100th Anniversary

of the

Tennessee School for the Deaf

1845-1945


History Of The Negro Department

On April 3, 1852, the Board of Trustees of the white school received a letter requesting permission to enter a Negro slave as a pupil in the school. However, it was not until 29 years later that provision was really made for the education of the Negro deaf of the state.

The legislature passed a bill on April 4, 1881,  establishing a school for the Negro deaf. An appropriation of $2,500 for two years was made and the school was started in a rented house in East Knoxville near the site of the Churchwell house, the former location of the white school.

The first session of school opened with ten pupils who were placed in the home of James Mason, who took particular interest in their welfare. They ate their meals in a log cabin, slept in another building and went to school in still another part of the city. A former pupil of the white school, Matthew R. Mann, was the first teacher.

Rhoda Mason, the first matron of the Negro department did not know the signs used by the deaf. Every day that she brought the children to school, she remained in the class to learn the signs from Mr. Mann.

The appropriation was practically used up by the Trustees by the end of the first session of school, due to the fact that it had riot been stipulated "per annum." At the next session of the legislature, the oversight in terminology was corrected, an appropriation of $2,500 was passed to take care of the deficit and the appropriation was stipulated to be "per annum."

Permanent Location Secured

In the summer of 1883, Dr. John Boyd, the school physician, made the Board the very attractive offer to sell the Abner G. Jackson home and surrounding property of twenty-seven acres on Dandridge Pike for $5,500. The Trustees promptly rented the property for two years at $300 a year and relied on the generosity of the General Assembly to appropriate the necessary funds for the purchase.

At the extraordinary session of 1885, the Legislature saw the wisdom of such action and appropriated the money for the acquisition of the property, plus $1,000 for repairs to the buildings and the fencing of the property.

In 1895 the dairy was moved from the White to the Negro department, and with the $1,800 appropriated for this change, the Executive Committee authorized the construction of a wooden barn, a five-room frame house for the dairyman, a brick dairy house, and fences and sheds for the stock at the new location. The Negro school grounds afforded plenty of pasture land, fresh running water, and much more freedom for the dairy herd.

New Bill Requires Changes

In March, 1901, the legislature in session in Nashville passed a bill requiring that a teacher or principal employed in the schools of the state be of the same race as that of the pupils he instructs. In order to avoid any violation of the law, the Board met and changed Mr. Moses' official title to that of superintendent, and that of Mr. Mann, the teacher in the Negro department, to assistant superintendent and at the same time relieved Mann of all teaching duties. His duties become those of manager of the Negro department. Mabel Mason had been employed to assist Mr. Mann as teacher in the preceding session. Mary Hoss was added to the staff in 1902.

Changes and Improvements

The Negro school was closed at the beginning of the Christmas holidays in 1940 and an extensive improvement program was begun in that department. Henry C. Edmunds, the principal, helped with the work. Modern electric and heating systems were installed; the floors and walls were replaced; and a cement-block extension was built onto the back of the Main building. This addition, called the School Building, contains an auditorium and two classrooms on the first floor; and on the ground floor are one classroom, laundry, domestic art department for girls, a shop for boys, and the central heating plant. All classrooms are wired so that hearing aids may be plugged in anytime.

More land was added to bring the total acreage to almost one hundred acres. The dairy barn received a new roof, gutters and an over-all paint job. Total cost of the improvements and repairs came to around sixty-two thousand dollars.

At the present time the staff consists of the principal, three classroom teachers and six household and farm workers. There are 17 boys and 12 girls enrolled as pupils for the 1944-45 session.

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Copyright 2001, Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray.  All rights reserved.