Superintendent since 1996, Dr. Stuart Wittenstein
The following is a brief history of the California School for the Blind as written for its 125th anniversary in 1986.
History 1860 - 1950
The education of blind children in California began in a small wood frame building on Tehama Street in San Francisco, in 1860. A group of prominent, influential women met on the 17th of March, 1860, to organize a Society for the Instruction and Maintenance of the Indigent Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind in California. Mrs. Frances Augusta Clark is given credit as the leader of this movement. She later became president of the Board of Managers and first Principal of the school until 1865. There were one blind and three deaf mute students enrolled at Tehama Street. These quarters were temporary and used only until a larger building at 16th and Mission was completed. This building was opened on May 1, 1860, by Mrs. Clark and the Society. Mrs. Clark's first report, dated 1861, noted that enrollment had increased to seventeen deaf and five blind students.
Dr. Warring Wilkinson was brought from New York in December, 1865, to be Principal of the dual institution. Dr. Wilkinson began a movement to make the school wholly state-supported rather than privately supported. He also recognized, at this time, a need for more growth and space for the institution. In 1866 there were 48 students enrolled, and the Board of Directors was instructed to attend to the removal of the institution from San Francisco to a larger, more suitable location. Thus began a large advertising campaign within a 75-mile radius of San Francisco, in search of the perfect site.
In February, 1867, the Commissioners, with the approval of the Board of Directors, chose a site across the Bay, in the County of Alameda. It was located north of the Township of Oakland and east of the soon to be incorporated Township of Berkeley. A 130 acre parcel of land was bought from John Kearney for the sum of $12,100 in gold coins. Forty of the acres were gentle sloping grassy plains with a barn and fences. The remaining ninety acres rose steeply to Grizzly, Baldy, and many other peaks. This property was adjacent to a tract belonging to the College of California (later to become the University of California.)
Ground was broken on July 29, 1867, for the new institution. The cornerstone was laid on September 26, 1867. The new building was described as a fine example of the institutional architecture of the day--a Victorian Gothic style. The new school was concentrated into one large stone building which contained schoolrooms, dormitories, and kitchen and dining facilities. At first the grounds were simply unimproved fields, but later a garden was cultivated around the one building, with the remainder of the grounds left in their original natural state.
A fire of unknown origin totally destroyed the new building on January 17, 1875. It was ironic that precautions taken to prevent a recurrence of the type of damage caused to the unfinished building by an earthquake, in 1868, were now the very factors contributing to the rapid spread of the fire that destroyed the structure. Nothing was saved, not even Dr. Wilkinson's private library. A week of floods and storms complicated matters even more. Temporary quarters were sought for the housing and education of the students. The directors, with the aid and contributions of forty local businessmen, constructed several wooden buildings in record time to be used temporarily during the time needed to build a new facility. The school was reopened in April, 1875, in its temporary buildings.
Ground was broken for the new buildings on April 30, 1877. Dr. Wilkinson requested that the new plan provide for indefinite expansion of the facility. The site now had an Educational Building, two dormitories for boys, two for girls, a kitchen and dining room, a laundry, a stable, a workshop, and a private residence for the principal. In 1890, the Education building was completed as originally planned, dignified by a 160 foot tower and an assembly hall that was 112 by 125 feet in length. A clock purchased from the Seth Thomas Clock Company was placed in the tower.
On April 18, 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake did some damage to the school, but there was no fire. The first sharp jolt at 5:13 a.m. wakened and frightened everyone. The second, more severe shock, caused some chimneys to fall and others to crack. The tower's peak and slate roof apparently suffered most; there were also many interior cracks. The main walls held firm, and some departments showed no effect at all. So school went on as usual.
In the same year, 1906, an amendment to the Political Code changed the name from the Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, to the California Institution for the Deaf and Blind. The Code amendment also established the institution as a part of the California State school system, with the exception that it would not derive any revenue from public school funds, and had as its object the education of the deaf and the blind who, by reason of their infirmities, could not be taught in the regular public schools. In 1914 the Legislature voted to substitute the term "School" for "Institution," and the facility was then called the California School for the Deaf and Blind. At this same time, the chief executive officer was given the title of "Principal Superintendent" rather than "Principal Teacher."
Dr. Warring Wilkinson had retired in 1910 as Principal Teacher and was given the title Superintendent Emeritus. Douglas Keith, head business administrator under Wilkinson, was next appointed to the post; and thus began a year of turmoil and troubles. In 1912, Laurence Edwards Milligan was selected by the Board to be Principal Teacher. Mr. Milligan believed, as did Dr. Wilkinson that complete separation of deaf and blind students was needed and should be effected at once; and he held that in any future construction or alterations such separation should be borne in mind. But once again, as during Dr. Wilkinson's time, efforts failed. Twelve long years of struggle were to pass before the dream of separation was to be realized.
In 1921 and 1922, some very important milestones in the history of the school took place. In 1921, a bill passed by the legislature placed the school under the joint authority of the State Director of Education and the State Board of Education. This provision further removed the school from political influences and put it in the hands of experienced educators. A subsequent Act provided for the creation of an institution to be known as the California School for the Blind, setting aside a portion of the site belonging to the California School for the Deaf and the Blind for the use of the newly created blind school; but unfortunately no appropriations were made for funds for construction of such a facility at this time.
Mr. H. C. Harter was appointed Acting Principal of the newly separated School for the Blind on January 30, 1922. On July 1 of that same year, Dr. Richard S. French was appointed as Principal Superintendent of the School for the Blind and Dr. Newel Perry was appointed as Director of Advanced Studies. The two schools had to continue sharing facilities for several more years while a building program was in progress. Construction began in 1923, and formal separation was achieved in July of 1929, with the completion and dedication of the new Educational building.
Buildings on the new school site consisted of a school building built in 1929, with an additional wing added in 1931. This building contained classrooms, special music facilities, library, typing room, auditorium with pipe organ and high fidelity sound equipment, and administrative offices. Three residence halls were constructed: one for girls, in 1925; one for boys, in 1929; and later, a separate residence for small children.
The early educational program for blind children was organized along conventional lines, with the use of embossed print and the point systems constituting the main differential. Children were instructed in all academic areas from kindergarten through ninth grade. Vocational studies such as piano tuning, broom making, and cane chair weaving were offered along with homemaking skills, music, and swimming. Recognition of the Department of the Blind between 1912 and 1920 had provided for an expansion of the educational programs and paved the way for the formal separation of the School for the Blind from the School for the Deaf. Since the time of separation, the supervision of the school has been under the State Department of Education, administered by the Superintendent of the School.
In 1949 a new school department was established for the teaching of educable deaf-blind children of California. A new building, known as the Helen Keller Building, was constructed and dedicated. Governor Earl Warren and Helen Keller were present for the dedication. The final construction on the campus was a dining facility for the use of the total student body, in 1957. The old gymnasium, built in 1915, was assigned to the School for the Blind at this same time.
Education of Deaf-Blind Children
In the 19th Century there were approximately fifty-four deaf-blind persons who lived in America, according to William Wade of Pennsylvania, a friend of Helen Keller and other deaf-blind persons. At this time, sixteen were in school. They attended either schools for the deaf or schools for the blind. Perkins School for the Blind and the new York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf each had three students.
In 1891, it was recommended by the American Association of the Instructors of the Blind that deaf-blind pupils be educated in schools for the blind.
Perkins School for the Blind established the first special department for the deaf-blind in 1933. From 1937 to 1957, seven other departments were organized. In 1937, the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind opened the second deaf-blind department.
Richard E. French, the Superintendent of the California School for the Blind (commonly known as "C.S.B."), sought legislation as early as 1936 to admit deaf-blind children into the school. His secretary, Marie Clisham, played a major role in this effort. The school was not given authorization until 1943 to admit the deaf-blind. They were the third school in the country to establish a deaf-blind program and did so the year they received authorization.
The deaf-blind students were taught separately in the younger children's cottage. The school decided to expand the building in 1948, and the addition was completed in 1949. Upon completion, Helen Keller came to dedicate the building, and it was named the Helen Keller Unit.
Miss Inis B. Hall was the first teacher of the deaf-blind at the California School for the Blind. She earned a reputation for teaching the deaf-blind at the Perkins School for the Blind, and through her leadership helped establish the first deaf-blind department in the country at Perkins. She was a trained teacher of the deaf who had learned from Sophia Alcorn how to teach speech through the Vibration method known as Tadoma.
Jackie Coker was the first deaf-blind student to be graduated from C.S.B. She attended the school from 1946 to 1949 and entered the school as a high school sophomore. There were seven deaf-blind students attending the program at that time. Jackie went on to college and now works at the Department of Rehabilitation in Sacramento.
In 1964-65, a rubella epidemic hit the United States. Prior to this time an estimated 140 deaf-blind were born per year, but the number of deaf-blind children born in the epidemic years rose to 2,000. In 1968, the C.S.B. Deaf-Blind Department doubled in size and doubled again in 1969, due to the epidemic.
In 1969, the Deaf-Blind Institute was established for the parents of deaf-blind children. Parents would come and stay at the school with their deaf-blind children. It was not only a time for education but a time for sharing among people who had a common bond because of their children. The institute was not continued after the school moved to Fremont.
Evelyn Greenleaf became the first principal of the C.S.B. Deaf-Blind Department, in 1970. She had taught in the Department for eleven years prior to taking the position.
In 1971, the Deaf-Blind Assessment Center was established at the California School for the Blind. Deaf-blind children from the Southwestern Region (California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Trust Territories of the Pacific, and the Navajo Nation) came to the School for a short period of time to be assessed. The Assessment Center closed at the end of the 1982-83 school year, due to loss of Federal funding.
A career preparation program was developed for deaf-blind teenagers by Charles Zemalis and Willie Evans in 1974. Deaf-blind students worked in the school's infirmary, in the pre-career workshop, and other places on campus, and later off campus at businesses in the community.
The school moved to Fremont from Berkeley in 1980, and deaf-blind classes are still in operation on the campus.
Opportunities in the Sixties
The sixties initiated a decade of the confirmation of good practice, during which the enrollment reached its peak (1965-167) because of the outstanding program for the kindergarten through the ninth grade, that focused primarily on those children who were academically inclined and could progress in the local or Berkeley/Oakland public high schools. On campus, music, homemaking/crafts, and physical education programs developed skills that had been dormant. The variety of recreational activities were supplemented by community resources and volunteers which provided opportunities that were not avail able on the campus of the California School for the Blind. Home visitations by staff, and regional conferences with parents were instituted. Counseling services were available to the parents of pre-school blind children in Southern California, as well as institutes in Berkeley. Closer relationships were established with the parents in order to encourage partnership responsibility for the education of their children, who now were more frequently returned home for weekends and holidays at State expense. Instruction began to emphasize techniques in independent living skills, also mobility and orientation to the environment that included home and community Field services were extended to former students by staff in cooperation with State rehabilitation counselors. Childcare staff was expanded so that dormitory counselors were available twenty-four hours per day. The alumni continued an active interest in the nature of the enrollment change and the curriculum adaptations.
Preparation for the Seventies
California's commitment to the education of all children caused more and more referrals to C.S.B. to educate the multi-handicapped children with visual impairments. Because of the proliferation of programs for blind children in their home districts, the C.S.B. enrollment began to include those children with multiple handicaps in addition to the classes for deaf-blind children (established in the 1940's). Staff was recruited nationwide and curriculum adjusted to each child's individual needs. As children with a wider range of impairments were included, the staff, at all levels, was challenged to develop appropriate techniques and revise curriculum to include prevocational training. Close working relationships with school districts evolved to provide for children who formerly would not have been enrolled. The length of enrollment at C.S.B. became flexible, dependent upon annual assessments. As parents became active in elementary education generally, similar interest developed in the C.S.B. program.
Challenge of the Seventies
The nature of the referrals to C.S.B. caused the program to go beyond the traditional role of the residential school for the blind, and the staff provided leadership in the development and application of comprehensive forms of diagnostic and educational services for blind children. Extensive educational assessment of deaf-blind children was initiated, not only for those enrolled at C.S.B. but for other referrals from California and the Southwest; and by 1979, visually handicapped children with other impairments were being included in diagnostic assessments. With the focus on children with multiple impairments, the enrollment receded--thirty percent were deaf-blind. The staff required to serve these multi-handicapped children was enlarged in view of the wider range of techniques necessary. Staff and curricula maintained a highly flexible posture and clinical in approach in order to meet the changing needs characteristic of the children enrolled.
In 1922 the School for the Blind program was reorganized and a plant completed in 1931, with small additions in 1945, 1957, and 1971. Unfortunately, the earlier construction did not meet the stipulation of the "earthquake" code and subsequently the fire code standards. Further, the hillside terrain and two-story construction prevented enrollment of children with limited mobility (wheelchairs), and allocations for repairs had not kept abreast of plant deterioration. In 1973, the Department of Education determined that the school plant was to be relocated. Although many of the staff opposed leaving Berkeley, emotions were set aside, and they became involved in the preparation of plans for an appropriate residential school for visually impaired children with multiple handicaps. Even though many valid recommendations were included, the resistance by the alumni and citizens of Berkeley to relocating the school to a truck garden acreage in Fremont surfaced and was hotly debated. Upon completion of the Fremont construction, the school was moved; the Berkeley site has become the Clark Kerr Campus of the University of California. The residences and classrooms that had housed the deaf-blind children have been identified as the Helen Keller Building, and a family of redwoods has been dedicated as the Lowenfeld Grove. The Fremont facility is now recognized as the best in the world for visually handicapped children.