Our Historical Markers across Nebraska highlight fascinating moments and places in our state’s past. Today we focus on the Nebraska School for the Deaf, established in 1867 and closed 131 years later in 1998.
3223 N 45th, Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska
View this marker’s location 41.286675, -95.980264
The Nebraska School for the Deaf was established by the legislature in 1867. It opened April 1, 1869, on Twenty-Second Street between St. Mary and Leavenworth, overseen by Principal William DeCoursey French, a deaf man, and Rev. Henry W. Kuhns. Katie Callahan of Omaha was the first student. The school moved to this location in 1871.
American Sign Language (ASL) was the mode of instruction until the Nebraska Legislature banned it from the classroom in 1911. The change was advocated by oralists, who believed the deaf should learn to communicate by voice and lip-reading to better assimilate into society. Nevertheless, students and faculty persisted in using ASL outside the classroom until it was restored to the curriculum in the 1970s.
Among the school’s achievements was its 1931 Class A state championship boys’ basketball team. By the 1990s the trend of enrolling deaf children in public schools caused the school’s student population to decline and it closed June 5, 1998. For 129 years the School for the Deaf educated more than two thousand students who achieved success in many walks of life.