, a class of our boys being taught the art of printing, a class of our boys being taught the art of printing.  It is hoped that our means may speedily admit of the introduction of additional trades; this accomplished we shall be enabled to perform our whole duty to our pupils, to educate their minds to comprehend, their hearts to love, their hands to work, and thus return them to the State as intelligent, law-abiding and useful citizens.

In the next report to the General Assembly, the principal reported that a practical printer of the city had been secured and was giving daily instruction to ten boys in the printing office. 

In 1876 these boys began printing a little one-paged paper called the Silent Observer.  This has developed into a much larger paper of eight pages.  It is still published every month during the school term.

Mr. Ijams died rather suddenly on December 24, 1882, just sixteen years after coming to Knoxville to take over the task of rebuilding the school.  In those sixteen years many changes had taken place and many improvements had been made.  The school had grown materially in buildings, in personnel, and in methods under his direction.

The machinery of the Institution moved with such smoothness and regularity that the Trustees were seldom aware of any friction and were rarely disturbed by a call for any adjustment.


At a called meeting of the Board on December 29 the election of a new principal was held. Mr. MacIntire, the first principal of the school, then, principal of the Indiana School, had written applying for the position. After two nominations, one for Mr. MacIntire and one for Mr. Scott, Mr. Van Gilder nominated Mr. Thomas Moses. On counting the votes, Mr. Moses was found to have received eight of the nine ballots cast. He began his duties immediately.

Mr. Moses was well qualified for the position for which he was elected. He had served eleven years as teacher under Mr. Ijams and was well informed as to the needs and organization of the school. After his resignation as a teacher in 1881, he had entered business. At that time, Mr. Ijams felt that his resignation was a real calamity to the school, since he had proven himself exceptionally well suited to the work with the deaf.

Support and Improvements

In 1888 the Trustees asked permission of the General Assembly to sell at auction a corner lot at Vine and Broad Streets that had been cut off from the main property by the extension of Vine Street.  Consent was given to the sale, and the Board was authorized to use the proceeds to erect a stable, build a coal-house, and make other improvements.

With a plea for more buildings and a larger appropriation for current expenses, Mr. Moses, in 1890, made the statement.  "In economy of administration we are exceeded by no institution in the land."  While being proud of the record he had made as a very efficient head of the institution, he felt the statement reflected shame on the state which required that progress be sacrificed for the sake of economy.

The appropriation bill of 1891 included an appropriation of $10,000 for a school building.  This building included six classrooms, study halls, library, museum, and reading room.  From the sale of the lot on Vine Street and an appropriation of $3,500 in 1889, the Board had erected a laundry building in 1890.  The same year the school installed an adequate sewerage system, and a satisfactory number of fire plugs was obtained.

An appropriation of $7,500 passed, in 1893, made possible the erection of two new buildings -- the mechanical building and the gymnasium -- both of which were completed in 1894.  The mechanical building was a structure of two stories, twenty-six by forty-four feet, and was designed to house the three divisions of the vocational department -- the shoeshop, the print shop, and the woodworking department.  The gymnasium, erected at the same time, was a one-story building, forty by sixty-five feet, fully equipped with the most modern equipment available.  The school was justly proud of these additions to the plant.

In 1899 the erection of a hospital building through an appropriation of $5,000 enhanced facilities for administering to the sick.  The sick were segregated and the possibilities of epidemics were minimized.  In addition, more dormitory space was left for both boys and girls.  The amount was not sufficient for the completion of the hospital without incurring a debt, so an additional amount of $2,800 was appropriated in 1900 to remove the debt, since the Board felt that the completion of the building was necessary to the welfare of the school.

When the Biennial Report was written in 1902, many improvements were needed.  The chapel, which was built when the enrollment was about half that of 1902, was wholly inadequate for present needs.  When programs were conducted in the chapel, the student body could not witness them, since the chapel would accommodate only the visitors.  The Board asked that the building be enlarged so that the chapel might be increased in size and also provide space for additional classrooms.  The dining room, which was built fifty-four years before, when there were twenty-two pupils enrolled, needed to be enlarged.  By taking out several partitions, thus combining two rooms and a hallway to the west with the present dining room, these needs would be met.  Too, they asked that a building be erected for the small boys - in that way segregating them into two age groups.  This would obliterate the crowded dormitory conditions.  The General Assembly appropriated $8,500 for buildings.  This was the amount asked by the Board for a small boys' dormitory building.  This action meant that the other pressing changes had to be deferred.  The dormitory was completed and ready for occupation by September 1904.

Steam equipment had been, installed in the laundry building in 1901.  It did much to modernize that department. Previous to this time, the laundry work had been done by colored women in a very primitive way.  The proximity of the school to the railway station made the laundry a matter of primary concern to the housekeeper.

A new modern heating system was asked for, and funds were appropriated for it in the 1905 appropriation bill.  The strain had been great on the old boiler by the addition of several buildings.  It had been repaired many times and was in a state beyond repair at the close of the session of 1904-05.  It was recommended that two small boilers be installed, one for use in mild weather and the other to help in extreme weather.  Likewise, the General Assembly saw fit to appropriate the amount necessary for enlarging the chapel and increasing the number of classrooms.

The Literary Department

In the fall of 1885, Miss Helen Ferguson, of Pennsylvania, was elected teacher of the oral class begun some years earlier by Miss Ogden.  Miss Ferguson, while only eighteen years of age, proved particularly well-suited to the work of teaching the deaf.  She had had a year of special training in a school for the deaf and was most capable in her work.  Mr. Moses hesitated to employ a teacher so young, but after her promise "to grow old as fast as she could" she was employed.  In 1886 Mr. Moses said, "Miss Ferguson has shown herself to be particularly adapted to oral teaching and is doings earnest and intelligent work with excellent success."

Mrs. Mary H. Ijams, the widow of the late principal, was given a position on the teaching staff at the beginning of the session of 1883.

In the Twenty-fist Biennial Report to the legislature Mr. Moses stressed the conclusions reached at the California Convention of Teachers of the Deaf and Dumb and the Conference of Principals in Jackson, Mississippi. At both meetings the subject of oral instruction was carefully and lengthily discussed and the conclusion was reached that an

endeavor should be made in every school for the deaf to teach every pupil to speak and to read from lips; that the differences in individual capacity and physical condition make success in this work possible with some, unattainable with others; that the continuance or abandonment of the effort to teach each pupil speech and lip-reading is justified only by the results of experience in each individual case.

Mr. Moses called to the attention of the legislative body the deplorable condition of the school in respect to the crowded condition of the classrooms. He cited the average number of pupils to a teacher throughout the country was twelve. The average number in the Tennessee school was twenty-two to a teacher. Of all the thirty-nine schools, "no school having as small an attendance as ours has so many pupils to the teacher as we have."

As a result of Mr. Moses' forceful statements, an additional teacher, Mrs. Iva M. Boyd, was secured for the next term. Mrs. Boyd had taught hearing children previously and for the new type of work she showed excellent promise.

In the Twenty-third Biennial Report, 1892, Mr. Moses spoke again of the possibilities of enlarging the oral department.  He said, "No feature of the education of the deaf has excited more public interest, sympathy, and commendation than the work and success of oral teaching."  Many of the parents had asked that their children be placed in this department and the pupils had shown a growing desire to participate in the advantages that speech afforded.

Two years later the principal said, "Oral teaching has proven its practicability and its far-reaching benefits to the deaf, and I am in favor of giving our pupils more of its advantages than they now enjoy."  At that time only one-tenth of the total enrollment of the school was taught wholly by speech.  This was a very low percentage for the school when compared with the totals of the other schools in the United States, where approximately 40 per cent of the teachers were oral teachers.

The need for additional teachers was a pressing one.  Instructional facilities had been neglected in the zeal for adequate housing facilities and at this point it was necessary to put both on an equal basis if the school was to fulfill its primary function.

Our enrollment has increased sixty per cent in the past twelve years, while we have exactly the same number of teachers that we had when our eighteenth biennial report was made up twelve years ago.  We have provided, during the intervening years, several handsome buildings containing much additional room with many comforts and conveniences to meet the natural and proper growth of the school.  All these improvements have been proper and reasonable, and they naturally precede or keep pace with the growth of the school.

At the next session of the school three persons were added to the teaching staff.  Mrs. Helen Kirkpatrick, who was Miss Ferguson, resumed her position in the oral department, Miss Sallie Cummings was elected oral and gymnasium instructor, and Mr. Albert H. Walker was appointed teacher of an advanced class.

Mr. Walker taught a year and a half before resigning to enter business.  Upon his retirement from the profession, his brother, Horace E. Walker, head teacher in the Missouri School for ten years was elected teacher.  The Walkers were of a family that for three generations had been associated with the education of the deaf.

With the added facilities of a reading room and a library of 400 volumes, attention was focused on the subject of reading.  Mr. Moses regarded the library room as a very important and helpful adjunct to the management of the school.  Alexander Graham Bell had said, "The idea has been to teach the deaf language that they may learn to read books.  I would say, rather, let them read books that they may learn language."  With this in mind, Mr. Moses determined to build up the library as rapidly as he could with the resources available.

The enrollment of 1902 was the largest known in the history of the school: 259 were in school at the time the biennial report was written.

In 1904 Mr. Moses reiterated: "The statement made in previous reports that our classes are about fifty per cent larger than the average classes in schools throughout the United States and Europe is still true."  The enrollment for the session was 239, with a teaching staff of fifteen.

At the regular session of the legislature of 1907 the per capita appropriation was raised from $165 per pupil to $180 per pupil.  With this additional amount, the superintendent was enabled to increase the educational advantages available to the students enrolled.  Some of these advantages were the introduction of art teaching, under the able direction of Miss Mary E. Grainger; the employment of an expert dressmaker to teach the girls to cut, fit, and make dresses and other garments; and the addition of one manual and one oral class, with two additional teachers employed for these classes.

On July 8, 1910, the Board met and resolved to appoint Mr. Walker principal of the school.  He was to be relieved of all teaching duties as soon as an extra teacher could be procured.

The Board of Trustees

In 1905 a new ruling by the General Assembly made it necessary for all bills to be paid by the Comptroller of the Treasury.  Previous to this time, the Treasurer and Executive Committee of the Board had transacted all financial affairs of the institution.

The last meeting of the Board of Trustees took place at the school Friday; January 15, 1915, at which time officers for the Board were elected for the next year.  Before the next quarterly meeting fell due, the new governor had done away with this body of workers.

The Board of Control, 1915-1919.

The newly inaugurated Governor of Tennessee, Tom C. Rye, in his address to the General Assembly made the recommendation that a Board of Control be created.  He cited the examples at his command of similar boards in other states.  This board, as Governor Rye planned it would have control of the Penal, Reformatory, and Charitable Institutions of the state.  He felt that such a board, composed of three business men who would devote their entire time to the management of these institutions, would "bring about economies in administration not possible under the present system."  They would have a uniform system of accounting, and by buying in large quantities, standardizing supplies and buying through competitive bids large sums would be saved.

Acting upon the recommendation of the Governor a Board of Control was created by a bill originating in the House at that session of the legislature.  This bill stated that the governor was to appoint three electors of the state, one from each grand district, to hold office as designated by the governor for two four, and six years, respectively.  The board was to have full power to manage and govern the institutions named in the bill.  It further ordained that each chief officer of an institution should be appointed by the board with the approval of the governor.

With this enactment came the first real evidence of possible political influence in the administration of the Tennessee Deaf and Dumb School. However, the possibility did not develop into a reality.

The Thirty-fifth Biennial Report while not as long as those written previously, spoke well of the work of the Board of Control.  It covered the last year of Mr. Moses's administration and the first year of Mr. Walker's.  During the two years the Board had bought modern equipment for the printing office, which made the plant adequate for the needs of the school.  A domestic science department was added and a moving picture machine was bought.  Mr. Walker thought this would be of much additional assistance in making real the classroom work.  An additional teacher was employed in the oral department.  This gave the department a better classification.

After Mr. Walker was made principal, Mr. Moses was relieved of much of the responsibility and the intricate duties associated with his position.  His death in December, 1916, after many months of illness culminated years of faithful, efficient service with the deaf.  He was looked upon as the "Moses."  The deaf were sure that any decision he made was the only right one.  Such extreme confidence in his ability and his fitness for this position was not ill placed.  He was all they thought him to be.  Mr. Walker was the logical candidate for the position of superintendent after Mr. Moses's death, since he had executed the duties of his office for a good while, and he was immediately installed in the position by the Board of Control.


At the time of the writing of the Biennial Report of June, 1918, the United States was in a state of intense upheaval, due to the conditions imposed upon the people as a natural
result of the war with Germany.  Despite these conditions, Mr. Walker stated that the school was in a very good financial position.  The per capita had not been reduced.  In fact, it had
been increased in 1917 from $180 to $220.  Mr. Walker had asked for an increase to $200, since the price of food had advanced so materially.  Many schools in other states had been forced to cut their session short because of finances, but Tennessee in a time of greatest need had protected the rights of the deaf of the state by providing generously for their welfare.

Control and Improvements

The Second Biennial Report of the Tennessee Board of Control in 1917 gave a detailed description of the school plants at both the white and colored departments and made drastic recommendations in regard to them.  The Board recommended that both be sold and the proceeds used in buying suburban land and erecting buildings for the needs of the institution.  It considered the property in the center of Knoxville to be very valuable but badly arranged and unsuited for use as a school.  Mr. Walker said,

I favor the securing of a large tract of suburban land adjacent to a car line, in the vicinity of Knoxville, and upon this the erection of a modified cottage system of buildings, so arranged as to enable us to separate the oral and manual departments, thus enabling us to create a speech environment for the former class.

He also suggested that the colored department be located with the white department, provided enough acreage could be procured.  This would enable the head of the institution to supervise this department more closely.  One of the primary purposes of the Board for such a proposed move was to give the pupils move vocational advantages.  Such a location provide facilities for farming, poultry raising, dairying such allied subjects.  Also, farm products could be raised institutional use.

These recommendations were not acted upon by the legislature at its next session. Instead, it abolished the Board of Control and placed the management of the school under newly created Board of Administration.  This new board, however, made similar recommendations to the legislature  its first report in 1920.

An act of the Senate authorizing the sale of the p was passed March 22, 1921. Then, in April, another s passed to procure funds by the issuance and sale of shoe notes to the amount of $250,000. The sale of the proper expected to take care of these notes.

At the close of the school session, June, 1921, Mr. Walker became ill and was forced to take a prolonged rest. Later in the summer he resigned. He had served as the head of institution for only a few years, but during that time he began a series of improvements that were designed to benefit institution directly and all of the state's deaf indirectly.  From  the time of his administration, the condition of the deaf of Tennessee was greatly bettered; this change can be traced directly back to his efforts as an administrator.

[ Return to History of the School - Index ]

[ Return to Tennessee School for the Deaf - 1845-1945 ]

[ Return to Knox County Schools -- Past & Present ]

[ Return to Knox County, TNGenWeb ]

HTML Presentation
Copyright 2001, Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray.  All rights reserved.