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Simpson Street Free Press

Wisconsin's Long History of Schools for the Blind and Deaf

Most students know how to read and write, but these tasks are difficult or even impossible for students who can’t see or hear. Parents in Wisconsin have sent their visually impaired children to special schools to be educated since the 1800s.

Before Wisconsin was a state, citizens had already noticed that educational facilities for visually and hearing impaired children needed to be provided. In 1843, Increase A. Lapham petitioned Congress to give funds to build schools for visually and hearing-impaired children, but nothing was done to make a change. The institution first began in Janesville when private citizens decided to create the first state school for impaired students. J.T. Axtell, a graduate of the Ohio Institution for the Blind, arranged a village meeting explaining several methods to teach children with defective vision.

Thirty residents gave $430 to start a school and purchase construction equipment. In October 1849, eight visually impaired students attended the first school for the impaired in the state, held in a private home. They asked the Legislature to help fund their school, and landmakers approved. The school tax-supported a budget of $2,500 to keep the school running in its building.

Another school opened the following year when Wealthy Haws, a young teacher from New York, came to the farm of Ebenezer Cheeseboro near Delavan in 1850 to teach his deaf daughter. A year later, eight children attended his private school. Unfortunately, most people could not afford to pay, and the school closed down in 1851 due to a lack of funds.

Cheeseboro asked for the government to fund the school. In 1852, the school reopened as a public school. Students in the school learned life skills and work skills, such as shoemaking and cabinet making, so they would learn to become more independent.

In 1947, schools were transferred to the Department of Public Instruction to become public schools, which ensured that visually and hearing-impaired students received an education.

[Source: Wisconsin History Highlights: Delving Into The Past]

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