Lessons Learned

The Maryland School for the Deaf was established by an act of the General Assembly in January 1867.

By Rebecca Crago, Research Center Coordinator, Historical Society of Frederick County | Posted on 05.26.13 – Feature, History, Look Back

Constructed on what was know as “Hallerstown Hill”, the Maryland School for the Deaf was established by an act of the General Assembly in January 1867, to be known then as The Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb of the State of Maryland. When its doors opened in September 1868, three teachers were on staff to educate 34 students, which increased to 59 by the year’s end. The first buildings used for the school were the old Hessian Barracks, which were not adequate by 1870, and the cornerstone for a new building was laid on May 31 that year. Built to accommodate 200 students, what was later known as the “Old Main Building” was completed seven years to the month after the school first opened.

Admission was free to all deaf (and white) children between ages 6 and 21, provided their parents were residents of Maryland. In addition to sign language and the finger alphabet, lip-reading, and speech, male pupils in the early years learned one of three trades—printing, cabinetry or shoemaking—while the girls were taught Domestic Science and Household Art. The picture shown above, taken by notable Frederick photographer John Davis Byerly, shows students in the cabinet shop around 1890.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s African-American deaf community studied at the Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf in Baltimore beginning in 1872. Maryland became the second state to create such an institution during a time when Jim Crow segregation laws were prevalent, even before it was legitimized by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. The school “Where Colored Unfortunates Are Cared For” operated until 1956, when students were transferred to the Maryland State School for the Deaf in Frederick.

In the mid-20th century, the school’s programs continued to increase and the campus was renovated and expanded several times. The school continues to offer free education to Maryland residents today, with a second Maryland School for the Deaf campus in Columbia in Howard County.