Youthful enthusiasm in the heart of a deaf man, a state appropriation and donated land set the stage for the creation of our school.
In 1882, a young Thomas Hines Coleman, was preparing to graduate from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only college for the Deaf in the world at that time. He had graduated from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind and knew he wanted to make education for children his life’s work.
Florida was one of the few states that had not yet made provision for the education of children who were deaf/hard of hearing, or who had visual impairments. Coleman wrote Governor W. D. Bloxham of Florida and found he was favorable toward the establishment of such a school. As their correspondence continued, the sum of $20,000 was reached as a minimum appropriation to start the School.
In 1883, Florida’s legislature established an institution for the blind and deaf for two years at $20,000. They requested bids from various towns in the state for the location to build the School. The city of St. Augustine offered the best bid with $1,000 cash and five acres of land, the land donated by Captain Edward E. Vaill, a pioneer of the City. Contractor William A. MacDuff constructed the original first three wooden buildings at $12,749 and they were completed in December 1884.
By 1892, there were 62 students enrolled. The School’s first graduation was held in May 1898. The two graduates, both deaf, were Artemas W. Pope of St. Augustine, and Cora Carlton of Island Grove, who later married and became the parents of Senator Verle A. Pope of Florida. The first blind student, DeWitt Lightsey, graduated in 1908, and the first two black graduates were Louise Jones, from the Blind Department in 1914, and Cary White, from the Deaf Department in 1925.
Since Thomas Hines Coleman founded the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, the school has been recognized as one of the nation’s top deaf and blind schools, and the only one of its kind in the state of Florida.
Many well-known and successful individuals who have attended FSDB include singer Ray Charles, jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, former sports broadcaster Joseph “Joe” Walker, Florida Blues legend Sir Charles Atkins, national women’s Motocross champion Ashley Fiolek.
The educational curriculum at FSDB begins with a Montessori-based Pre-K Early Learning Center and extends to our Continuing Education Department for young adult students with a focus on intensive educational and independent living skills. Today, we serve about 600 students on campus and about 400 infants/toddlers and their families statewide through our Parent Infant Programs.