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 Transition from the
  Deaf and Dumb Asylum to the
Tennessee School for the Deaf, 1921-1945

From the time it was chartered, the school was known as the Tennessee Deaf and Dumb School.  In the minds of the State of Tennessee, however, the institution was an asylum.  The school was located on Asylum Street, not named officially because of the general opinion in regard to it.  Often. in the Biennial Reports  of the Board referred to it in this manner.   For many years the gate at the entrance of the grounds had "Deaf and Dumb Asylum" written above it.  This idea prevailed with little or no effort to correct it until Mrs. H. T. Poore's administration began.  It was through her efforts at educating the public to the fact the deaf are not necessarily deaf and dumb that the an asylum for indigents was eradicated.  During this a gradual change in the name to that of the Tennessee School for the Deaf was accomplished.


In September, 1921, Mrs. H. T. Poore, a native Knoxvillian, became the new superintendent, following Mr. Walker's resignation in June.  She was unusually well-qualified for her position because of her knowledge of the deaf and her familiarity with the work of the school, through her experience as an educator and her educational training.  Her life with two deaf sisters had made her proficient in the use of the sign language.  After her graduation. from the University of Tennessee in 1913, she was a teacher for three years before becoming county superintendent of education in Lewis County, Tennessee.  She held this position for five years.  With her appointment to the superintendency of the Tennessee Deaf and Dumb School, she won the distinction of being the first woman superintendent of a state institution in Tennessee.  Likewise, she won the very great distinction of being the only woman superintendent of a state institution for the deaf in the nation with an enrollment as large as that of the Tennessee school.

Legislative Control

In 1923 the Board of Administration was abolished and the school placed under control of the newly created Department of Institutions.  On July 1, 1935 by special act of the legislature, the Tennessee school was transferred to the Department of Education.

At last the school was coming into its own. Mrs. Poore, in referring to the change, made this comment:

This transfer to the State Department of Education is more in keeping with its type and where it will no doubt remain unless at some future date steps are taken to place it directly under the Board of Education instead of the Commissioner

Teacher Personnel

At the beginning of Mrs. Poore's first term a administrator, she inaugurated additional duties for the and regular teachers' meetings were formally introduced.  By giving additional duties to the teachers, the heavy schedule of the supervisors could be broken. The teachers' were intended to serve as a means of improving curriculum and unifying the teaching staff.

Mrs. Poore deplored the fact that there had been so many changes in the teaching staff and that, to fill the vacancies arising, inexperienced teachers had had to be employed.  During the 1920-21 session ten new teachers had to be employed to fill vacancies that had occurred.  Of this number nine were inexperienced.   Likewise, in 1921 and 1922 seven new teachers were employed, six of these without experience.   At the end of that session four vacancies had to be filled.  Many of these changes occurred primarily for financial reasons.

Salaries of the teachers were not on a par with salaries of teachers in the Knoxville city schools even after the salary schedule was raised in 1923, although the raise probably reduced the number of changes in teaching person

Thirty-two teachers were required in 1924-25 because of  the greatly increased enrollment of 290, which was the highest in the history of the school.  At the end of the session there  were changes in the faculty, but the large enrollment necessitated the addition of a teacher, Mrs. Laura Johns Formwalt.

Three inexperienced teachers at low salaries, were employed for the tern of 1930-31 to take the places of three excellent, well-trained teachers who were leaving for higher paid positions in other schools. The superintendent emphasized the importance of raising the per capita appropriation in order

to assure us qualified, desirable, custodial guardians for our pupils, to re-instate the worth-while work we have been compelled to eliminate and to make further progress in educating the deaf of Tennessee.

When the appropriation bill of 1933 was passed, it was necessary for Mrs. Poore to take drastic steps in reducing expenditures.  Salary reductions ranged from 20 to 25 per cent.   All shared alike, the superintendent receiving a cut of from $2,500 a year to $1,800.  The school terms were shortened one month in 1934-35 and 1935-36 to keep the bookkeeper's report "out of the red."

During the term of 1936-37 a committee composed of teachers was appointed to make a study of the salary schedules of all the schools for the deaf in the country and from this study to formulate a new salary schedule for the teachers of the Tennessee school.  After a great deal of work on the part of the superintendent, a tentative salary schedule was adopted in 1937 by "the powers that be" - the Commissioner of the Board of Education.  In a number of instances this schedule would have practically doubled some of the salaries, but it was put into effect with reservations.  In 1945 the salaries are not conforming to the schedule, in many instances.  However, they have improved to such a degree that no one could, with fairness, object.  This schedule, as adopted, conforms to those of other schools in the South, although, when compared with the Eastern and Northern schools, it is still very low.

Buildings and Improvements

From 1920 to 1922 little was done in the way of repairs, due to the impending move of the school to a new site.

On September 2, 1922, the grounds and buildings on Asylum Street were sold for $400,000 to the city of Knoxville for use as municipal buildings. The city bought the property with the understanding that it would be vacated within two years from the date of the sale. The site of 125 acres in South Knoxville was purchased at about the same time. This property had been known as the Dickinson estate in Island Home Park.

In December, The Silent Observer, the school paper, announced that Marr and Holman, architects of Nashville, had been awarded the job of designing the buildings. Mr. Marr, a former pupil of the school visited a number of schools in the East in order to get ideas as to the best type of buildings then in use in schools for the deaf. Upon his return, he announced that he had decided to use a plan which would incorporate the best features of the Maryland and New Jersey schools. He further stated that he thought the cottage plan of buildings, with accommodations in each for housing between thirty and forty pupils of the same age, would be best.

The school paper, in its issue of October 6, 1923, announced that the ground had been broken for the construction of five buildings at the new location of the school in Island Home. The five buildings were: an administration building, 100 by 196 feet, containing twenty-two classrooms, offices, library, auditorium with a seating capacity of 700, and shops for vocational training; two girls' dormitories; a boys' dormitory; and a laundry and central heating plant combined. The buildings were to be of colonial design, in keeping with the location and other buildings on the estate. The Dickinson home was to be modernized for the superintendent's home. It was to conform in exterior to the new buildings and the interior was to be rearranged to make it more comfortable and convenient.

The cornerstone for the administration building was laid with a simple ceremony on Wednesday, November 28, 1923. Mr. Matthew R. Mann, for forty-two years a teacher in the school, placed the metal box containing many important papers and reports in the wall.

The new school buildings were formally dedicated on November 12, 1924, with Governor Austin Peay presiding. The principal address was delivered by Superintendent J. W. Jones of the Ohio School for the Deaf. Mrs. Poore, in her talk, paid tribute to the splendid work of Mr. Thomas Marr in his architectural plans for the buildings. Mr. Lewis S. Pope, Commissioner of Institutions, was likewise given much praise for his wholehearted work for the welfare of the school.

The repairs that were necessary to put the old buildings on the Island Home site into condition for the move to the new location were numerous. The servant house was made into a cottage for the cooks, three 'tenant houses were furnished with lights and water and made livable for the dairyman, boys' supervisor, and night watchman. Some repairs ware made on the dairy barn, too.

It was necessary to buy new furniture for the new buildings. The old equipment was in a state beyond repair when the move was made. Additional seats were purchased for the auditorium and a piano was bought to facilitate the rhythm work. New single beds were installed in the dormitories. In the administration building one room was fitted up with medical equipment for an operating room, and another was equipped for a dental room.

From a special fund of $2,500 appropriated earlier for equipping the domestic science, manual training departments and playground, these departments were put in excellent condition. The sewing room was supplied with four new machines, and modern machinery was purchased for the shoe shop department. With an appropriation made for the farm and dairy, mules, farming implements, and a herd of twentysix Jerseys were bought, six of these pure-bred, registered Jerseys. Mrs. Poore planned to have a herd sufficient in number to supply both white and colored departments of the school with dairy products.

In 1924 Mrs. Poore had asked for an appropriation of $100,000 for buildings. She wished to have erected a boys' dormitory, a hospital, and a gymnasium. An appropriation of $50,000 was made by the General Assembly of 1925 for the purpose of erecting the boys' dormitory. This building was completed in October, 1926. It enabled the administration to provide for increased enrollment by adding classrooms and dormitory space and enlarging the vocational department. The boys had used the two wings of the attic in the main building for dormitory space. These wings were converted into classrooms. The room in the basement, used as a dining room for boys, was converted into the carpenter shop.

Bids for the gymnasium were opened November 18, 1927, and work was begun a month later. The general appropriation bill of that year specified that $50,000 be used for the erection of an additional building. The site of one of the old barns was chosen for its location. The plans included two swimming pools, twenty by sixty feet, large floor space for physical training, basketball, bowling, locker rooms, and a balcony for spectators. The tower was designed to afford a view of the entire city. This building was completed in April, 1928.

The legislature of 1925 appropriated funds for the laying of cement drives and walks and other improvements. The boys in the vocational department did most of the work on the walks as well as repairing and painting a number of the houses on the grounds. At the dairy barn a milking machine was installed and permanent playground equipment was placed on the boys' playground.  The superintendent's residence was
equipped with new radiators and a line was laid for the heating connection from the central plant.  From an appropriation of $5,000 the printing department was equipped with two Linotypes.  By special arrangement, one of these was loaned by the factory.

The printing department received 4 new Miller Master Speed press in 1929. The gymnasium was fitted out with new equipment at a cost of $900, electric refrigeration was installed in the big boys' dormitory. Three sewing machines were added to the domestic science equipment, and the household department purchased a vacuum cleaner and floor waxer. The funds appropriated for a chlorinating plant were not sufficient and reverted to the state treasury.

The $45,000 appropriation for a hospital, which was made by the first session of the legislature in 1931, was later denied by a special session in the same year.

Work was begun in 1933 on the dairy barn. When completed, it was a model of efficiency in dairying circles. The erection of a milk house and a cottage for an assistant dairyman was included in the project, which the newly created Works Progress Administration completed.

The Enabling Act, which was to benefit the Tennessee school along with two other state institutions, was put into effect in 1939. A sum of $440,000 was to be allocated to the school for the deaf. With this amount, a building program was to be carried out which would

assure Tennessee a front rank in plant facilities for schooling its deaf: hospital building, a primary unit, which will include a school building and six cottages, an entirely new department for Negroes, a vocational building for boys and one for girls, a new power and laundry building and a group of resident cottages.

Due to many technicalities of the law, the entire amount of $440,000 mentioned above was not made available.  However, much new equipment was bought and some improvements were made during the winter of 1939-40.   Some of these included the purchase and installation of seven additional hearing aids, a Maico audiometer, the laying of linoleum on fourteen classroom floors, and the installation of tubular fire escapes in the two dormitories for girls and the dormitory for older boys.  Electric stoves and water heaters were bought to be installed in all the kitchens of the white department.

In the fall of 1940 contracts were let for an $85,000 improvement and repair program. The swimming pools were fitted out with a chlorinating system, cold storage units were built in the storeroom of the administration building, the electric systems in all the buildings were entirely modernized, the laundry building was doubled in size, the dormitories were equipped with additional and more modern bathrooms, and the heating system was modernized.

January, 1941, saw much activity on the Tennessee School campus. The new primary unit was begun. An article in the Silent Observer, copied from the Knoxville News-Sentinel, carried the caption, "New Deaf School Unit May Be Model for United States." The plan called for the most "advanced features of primary school-home institutions throughout the country." It was designed to house eighty pupils ranging in age from six to ten years.

For the most homelike situation, the children are divided into separate groups of twenty. Each group has a big living room adjoining its bedrooms. Each group will have a matron or housemother to look after the twenty youngsters the twenty-four hours when they are not (sic) with their teachers. In each living room there will be a large open fireplace for the family circle.

The Negro school was closed at the beginning of the Christmas holidays, 1940, and an extensive improvement program was begun in that department.  Henry C. Edmunds, the overseer, helped with the work.  Modern electric and heating systems were installed; the floors and walls were replaced; and an extension was built on the back of the main building which contained a chapel and classrooms.

Health and the Medical Staff

In 1921 the medical staff was called upon to give additional time to the institution. The entire male enrollment was given physical examinations and the practice of weighing and measuring the pupils twice each year was begun.  For the physical well-being of the pupils, Mrs. Poore recommended that a part-time dentist, a part-time aurist and oculist, and a full-time nurse, not necessarily a graduate, be employed.

Before the writing of the report of 1922-24, a nurse was employed, but a dentist and eye, ear, and nose specialists were not added to the medical staff until the fall of 1925. These additions were of particular importance to the health of the pupils. Thirty six tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies were performed in the new operating room of the school during the first year, and a thorough examination was given each student by each member of the medical staff.

In 1929 Dr. W . S. Austin became the school physician after an absence of eight years from that position.


In December, 1921, the honor roll was instituted as an incentive toward better academic work among the pupils. Twice yearly the subjects and grades of each pupil were published in the school paper.

With the purchase of a movie machine, the amusement and education of the children were further enhanced.  Each Friday night movies were shown in the chapel.  Frequent social gatherings were held under the "close observation" of the faculty.

In 1924 the course of study was revised and published by the print shop. Along with the revision, two years were added to the curriculum, and more modern textbooks were adopted.  The administrative officer adopted a system of report cards, permanent yearly records for filing, and registers for the teachers' records.  These were worked out the special needs of the school and included all phases curriculum.  Auricular training was begun in oral classes.   Since there was no means of amplifying the voice of the teacher, only those pupils with a great deal of hearing benefited.  Rhythm work was begun with six of the oral classes.

At the opening of the session of 1926-27 Mr. Herschel R. Ward, a teacher in the school for six years, was given the  title of principal of the educational department and the duties of such an official position.  He was very well qualified for the new position through education and experience held the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Mississippi College and the Master of Arts from the teacher training department of Gallaudet College.

The problem of enlarging the curriculum to include senior high had been before the administration for a number of  years.   Mrs. Poore had recommended that an appropriation be made for furthering the education of the pupils of the school after the tenth grade.  Such a plan would be an economy, since this action would eliminate the necessity of  adding to the curriculum of the school.  T he general appropriation bill of 1927 made provision for further education of the graduates through the allotting of $350 per pupil, provided no  more than eight pupils applied for this amount in an year. The superintendent was to oversee the spending of this money.  Two former pupils of the school availed themselves of the opportunity of attending Gallaudet College and pursued collegiate work as wards of the state in 1931-32.

The curriculum in rhythm and auricular training was extended to include all the classes in the oral department in 1929. The consensus of opinion was that a number of the pupils could be profitably taught by mechanical means, should  the means be supplied.  In the 1930 report to the Commissioner of Institutions,  Mrs. Poore recommended that Radio-Ears and an audiometer be purchased.

In 1930 and 1931 the course of study was revised and in addition to the regular subjects taught previously, Silent Reading was included as a new subject. Mrs. Poore was convinced of the logic of such action after seeing work in  Silent Reading demonstrated at the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf in 1930.

An Ampro movie projector for use in visual instruction in the classrooms was purchased in 1931. This was used in  the intermediate and advanced departments, supplementing classroom instruction.

In 1935 Mr. Ward, the principal since 1926, was a full time supervising principal and was relieved all  teaching duties.  His first improvements were to departmentalize all grades above the fourth and begin an intensive  testing program with mental, aptitude, and achievement tests.

The first multiple hearing aid -- a Fairchild -- was purchased and installed in a beginning class in 1936.  Pupils from this class were used in a demonstration before the Educational Association in Nashville in the spring of 1937.  Three additional aids were purchased for use in the oral department  in 1938 and seven more were installed in 1939.

Marr Memorial Library

In October, 1937, a sum of money was received from the Thomas S. Marr estate for a library fund.  Upon his death,  he left a legacy of $2,500 to the school for building up the inadequate library.  As a lasting memorial to him, the school library became "The Marr Memorial Library."

Band and Military Drill

In December, 1921, a band was organized with ten boys as a core, and military training was started with a group of the older boys.  These two additional pupil-activities were under the able direction of Mr. F. G. Fancher, an accomplished  musician from the New York School for the Deaf.  Musical training was confined to boys with some degree of  hearing.  The concerts and practice periods contributed much to the pleasure of the pupils participating.  The following February they made their first public appearance by giving a concert in the chapel.  This organization attended the National Association of the Deaf, which was held in Atlanta in  August, 1923.  While there, they were royally entertained.   They gave a number of concerts and received such widespread recognition that they were asked to give a radio concert.  In 1929 the organization was disbanded.

Athletics and Scouting

A football team was organized in 1925. During the year volleyball, outdoor basketball, and baseball were likewise enjoyed by the girls and boys.  The superintendent again asked that means be furnished for a gymnasium.  All forms of organized play had to be carried on outside, since there was no building suitable for indoor play.  During inclement weather these forms of recreation had to be discontinued.

The Athletic Committee purchased a twenty-eight passenger school bus in October, 1940, for the use of the athletic teams.  It was modern in every respect.  This purchase represented eight years of saving by the Athletic Association and contributions of friends of the school.

In 1930 Boy Scout work was begun under the able direction of Mr. John C. Hundman and the sponsorship of the Knoxville Rotary Club. The Rotarians provided the funds for building a Scout cabin on the grounds in 1933. Two Girl Scout troops were organized in April, 1931, and in February, 1932, these two troops including a membership of fifty-eight girls.

Vocational Department

The same vocational subjects were being taught at the new location as at the old until 1926, when Mrs. Poore reported that a class in dairying had been organized and she hoped, before another biennium closed, to have a course in poultry raising.

The Silent Observer, in the fall of 1927, reported that fifty boys were enrolled in some phase of the vocational department. In that year painting as a vocational trade was introduced under an experienced instructor in that field.

Handicrafts was introduced as an extra-curricular and prevocational activity for the girls in 1934.

The heads of the printing and shoe-repairing departments were made full time instructors at the beginning of the school session of 1936. Mr. John B. Chandler, for seventeen years the instructor of printing, died on June 28, 1936. When the new instructor was employed, the change in duties was inaugurated.

Change in Name

In 1922 Mrs. Poore recommended that the name of the school be changed for the social and mental health of the pupils. The word "dumb" had been taken from the title of practically every institution for the deaf by this time and Mrs. Poore thought this omission would help to liberate the Tennessee deaf from the yoke of "dumb" bondage.

In 1925 the House passed an act changing the name of the school. The word "dumb" was dropped from the official title and the school became the "Tennessee School for the Deaf." For this act, the deaf of the state were deeply grateful. The Silent Observer carried an article entitled, "No Longer Dumb."


The Tennessee Association of the Deaf held its seventh convention at the school in August, 1925.  More than 200 former pupils attended.  They were very enthusiastic in their praise of the work of the new administration in securing the new "home" for the deaf of the state.  The members represented a number of vocations in their respective localities, all of them useful, successful citizens.

The fourteenth Convention of Superintendents and Principals of American Schools for the Deaf was held in Knoxville, October 30 to November 2, 1928. Sixty-one members of the organization were present. At this meeting Mrs. Poore was elected vice-president of the organization.

The Eleventh Triennial Convention of the Tennessee Association of the Deaf was held at the school September 1-4, 1937. Representatives from all walks of life were present many of them outstanding in their chosen field of endeavor. Mrs. Poore, in her speech, "Education of the Deaf of Tennessee Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," outlined her course of action for the future. She compared the school with the one of "yesterday" and cited the outstanding reasons for pride in the accomplishments of the administrative heads through the years.

The Mid-West Conference of Executives of the Schools for the Deaf was held at the Tennessee School on April 2426, 1940. A number of outstanding executives in the realm of deaf education were present.


An act of the legislature of 1919 for the pensioning of teachers of the school provided for the retirement of any teacher fifty-five years of age who had taught twenty-five years in the school. Miss Betty Davis and Mr. William Branum profited by this retirement enactment. However, this act, which was to be renewed by every session of the General Assembly, was not brought to the attention of the legislature in 1923, and it automatically became non-existent.

In 1934 Mr. Matthew R. Mann was given a pension by special act of the General Assembly, applicable only to him. He had taught for fifty-three years in the school.

A pension act which would have applied to two teachers of the school was brought up during the General Assembly of 1939. This act was passed by both houses, but was vetoed by the governor. He regretted his action and afterwards made a public statement to the effect that he had thought it a general bill to pension all teachers of the state over the age of fifty-five. Another bill was passed by the House in February, 1941. It applies to any teacher who has taught twenty five years in the school who wishes to retire or has retired. They are entitled to receive two-thirds of their salary for the last year of service provided the sum does not exceed $60 per month. This pension bill made it possible for Mr. L. A. Palmer to retire at the end of the school session of 1941, and it likewise benefited Mrs. Helen Kirkpatrick, who retired in 1939.

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