Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Michigan School for the Deaf


Of the state educational institutions, a school was early located at Flint for the deaf, dumb and blind. To Hon. E. h. Thomson belongs the honor of introducing, in 1848, the act which resulted in establishing this splendid school. The first board of trustees comprised the following: Elon Farnsworth, of Wayne; Gen. Charles C. Hascall, of Genesee; Charles H. Taylor, of Kent; Charles F. Stewart, of Kalamazoo, and John P. Cook, of Hillsdale.

The board decided upon Flint as the most eligible location. Twenty acres of found were donated by Col. T. B. W. Stockton to the trustees for a site and three thousand dollars was subscribed by the citizens. Charles H. Palmer was, in December, 1850, appointed as principal.

In 1857 the Legislature amended the act of 1848 to that the institution should be entirely independent of the Kalamazoo insane asylum, which had been up to that time in charge of the same board. Under the amended act the first board for the Flint institution consisted of James B. Walker, Benjamin Pierson and John Le Roy. B. M. Fay was chosen principal and organized the schoolwork proper in 1857. The subsequent history of this school has been authoritatively sketched by superintendent Francis D. Clark, whose works may here appropriately find a place:

In their visit to the other states in search of information the trustees had been favorably impressed with the Rev. Barnabas Maynard Fay, an instructor in the Indiana Institution for the Blind, and when they decided to open the school they invited him to become principal. He accepted the invitation of the trustees and notice was given that the school would be open for the reception of pupils on the fist of February, 1854.

On the 6th of February the first pupil came; he was James Bradley, who for many year had been a prosperous farmer at Lawton, Michigan, but is now residing near Flint. By the close of the first year there were seventeen pupils in attendance. Doctor Fay continued as superintendent for a little more then ten years, resigning in September , 1864. During his administration the school met with more then the ordinary difficulties of young institutions as the great Civil War demanded most of the attention and money of the state; still it prospered and the attendance rose form one hundred and three pupils (eighty deaf and twenty-three blind), in July, 1863; but then the department for the blind was suspended, and in June, 1864, there were only eighty-one, all deaf.

It would be a serious omission to pass over this period without mentioned in the services of Hon. James B. Walker, of Flint. Up to 1856, this school and the asylum for the insane were under the management of one board, bit in that year the Legislature enacted that there should be a separate board for each, and the governor appointed as trustees for the school for the deaf: James B. Walker, Benjamin Pierson, and John Le Roy. Mr. Walker was chosen treasurer and building commissioner, offices which he continued to hold until March 31, 1873. During this time all the larger and more expensive buildings of the school, with the exception of Brown Hall, were erected, and the state of Michigan owes much to Mr. Walker's energy and business ability.

Doctor Fay showed rare foresight in the selection of his assistants. His first two teachers were W. L. M. Breg and James Denison; the former, after years of faithful work, has gone to his reward; the other for many years has been the honored head of the Kendall school at Washington, D. C. To these were added, in 1858, Misses Belle H. Ransom and Harriet L. Seymour, and Jacob L. Green, who was succeeded, in February, 1859, by Thomas L. Brown, while Willis Hubbard appears as a new teacher in 1863. Egbert L. Bangs, a teacher of experience in the New York institution, was chosen to succeed Doctor Fay, and under him the school continued to progress.

On August 14 and 15, 1872, a conference of superintendents and principals of the American institutions for the deaf was held at the Michigan school, which was addressed by a. Graham Bell, on the importance of using his father's invention, "Visible Speech," in teaching articulation to the deaf. Had those present known that Mr. bell was at work on the invention which made him famous all over the civilized world, his words in favor of visible speech would have had more weight. As it was, this particular method was adopted at the Michigan school, but only remained in use two years, though some of the eastern schools used it for ten or twelve year after that time.

It has been often said that one of the results of that visit of Mr. Bell was the beginning of the teaching of speech in the Michigan school, but this is not so, as at a conference of the superintendents held in Washington, in May, 1868, a resolution was unanimously passed recommending that provision for such teaching be made at every American school for the deaf, in accordance with which George L. Brockett was "placed in charge of the department of articulation" in the fall of 1868. This department has grown steadily from that time and at present contains more than half the pupils of the school. To Mr. Bangs belongs the credit of establishing the excellent system of trade teaching that has for so long a time distinguished the Michigan school. Exactly when each trade was begun, it is impossible now to say. There was none when Mr. Bangs came, and he left a fine system, well equipped. The official reports of the school are singularly silent on the subject, but tradition informs us that the first and most expensive of these shops was built and equipped by Mr. Walker with money that the Legislature intended to go towards the main building.

Mr. Walker retired in 1873 and was succeeded as treasurer by Hon. William L. smith, who gave to the school the splendid system of bookkeeping which has been continued ever since. By this time the buildings of the school were so complete that Mr. Smith turned his attention tot he school grounds, and by his wisdom and foresight, began the work which has made the school grounds the beauty-spot of Flint.

Under the same administration, in 1874, Mrs. Sarah R. Jones, a graduate of the first American school for the deaf, at Hartford, was appointed to take charge of the girls of the school, a position that she held till her death, on April 21, 1903. This rarely gifted woman has left her impress on the manners and character of a generation of the deaf girls of our state.

In May, 1876, Mr. Bangs resigned, after having served the school faithfully for almost twelve years. Among his last appointments we find the names of Edwin Barton and John Austin, the former of whom was foreman of the cabinet shop until his death, on June 6, 1905, and the latter is still chief engineer.

Mr. Bangs was succeeded by J. Willis Parker, a teacher in the school, who held the office until the close of the session of 1878-79, when he resigned to accept the position of superintendent of the Kansas school. The trustees employed as his successor, Dr. Thomas MacIntyre, who has been for twenty-six years at the head of the Indiana school and who began his work in Michgian, august 1, 1879.

In 1880, the blind, who had been educated in connection with the deaf, were removed to a fine new building in Lansing, the management of which was given to a separate board of trustees. There never was any good reason why the two classes of children should be taught in the same school, as their needs are entirely different.

Doctor MacIntyre retired at the close of the school year, in 1882, and the board appointed to succeed him D. H. Church, who had been steward for nine years, as superintendent, and as principal of the educational department, F. A. Platt, who had taught in the school for some years. Under this arrangement the board expected to get more efficient service in both departments without any additional expense; but apparently the hope proved delusive, for, in September, 1883, M. T. Gass was appointed superintendent. Mr. Church returned to his old position as steward, which he continued to hold until October 1, 1880, when, on account of failing health, he declined a reappointment. E. F. Swan was appointed to succeed him and held the position until his death in 1906, discharging its various and onerous duties in a manner that called for the very highest praise. It was entirely owing to his ability and accuracy that the school for the deaf has the reputation of needing less correction from the auditor-general's office than any other state institution. He was ably succeeded by Dr. Henry Roland Niles.

In 1891 the management if the school, which for so many years had been in the hands of its own board of trustees, was taken from them by the legislature and placed in the hands of the central board of control of state institutions, which also had charge of the state public school and the school for the blind. This arrangement continued only until 1893, when the next Legislature changed it.

On July 1, 1892, Thomas Monroe, who for ten years had taught in the school, succeeded M. T. Gass as superintendent. Great results were expected from this appointment, as Mr. Monroe thoroughly understood the deaf and their language, but he never addressed children as their superintendent. He was stricken with typhoid fever on September 16, before school opened, and died on September 30.

At the next regular meeting of the board on October 27, 1892, Francis D. Clarke was elected, but did not report for duty until December 1. Dr. Clarke had taught in the New York school for seventeen years, and had been superintendent of the Arkansas school for seven years.

On May 25, 1893, the school was again reorganized, being again given into the care of its own board of trustees: Hon. C. B. turner, of Pontiac; President; Hon. J. A. Trotter, of Vassar, Secretary; and Gen. Charles s. Brown, of Flint, treasurer, constituting a most efficient board. The spirit which governed them may be judged from these abstracts from their first report: "We have changed past customs by insisting that the pupils and their comfort shall be the first object of the school. We realize the fact that this school was and is supported for the good of the deaf children of this state and, while desiring the utmost economy, we think that any saving made at the expense of the progress or comfort of the pupils, defeats the purpose of the school, We wish our graduates to be the best in the world, and any saving which prevents this is false economy."

These words were inspired by Gen. C. S. Brown, the treasurer of the board, who, as the resident member, naturally displayed the greatest interest in the school, and his report shows the spirit in which he labored for the deaf children, wards of the state. In the school room, on the play ground, in the workshops or the dining room, at social parties or athletic contests, the soldierly figure of General Brown was a familiar and a very welcome sigh and, with the quick instinct of children, the pupils recognized the tenderness of his heart and lived him, and when, on October 27, 1904, he answered the call of the Great commander, and passed to his eternal reward, though there were many who mourned him sincerely, none felt his loss more keenly than those deaf children for whom he had labored so faithfully. Brown Hall, built during his trusteeship and named in his honor, will stand as an enduring monument to his memory.

The passing of the fiftieth year of the work of this school was recently celebrated by a reunion of the alumni at the school, under the auspices of the Michigan Association of the Deaf. Upwards of three hundred of them returned to the school and passed four very happy days in renewing old friendships, viewing old scenes and in seeing the many changes and improvements that have taken place since their school time.

To commemorate this reunion, the Association presented to the school a bronze memorial of Rev. Barnabas Fay, the first principal of the school, which was placed in a conspicuous place in the front hall of the main building, and among those who were present at its unveiling was Dr. Edwin Allen Fay, the eldest son of Rev. Dr. Fay, vice-president of Gallaudet College, who spoke on the occasion.

This tablet bears in bas-relief a fine likeness of Dr. Fay, and was the work of Roy C. Carpenter, a graduate of the school, who is winning a reputation by his skill as a sculptor, this memorial tablet being by no means his first successful work of art.

The work done by the Michigan school for the deaf during the half century of its existence is a source of pride. True, none of its graduates have been presidents, governor, judges or filled any office higher than that of county clerk. Among them are no great lawyers, doctors, clergymen or statesmen. Worldly wealth has come to very few. But not one has ever been a convict in a penitentiary and but very few, less than half a dozen in a list of almost two thousand, have been obliged to apply for county or state aid. Trained to look upon labor as honorable and to regard the opportunity to work as the best luck that can come to them, they have labored diligently and faithfully in the stations to which it has pleased God to call them, doing with their might whatsoever their hands find to do, and being self-respecting, industrious and upright men and women.

The Michigan school for the deaf increased in attendance and in standard of excellence under the supervision of Doctor Clarke. On august 12, 1913, was laid the corner stone of the new administration and dormitory buildings, Doctor Clarke, in his office as grand master of the grand lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the state of Michigan, presiding at the ceremonies. Only a few days afterwards Doctor Clarke passed away very suddenly, his death occasioning universal regret.

In addition to the regular curriculum of the school, a dramatic class was organized some few years ago and several of Shakespeare's plays have been successfully produced in the sign language by the pupils.

After the death of Doctor Clarke, the board of control tendered the position, made vacant, tot he Hon. Luther L. Wright, state superintendent of public instruction and one of the most prominent educators of this country.

The Michigan school for the deaf has for many years ranked as one of the finest institutions of its kind in the United States. Robert J. Whaley and A. G. Bishop, of Flint, did splendid service as members of the board of trustees. The present resident trustee is ex-Mayor F. H. Rankin, who served for many years as a member of the Flint board of education. Mr. Rankin has been a very valuable official, giving the best service of his life to educational work.

The Michigan Mirror, a monthly publication edited and printed by the pupils, is devoted entirely to the interest of the institution. The farm connected with the school affords a practical education in agriculture and the department of sewing, domestic science, printing, tailoring, woodworking, cobbling and art and crafts, each under efficient instructors, offer to the pupils the necessary aid in the way of becoming industrious and self-supporting citizens.

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