The Utah School for the Deaf in Ogden, Utah after the official creation of the School for the Blind in 1896. Credit: Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society

The Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind

A New Educational Institution for a New State

The final push for statehood in the 1890s impacted the education system throughout the rest of the decade. The development of new schools, addition of new laws by the state legislature, and changes in government budgets all affected the education of the population.


THe Birth of a New School

Origin of the School for the Deaf

The School for the Deaf was established by the territorial legislature in 1884 and managed by the University of Deseret. It used the Combined System of instruction, one of several used at the time for instructing deaf students, and aimed to teach its students common school subjects and trades. It also strived to prepare them for the entrance exam to Gallandet College, a college for the deaf in Washington D.C.

Origin of the School for the Blind

The School for the Blind was formally established in 1893 by the territorial legislature, but it was not created in reality until the 1896 Enabling Act appropriated additional funds for its founding. It was then combined with the School for the Deaf.

Creating a Combined School

By 1894, the School for the Deaf served 50 students and was outgrowing its location. The institute, which was headed by superintendent Frank W. Metcalf, was one of dozens of schools for the deaf in the United States that collectively taught more than 10,000 students, but it was the only one of its kind in Utah.

Although the School for the Blind had been created on paper, it was not a school yet in reality, so the decision was made to combine the schools and move them into the former Reform School in Ogden. The property held by the school would include 200,000 acres of land, which it could sell to establish an endowment.

Ahead of the move to Ogden, Metcalf began preparing for the new combined school. He secured $4,000 for the salaries of the school’s teachers and began seeking well-qualified instructors from the East Coast. He also put out calls in Utah’s newspapers asking for people to notify him of any potential students for the new School for the Blind. Contrary to its location on the university campus, the school now had plenty of space. The new buildings were large enough to accommodate students from Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada as well as Utah.


Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind

A New Community

When the combined school opened in September of 1896, it welcomed new and returning students. The blending of cultures at the new Schools for the Deaf and Blind brought challenges and opportunities to its students and staff.

Incarceration of orphans and people with illnesses or disabilities was common in the 1890s, and due to their location in a former reform school, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind at times felt like a prison. Teachers were often on pseudo “guard” duty as their positions required them to be on call 24 hours a day, every day of the week, but the administration strived to soften the image of the school for its students through lush gardens and outside play. A newsletter, "The Deseret Eagle," provided updates about the schools to parents, guardians, and the community.

Basketball team members for the Utah School for the Deaf around 1904. Credit: Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society

Blind and deaf students lived together but attended separate classes. In deaf classes, students were instructed through the English Language method, which taught students to speak, write, and think in English. In blind classes, students were taught using American Braille. All students participated in daily physical education classes, which included dancing and marching. Overall, apart from the instruction methods, the classes were similar to those in mainstream classrooms elsewhere in the state.

Legacy of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind

The Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind continue to serve students today in multiple locations throughout the state as does the rest of Utah’s public education system. New teaching techniques and technologies have expanded the voices of teachers in the 21st century.