The first day of school is just around the corner, so we’re taking the opportunity to share the story of one of Austin’s most treasured educational institutions: The Texas School for the Deaf.
In addition to being the oldest continually operating public school in the state, the Texas School for the Deaf is one of the oldest sites in Austin. The 167-year-old institution is older than the Texas State Capitol building.
The school’s origins can be traced back to a deaf man named Matthew Clark, who petitioned the state to open its first school for deaf residents in 1856. After the sixth legislature approved his plan, Clark traveled around Austin and neighboring counties in search of deaf children in need of education.
The school opened its doors — with just three pupils — in January 1857. Back then, it looked very different from how it looks now, largely constructed of a cottage, cabins, and an old smokehouse.
Just a few years after the institution opened, the Civil War struck. Funding ran dry, but rather than abandon the school, teachers and students supported themselves on the property by farming and making clothes using wool from sheep raised on-site.
The school survived, and by 1923, the campus was the second-largest school for the deaf in the US.
Even so, it wasn’t until 1949 that the school graduated from its role as an eleemosynary institution — one dependent on charity — into a certified educational institution. The school was desegregated in 1966, after the school was placed under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education.
Today, the 67-acre Texas School for the Deaf campus still stands where it was founded between South 1st Street and South Congress Avenue, and now educates ~540 students and serves as a statewide resource center.