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A Brief History Of The Pennsylvania Institution For The Deaf And Dumb

Creator: H. Van Allen (author)
Date: 1893
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6

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Mr. Seixas was installed as principal on May 15, and the little class met for the time being at his house. On May 25 a public exhibition was given at Washington Hall, with the result of still further awakening public interest in the school. The number of pupils rapidly increased, substantial assistance was accorded the young Institution by the wealthy and philanthropic, and all things pointed to a future of rapid growth and great usefulness.


During the summer of 1820 in accordance with the instructions of the Board, Mr. Seixas visited the Hartford school and made a careful inquiry into the methods of instruction in use there. Upon his return he reported very strongly in favor of the manual method of instruction, and urged that the directors secure a house for the exclusive use of the Institution. Accordingly, in August, a house on High (now Market) street, near Seventeenth, formerly occupied by the Widow's Society, was secured, and Mary Cowgill was appointed matron. Here the school opened in the fall of 1820.


On January 10, 1821, Mr. Seixas, with six of his pupils, gave an exhibition at Harrisburg before the members of the Legislature, and as a result an act incorporating the Institution was unanimously passed by both Houses, and received the approval of the Governor on February 8. At the same time an appropriation of $8000 was made to aid the school, and the State Treasurer was authorized to pay $160 for each deaf child educated therein, the total amount so paid, however, not to exceed $8000. The term of instruction was limited to three years.


As a result of this generous assistance from the State the attendance rapidly increased, and before the end of the year the accommodations on West Market Street were found insufficient. A more commodious house, on the corner of Market and Eleventh streets, where the Bingham House now stands, was accordingly leased for a term of three years. In May, Charles Dillingham, a graduate of Williams College, was appointed a teacher, and in September his sister, Miss Abigail Dillingham, who had been a pupil at the Hartford school, also took charge of a class. In March, 1822, the corps of instructors was further increased by the addition of Abraham B. Hutton, who thus began a connection with the school which extended over a period of nearly fifty years, and terminated only with his death.


In October, 1821, Mr. Seixas retired from the principalship of the Institution. With some difficulty the directors of the American Asylum at Hartford were induced to release Laurent Clerc for a period of six months, and he was placed in charge of the school. During his brief stay Mr. Clerc introduced fully the methods practiced at Hartford and gave much valuable instruction to the teachers. His stay was extended to seven months, and upon his departure the school was the equal of any in the country.


Lewis Weld, who held the position of first assistant at Hartford, was called to succeed Mr. Clerc. Mr. Weld was a graduate of Yale College, and had intended to enter the ministry, but was induced by Mr. Gallaudet to enter upon the work of teaching the deaf-a work to which he devoted his best energies to the day of his death.* At this time the number of pupils in the Pennsylvania Institution was fifty-one, forty of whom were State pupils. The State of New Jersey had made provisions (November 10, 1821) for the education of her indigent deaf children, and up to the time when she established an institution of her own, a considerable proportion were educated in the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.


*His daughter, Miss Mary E. Weld, is now a valued member of the Ladies' Committee of the Institution.


Under Mr. Weld's able management the school prospered greatly. The number of pupils steadily increased and before the expiration of the lease it became evident that the accommodations at Eleventh and Market streets were inadequate and that more commodious quarters must be sought. In 1824 a site at the north-west corner of Broad and Pine streets was secured and here was erected the central portion of the buildings, which, with numerous additions and alterations, were to be the home of the Institution for nearly seventy years. The new building was occupied in December, 1825, and on December 30 following a reception was held, at which there was a large attendance of distinguished people. An eloquent address was made by the principal, Mr. Weld, and an exhibition was given of the attainments of the pupils.


The new building afforded room for a much larger number of pupils than before, and in 1827, provisions having been made by the State Legislature, the Institution began to receive the indigent deaf children of Maryland. At a later period the State of Delaware made provisions for the education of its deaf children in this Institution.


In 1828 the Institution acquired the entire block bounded by Broad, Pine, Fifteenth and Asylum streets. In 1832 a school house was erected in the rear of the main building, thus considerably increasing the facilities of the Institution.

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