Arkansas School for the Deaf

History of Arkansas School for the Deaf


The following information was provided by ASD's Historical Museum.

The history of the Arkansas School for the Deaf spans 150 years of rich heritage in providing quality educational services to meet the immediate and future needs of deaf and hard of hearing children of Arkansas. The first program, which was started in 1850 in Clarksville, Arkansas, by Augustus Ward, was the first to be established west of the Mississippi River.

In 1860, Asa Clark organized a second school for the deaf in her home in Fort Smith. Matthew Clark, a graduate of the New York Institute for the Deaf-Mute, was the instructor. After seeing a teaching demonstration by Mr. Clark for the Arkansas Legislature, an appropriation was established for the funding of the school. During this time, the Civil War forced the school to close. Immediately following the end of the Civil War, the school was reopened and moved to Little Rock on the site of the Territorial Capitol. The building used was the first School for the Deaf in Little Rock, as well as the first State Capitol. In 1868, Governor Powell, recommended to the General Assembly that the school be taken over as a state institution. An Act was approved on July 17, 1868, locating the School in Little Rock and naming it "The Arkansas Deaf-Mute Institute".

During the 1870's and 1880's the population of the school continued to grow. In 1887, when the enrollment passed 100 students, full-time dormitory supervisors were hired. By 1892, there were 133 students. In 1898, the school was visited by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who was accompanied by his deaf wife.

On September 30, 1899, the Arkansas School for the Deaf was completely destroyed by fire. The school was not insured and the loss to the State was total. In 1901, the State appropriated $80,000 to rebuild the school. Two years later, the Legislature appropriated $45,000 more to make it possible for the school continue serving students. In 1905, an Act was passed, extending the time that deaf children were allowed to attend the state residential school from 10 to 13 years. This Act included that only deaf children between the ages of 6 and 21 be admitted to the school.

In 1917, two important legislative acts were enacted: one act changed the name of the School from "Arkansas Deaf-Mute Institute" to "Arkansas School for the Deaf" and the other act placed the school under an honorary Board of Directors.

Many improvements were made during the next three decades. In 1926, Bess Michaels Riggs was appointed as the first female superintendent. During the Riggs Administration, the construction of Parnell Hall and Jenkins Hall (for black deaf students) and the remodeling of the school infirmary, took place. In 1936, the school purchased its first school bus. This gave the students more opportunities to have field trips and athletic teams to broaden their learning experiences. In 1941, the ASD Leopards won the national basketball championship for schools for the deaf held at the Illinois School for the Deaf.

In 1949, all black deaf children were moved to a new school building located on Madison Street. This facility served as a dormitory and classroom building for black deaf students. It was not until 1965 that total integration of black deaf students took place. This was called the Madison Street School. Madison School was closed and all the black deaf students were placed at ASD and attended classes with other students regardless of race.

During the 1950 and 1960's, extensive growth occurred. The number of buildings on campus grew from 5 to 18. From 1961-1965, construction accounted for a new administration building, the upper school classroom building, two dormitories for girls, two dormitories for boys, a new cafeteria complex, and residences for the superintendent and chief maintenance engineer.

In the 1970's, the existing primary school was torn down. It was replaced with a new complex consisting of classrooms, a multi-purpose room, and dormitories. In addition, an athletic complex was constructed as well. Lower School Principal, Susan Pack, developed a new project focusing on early intervention for young hearing-impaired children. The Parent-Infant Program is still helping many today.

Since the 1980's, ASD has progressed in many ways. The students began going home every weekend, the Higginbotham Computer Lab was established in the Vocational Building, KidCo Daycare was implemented for both ASD families and the public. Central Arkansas Independent Restaurant Owners Association (CAIRO) supplied ASD with generous funding. Silent Sunday was developed to raise money to provide computers throughout the campus. There is currently a state-of-the-art computer lab in each school building, as well as classroom computers throughout campus and in the dorms. Through the generosity of Silent Sunday, and with innovative planning and teamwork, ASD has become an important resource in the field of technology and deaf education.

ASD's Historical Museum is open from 9:00 - 2:00 Monday through Thursday, and other days by appointment.  It is closed during school holidays.

For more information, contact ASD.  The phone number for the museum is 501-324-9525 V/TTY.