Youthful enthusiasm in the heart of a deaf man, a state appropriation, and donated land set the stage for the creation of our school.
In 1882, a young Thomas Hines Coleman, was preparing to graduate from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only college for the Deaf in the world at that time. He had graduated from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind and knew he wanted to make education for children his life’s work.
Florida was one of the few states that had not yet made provision for the education of children who were deaf/hard-of-hearing, or who had visual impairments. Coleman wrote Governor W. D. Bloxham of Florida and found he was favorable toward the establishment of such a school. As their correspondence continued, the sum of $20,000 was reached as a minimum appropriation to start the School.
In 1883, Florida’s legislature established an institution for the blind and deaf for two years at $20,000. They requested bids from various towns in the state for the location to build the School. The city of St. Augustine offered the best bid with $1,000 cash and five acres of land, the land donated by Captain Edward E. Vaill, a pioneer of the City. Contractor William A. MacDuff erected the original first three wooden buildings at $12,749 and they were completed in December 1884.
The First Graduates
By 1892, there were 62 students enrolled. The School’s first graduation was held in May 1898. The two graduates, both deaf, were Artemas W. Pope of St. Augustine, and Cora Carlton of Island Grove, who later married and became the parents of Senator Verle A. Pope of Florida. The first blind student, DeWitt Lightsey, graduated in 1908, and the first two black graduates were Louise Jones, from the Blind Department in 1914, and Cary White, from the Deaf Department in 1925.
The Board of Trustees
The school was named The School for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb and it was under the direction of a five-member board of trustees until 1905. The Buckman Act abolished the board and placed the school under the management of the newly created State Board of Control, who also supervised the state university and college system. The name of the school was changed to The Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb and there it remained for the next 58 years.
The Florida legislature established the present seven-member Board of Trustees in 1963. This Board acts under general policies adopted by the State Board of Education. Its current chairman is Mr. Christopher Wagner, Bradenton.
Today, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is the largest school of its type in the United States. The school has grown from three small buildings on five acres to 47 major buildings on nearly 80 acres of land.