5 Historic Milestones in Arkansas School for the Deaf’s Past

There are many institutions across Arkansas that have impacted the state’s history in some way, but the Arkansas School for the Deaf (ASD) is one of the more prolific ones. Making particularly large strides to provide a place for deaf students to learn and live, ASD has been making progress since its creation in 1867.

April is National Deaf History Month, and while ASD has been around for many of Arkansas’ historical milestones, it has a rich history of its own. Here are five major moments highlighting the school’s significance and advancements made since its founding.

1. The School’s Founding

ASD was founded in 1867 in Little Rock as a school for deaf children. In 1868, the state government realized the school was struggling and took it over, officially naming it The Arkansas Deaf Mute Institute. The school had gained credibility as a crucial part of Arkansas’ school system by 1892, with vocational training at the core of its curriculum. 


2. The Fire in 1889

The school broke ground on a new building in mid-1869, and it was ready for use in early 1870. As the school continued expanding and its enrollment surpassed 100 students, it hired full-time supervisors in 1887. In 1889, a fire broke out on the school’s campus and destroyed most of its buildings. Reconstruction took longer than was normal because none of the destroyed buildings were insured.


3. Rebranding the School

After the fire, the institute’s progress was steady and in 1923 it became the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Superintendents Bess Michael Riggs and Roy G. Parks increased the school’s attendance and number of buildings during their tenure, and ASD had another period of reconstruction from 1961-1965 when a storm destroyed a lot of the school’s older buildings.


4. Desegregation

African-American deaf children spent 1949-1965 studying at a different school building on 22nd and Madison streets, but that changed when ASD was desegregated in 1965. Just prior to this, the school had established a training program that offered certification for teachers of the deaf in partnership with the University of Arkansas (UA). The program took place on ASD’s campus until 1969 when it moved to UA’s campus.


5. A Slew of Superintendents

In 1989, superintendent Susan Peck started sending students home every weekend, instead of only letting them visit home once a month. Dr. Pete Seiler’s five-and-a-half-year tenure began in1995, and he became the first deaf superintendent of ASD. Dr. Marcella A. Dalla Rosa took over the position in 2003, and she started a program in 2006 to improve residential life at the school by providing tools to help students achieve their academic goals.


To learn more about the Arkansas School for the Deaf and its mission, visit the school’s website. You can also read more about the school’s history on its Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Encyclopedia of Arkansas page, which is the basis for the facts listed above.

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