California School for the Blind
Report Card


Education of
Deaf-Blind Children

in the 60s

for the 70s

of the 70s

Newel Perry, Pupil,
Scholar, Teacher Leader

CSB History


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.

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