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Opening of the Virginia State School for Colored Deaf and Blind Children, 1909

Editor’s note: The following is a transcription of a newspaper article published in The Times Dispatch  (Richmond, Va.) on August 15, 1909, p. 18. The story details the opening of the first residential school for African American blind and Deaf children in Virginia. Much of the information in the article is described as excerpted from a circular of information issued by William C. Ritter, the superintendent.

To read about the school and its history, see G. Jasper Conner’s article, The Education of Deaf and Blind African Americans in Virginia, 1909-2008.



Erect New State Institution for Afflicted Children in Newport News


What the New School Will Attempt to Do for the Colored Race in Virginia


With the approach of the first month of the fall-September preparations for the opening of schools [?] every hill and in every valley, from the sandy shores of Accomack to the lofty heights of Alleghany, go merrily on.

It is, indeed a proud day for Virginia–this universal educational awakening, backed and supported by a universal public sentiment.

The Educational Page in the Sunday Times-Dispatch every week shows the progress that is being made in all sections of the State, while scarcely a week-day edition is published that does not record some news item telling of improvement contemplated for some public or private school somewhere in the State.

Something Entirely New.

With the coming of the first month of school, the State of Virginia will open the doors of a school that is entirely new to the people of the State. It has long been a crying need. It is the new educational institution that is standing ready at Newport News for the admission of deaf and dumb and blind colored children. As a rule, the colored people who have children thus afflicted do not now know of the existence of this school. The white people of the State, who are general readers, are requested to make known to any parent or guardian of such a child the existence of this new school, and to communicate with the superintendent at once.

White Teachers.

The teachers in this new school will be white people. The board of visitors have not relied entirely upon their own judgment in the matter. They have communicated with the management of similar schools in other Southern States, in fact, they have been largely guided by the experiences of schools that have existed thirty and forty years in neighboring States. With these schools it has not been a question of color of their teachers, but the all-important question of experience. There is no college or other institution in this country for the preparation of colored men and women for teaching the deaf, dumb and blind.

Opens September 8.

The Virginia State School for Deaf and Blind Colored Children, its official title, opens its first session in its new buildings at Newport News on Wednesday, September 8, 1909. The following extracts, culled from the circular of information issued by William C. Ritter, the superintendent, are printed for the general information of the people:

“This is a free public school for those colored children of the State who are too deaf or too blind to receive instruction in the common schools and are not physically or mentally unfit to associate with other children. No charge is made for tuition, board, books, etc. The use of all school apparatus, and everything required is free, except clothing and traveling expenses, which must be paid for by the parents.

Neither Hospital Nor Reformatory.

“This is a school. It is not a hospital, and those not strong enough, or who may otherwise be physically unsuited will not be allowed to remain.

“This is not a reformatory. Neither deafness nor blindness prevents a child being sent to the State Reformatories. Vicious or incorrigible children will not be allowed to remain here.

“This is a school. It is not a home or a charity, and those who cannot or will not learn should be sent to the institutions provided for that class by the State.

“The object of this school is to educate and equip for useful citizenship such colored children within the borders of the State as are unable, by reason of defective hearing, speech or sight, to be educated in the public schools. It is no more an asylum, hospital poor house or reform school than are the public schools throughout the State. Children incapable of making advancement in studies, physically work or incorrigible, cannot be retained in this school.

“All admitted must be able to dress and otherwise care for themselves. A child requiring the serices of a special attendant cannot be admitted.

“No pupil will be given leave of absence during the term unless sickness or some extremity makes it unavoidable.

“Children, to be received into the regular shool department, should be between eight and sixteen years of age, sound in mind and body and of good morals.

“Care will always be exercised that the pupils remain and devote themselves faithfully to their duties: but the management cannot be responsible for truants, and any expenses incurred in such cases must be met by the parents or guardians.

What Must Be Provided.

“The parent or guardian is required, before entering his child here, to provide it with a good, strong trunk, containing a year’s supply of suitable clothing, each piece marked indelibly and plainly written with the name of the owner. A list of articles needed will be sent with application blank.

“The course of [matriculation?] in this school will cover a period of eight years, but in no case will the child be kept at the school after it is fully ascertained it can make no further progress in its studies.

Send the Pupil Promptly.

“It is important that all pupils should be on hand at the opening of school. A pupil who comes late is not only handicapped through the remainder of the term, but is a drag on the entire class. And in justice to the teacher and to the pupils who enter school at the beginning of the session, we request all parents to see to it that their child comes promptly at the opening of the session so that he may have a fair start with the others.

“The session of the school begins on the second Wednesday in September, and closes on the first Wednesday before the second Thursday in June following.

General Information.

“The school is non-sectarian, but moral and religious instruction is given, and the pupils may attend churches designated by their parents, when in the judgment of the school officials, it is advisable to do so.

“The food, care, recreation and discipline of the school resemble what may be expected in a well-regulated household.

“Parents are expected to take their children home during the vacation.

“An education for the deaf is far more important than for the hearing children.

“Do no allow quack or traveling doctors to experiment with your child’s hearing.

“Visitors to the school cannot be entertained for meals and lodging. Parents and friends wishing to visit their children can get board near the school.

Rules of the School.

The best medical attention is furnished free of charge.

“Visitors are welcome every day from 10 A.M. to 1 P.M., and from 2:30 P.M. to 4:30 P.M., except on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Before a child can be admitted we must have in this office an application properly filled out, and in ever case the parent or guardian must wait for a written notice of the acceptance of said application before bringing or sending the child.

“Parents will hear from their children while in school here at least once a month. Stamps or the money for them must be furnished in case parents desire to hear oftener.

“Failure to hear regularly should not cause uneasiness, for in case anything serious is the matter, the superintendent always writes at once. At all times the patrons can accept ‘No news as good news.’

“There being no vacation Christmas or Easter, pupils cannot be taken home at these, nor at other times during the entire school year, except in case of sickness. Pupils going without the consent of the superintendent will be discharged.

“Holidays are given for one day only, on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday and Easter.”

The board of visitors to the school are: H. R. Houston, president, Hampton: Guilford D. Euritt, Staunton: A. C. Walker, Walkerton: Edwin I. Ford, Newport News: J. L. Taliaferro, Gloucester: Clarence Porter Jones, secretary.

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