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North Dakota School for the Deaf

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On this date in 1907, the North Dakota School for the Deaf announced that the school had opened an exhibit at the Grand Forks Fair where students displayed examples of work including needlework, carpentry, and penmanship. The exhibit also featured photographs of the school.

Before Dakota split into two states, deaf children in the territory could attend the Dakota Territorial School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls. However, few children were able to take advantage of the school because of the travel challenges. The Enabling Act, passed by Congress in 1889, required the new states of North and South Dakota to provide special education for physically handicapped children. South Dakota already had a school for the deaf. It was up to North Dakota to establish its own, and that came about in 1890 as directed by the state’s constitution.

The North Dakota School for the Deaf was designed as a residential facility. It provided elementary and secondary education. In order to be admitted to the school, children had to be so hearing impaired that they were unable to successfully get an education through the regular school system. North Dakota residents were entitled to a free education, and beginning in 2005, residents of other states could be admitted if they paid tuition. However, North Dakota residents took priority.

When the school first opened, four students enrolled. By the end of the year, there were twenty-three. The mission of the school required courses in communication and work skills. This was a profound change from previous attitudes when deaf people were often treated as outcasts and mentally deficient. The first vocation taught at the school was the printing trade, and the first issue of the school newspaper, the North Dakota Banner, was printed in December, 1891.

In addition to providing educational services, the school continues to be an advocate for the hearing-impaired. It provides outreach services, including the parent-infant program, which offers resource materials for the parents of hearing-impaired children. There’s also an adult services program. The number of students has fluctuated, but the school’s mission has grown as it has adapted to changing times.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Fine Exhibit of Work of Deaf School at State Fair.” Devils Lake ND. 7/26/1907. Page 2.

State Historical Society of North Dakota. “School for the Deaf.” https://www.history.nd.gov/archives/stateagencies/schoolforthedeaf.html Accessed 6/23/2021.

North Dakota Library. “North Dakota School for the Deaf Chronological History.” http://www.library.nd.gov/statedocs/SchoolForTheDeaf/Banner/120banner.pdf Accessed 6/23/2021.

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