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.
In 1883, Governor Bloxham convinced the state legislature to set aside $10,000 for each of the years 1883 and 1884 to begin the work of the school. The state requested bids from interested towns for the site and accepted a bid from the City of St. Augustine, which included $1,000 in cash and five acres of land between San Marco Avenue and the Intracoastal Waterway, donated in 1885 by Captain Edward Eugene Vaill, who also owned the St. Augustine Hotel. The property was described as a “very desirable one that commands a magnificent view.” Contractor William A. MacDuff erected the first three Wooden School Buildings on the south campus on Genoply Street. They were completed in December at the cost of $12,749. The first floor of each building served as classrooms, with dormitories and teacher/staff living quarters on the second floors. The school opened in December as the Florida Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb. The word “dumb” at that time meant a person who was mute, or did not speak.
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 Ocala, 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, FSDB serves over 600 students on campus and nearly 400 infants/toddlers and their families statewide through its Parent Infant Programs.