Kentucky School for the Deaf

Kentucky School for the Deaf. (From the Postcard Collection, University of Kentucky)

(From The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Kentucky, 26 November 1978)


Main Street in Danville, Kentucky during the 1800s. (From The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Kentucky, 26 November 1978)

The Kentucky School for the Deaf holds the title of being the first state-supported school for the deaf in America. At the time, there were three other schools for the deaf but these were all supported privately. The act incorporating the “Asylum for the Tuition of the Deaf and Dumb” bears the date of 7 December 1922. This “act” was drawn up by Judge Rowan and presented before the Kentucky Legislature by General Elias Barbee of Green County. Gen. Barbee’s daughter was the first pupil of the school. The act appointed trustees of Centre College to be the trustees of the institution, it limited the number of pupils to be admitted to twenty-five, and the length of time each could attend the school to three years. In early 1823, the trustees met to set the school in operation. A frame building on the southwest corner of Fourth and Main streets in Danville was secured and fitted for the reception of the pupils. The Reverend John R. Merry and his wife were engaged as superintendent and matron of the boarding department. The boarding department, for a period of twelve years, was under separate management from the education department of the institution. At the time, the superintendent received no salary but only such profits as might remain from the State appropriation and all sums received from paying pupils, after he had boarded them, and provided all necessary supplies for the school.

A Building on Second Street Became Part of the Original KSD Campus. It was Razed When The New Campus Opened. (From The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Kentucky, 26 November 1978)

Educating the deaf in America was still in its infancy at the time. The trustees experienced great difficulty in securing a properly qualified man to take charge of the educational department. The first man appointed was dismissed within a year as being “incompetent.” Mr. John Addison Jacobs, only eighteen years of age at the time, and attending Centre College, agreed to travel to Hartford, Connecticut, to qualify himself under the famous Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc who, themselves, had been qualified in Paris, to establish the first school for the deaf in America. Mr. Jacobs made the trip, in its entirety, on horseback, returning thirteen months later on the same horse. It was noted that he made the best possible use of his time and “the energy and zeal with which he carried out his task,” being worthy of the incredible work he did in the proceeding forty-four years in which he conducted the school. Mr. Jacobs, the venerable principal, died on 17 November 1869, and was succeeded by his nephew, John A. Jacobs, Jr. in 1879. Mr. D. C. Dudley was superintendent for fifteen years, Mr. W. K. Argo for twelve years, and Mr. J. E. Ray for three years. In 1896, Mr. Ray was called to his native home of North Carolina to take charge of a large institution and was, therefore, succeeded by Mr. Augustus Bogers. It should be noted that, when Mr. Jacobs returned to Kentucky, land was granted to the school by Congress and it moved to its new location in 1827.

Jacobs Hall (Center) Flanked by Kerr and Dudley Halls in 1923. (From The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Kentucky, 26 November 1978)

By 1854, the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s state legislature took action to ensure that the Kentucky School for the Deaf had equal status amongst other Kentucky schools by making it free to any child who wanted to attend. Jacobs Hall began construction in 1855 and completed in late 1857. During the Civil War, attendance doped by nearly half and the conflict of the entire nation made the school’s future uncertain. However, by 1870, a new 12-member board took control over the school from Centre College trustees; the governor would appoint these members for 6-year terms.

Kentucky School for the Deaf in 1900. (From the City of Murray and Calloway County Photographic Collection, University of Kentucky)

Kentucky School for the Deaf in 1941. (From the Clay Lancaster Slide Collection, University of Kentucky)

A brand new century called for changes at the school. New teachers and new buildings would keep the school steadily growing. By the 1920s, the school had more than 300 students enrolled. Alumni from the school became farm-owners, clerks, educators, shoemakers, bakers, painters, and many, many other vocations. The Kentucky School for the Deaf paved the way for deaf individuals to sustain themselves and their families. Essentially, they found their way into Kentucky and American society with little or no difficulty just as any able-bodied student attending a “normal” secondary school. Students were taught by a combination of oral and manual methods and they attempted to make speech go hand-in-hand with their education.

Kentucky School for the Deaf. (From The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Kentucky, 10 July 1940)

Today, the Kentucky School for the Deaf currently operates in its second century. It has been noted that the second hundred years have been marked by physical expansions of the buildings and the campus, increases in enrollment and diversification, and the school has always maintained its objective at producing well-adjusted deaf individuals living in a hearing world.

Kentucky School for the Deaf in 1980. (From the Clay Lancaster Slide Collection, University of Kentucky)

Kentucky School for the Deaf in 2018. (From Google Earth)

Contributed by Shawn Logan |

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
  1. Kentucky Advocate (Danville, Kentucky), 2 September 1907, p. 1.
  2. The Advocate-Messenger (Danville, Kentucky), 10 July 1940, p. 11.
  3. The Advocate-Messenger (Danville, Kentucky), 26 November 1978, pp. 29-31.

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