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History of the New England Industrial School for Deaf Mutes or the Beverly School for the Deaf

Kevin J. Downer
student of Beverly High School

History of the Beverly School for the Deaf

written 12/20/99

In Eighteen hundred and seventy-six, three men, William B. Swett, Reverend Dr. Thomas Gallaudet, and William Barley decided that a school for the deaf was needed in the north shore of Massachusetts’s area. It was located in Beverly, Massachusetts, where it was chosen to be built, they chose to name the school “The New England Industrial School for Deaf Mutes”. After much planning for three years, in Eighteen hundred and seventy-eight, on December third the three men bought from a William J. Goldthwait, fifty-seven acres of land on a hill over looking Bass River in Beverly. Over the last one hundred twenty four years, the school has changed greatly. In Nineteen hundred and twenty-two, the name “The New England Industrial School for Deaf Mutes” was changed permanently to the “Beverly School for the Deaf”. Having much personal history with the Deaf School I felt inclined to write my term paper on the topic. Throughout my paper I will discuss the local and historical importance of the “Beverly School for the Deaf.”

“Deaf children are entitled to the same high quality of education that is offered to hearing children!” This firm conviction held by William B. Swett in Eighteen hundred and seventy-six, along with his vision and determination, have now led to “The Beverly School for the Deaf’s” celebration of its centennial year in Nineteen hundred and seventy-six. A full century of work, of change, and of the drive and determination of numerous people have enabled the school to evolve into what it is now today.

William B. Swett, a deaf man of Marblehead felt a need for a special education for deaf children. He felt that not only should deaf people be provided practical training but also receive a full education so they can be able to function and provide for themselves in a speaking and hearing world. With the help of his good friend Reverend and Doctor Thomas Gallaudet (the founder of the first deaf college in the world, The College of the Deaf, now Gallaudet College, residing in Hartford, Connecticut) and Mr. William Barley, they established “The New England Industrial School for Deaf Mutes”. Mr. Barley became the school’s first president, and Mr. Swett was the treasurer. After three years of organizing and raising funds Mr. Swett bought fifty-seven acres of land in Beverly, Massachusetts.

In May of Eighteen hundred and seventy-nine, ten deaf adults were the first to be enrolled. Since only the industrial department was open, the ten adults spent most of their time farming the lands, which supplied most of the food for the school. They were also instructed in carpentry, chair caning, and home making.

One year later in February of Eighteen hundred and eighty, the educational department was opened with seven new, young students. William Swett was made superintendent, his wife became matron, with their daughter Mrs. Persis Bowden as assistant matron. Mr. Swett’s other daughter, Miss Nellie Swett became a teacher, Mr. Swett’s son-in-law, John Bowden took the position of foreman of the industrial department, and Professor Ralph H. Atwood became the principal of the educational department. At this time sign language was taught as the main method of communication but students were also taught in articulation.

In Eighteen hundred and eighty the school’s founder, Mr. William Swett took over for Professor Atwood as principal, until he died in Eighteen hundred and eighty-four, when his daughter Nellie Swett became principal. In Eighteen hundred and ninety-three the “Hill House,” a large 3 story white frame house was built on the hill overlooking Bass River and the schoolhouse. The “Hill house” was originally built for Mr. Bowden and his family to reside in; later on the house was used as a dorm for the female students and teachers.

““The New England Industrial School for Deaf Mutes” is a free school for the education and training of deaf children, or for children too deaf to attend a public school, whose parents live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” this was said in all annual reports. In Nineteen hundred and two, Reverend Thomas Gallaudet died, he had served as the president of the board for twenty-two years, and in Nineteen hundred and four, Miss Nellie Swett died after serving as principal for 20 years. Miss Mary E. Smith took her place for a few months until Miss Martha Oakley Bockee took over.

“Children who are mentally deficient are not eligible for admission and those who are incapable of learning will not be retained.” In other words, the children with mental retardation were not allowed into the school until the Nineteen hundred and seventies. “Board and tuition are given to pupils whose parents are residents of Massachusetts except where parents are able to pay either the whole amount of it or part of it. Parents are required to clothe the child and pay incidental expenses.”

Until Nineteen hundred and ten, sign language was the primary means of communication to be taught, but when Miss Louise Upham became the principal, she enforced that all students should speak and sign language was forbidden. If any students were caught signing, they would be punished. Depending on the teacher, who caught the signing student, decided how harsh one was punished.

In Nineteen hundred and eleven there was not enough students enrolled in the industrial department so they closed it down and sold some of the farmland. Since living quarters were needed the school put the money received from the sale of its farmland into a building fund for a new and much needed dormitory.

Written in Nineteen hundred and thirteen, “There were four regular classes, making an average of about seven pupils to a class. Outside of school hours the boys continued to receive instruction in woodwork, basketry and chair caning, and the girls in sewing and fancywork. Both boys and girls assisted in the lighter work of the household.” In Nineteen hundred and seventeen on November fifth, Echo Avenue was built, to which the school now resides.

In Nineteen hundred and twenty-two the name, “The New England School for Deaf Mutes” was no longer applicable, because the school no longer had an industrial department, and the students, being forced to speak were no longer mute. The school’s name was officially changed to “The Beverly School for the Deaf.”

In Nineteen hundred and twenty-four, Miss Helen Keller, a famous deaf woman, invited the school, as her guests, to be to the Federal Theater in Salem, Massachusetts. Also in Nineteen hundred and twenty-four, the new stucco dormitory was built at six Echo Avenue. The dormitory was used to house the majority of the male and female students; it also included the administrative offices, an infirmary, playrooms, dining rooms, and a kitchen. A large living room was dubbed the “May Vaughn room,” in memory of a long time trustee of the school. In Nineteen hundred and twenty-six Mrs. Ella Scott Warner, the principal of ten years, retired due to illness, Miss Nettie McDaniel took her place.

In Nineteen hundred and thirty, the deaf school purchased an audiometer for testing all of the student’s hearing. “In thirty-two the school installed a Western Electric Audiophone, a new electronic amplification device to aid in the development of student’s residual hearing.” In layman’s terms they installed an early form of the hearing aid. Probably the earliest form was a long curvy tube with one small opening that one would put in their ear and the other very large opening that would be pointed towards the subject’s point of attention. This device would increase the hearing of the person just enough.

For the first time ever, during the mid-thirties, the enrollment of “The Beverly School for the Deaf” exceeded one hundred students for the first time in its history. In Nineteen hundred and thirty-five, a structured system for developing “straight language” called the Fitzgerald Key was first used. In Nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, the school instituted pre-vocational training with the introduction of training in the use of office equipment, including the use of typewriters, adding machines and the mimeograph.

As a response to “World War One,” this was written in the sixty-second annual report, “We are glad to be able to report that the year Nineteen hundred and forty-two brought us less distress than we had anticipated. We scarcely felt the effects of the war in attendance of pupils and the staff and our finances supported our demands for supplies, partially because we anticipated a rise in prices of canned goods and some household supplies and, in Nineteen hundred and forty-one, made some purchases that reduced the amounts to be bought in Nineteen hundred and forty-two, especially was it true in the lines of paper for the lavatories and in canned goods.”

This was said in the “Defense protection” section, “Much planning was done to prepare refuge rooms for defense against bombs. A fifteen-foot wall, against which earth was banked, was made outside of the defense rooms and heavy and fine wire screens were put on the outside and inside of windows, also, the glass was taped and green shades were put up for blackout purposes.” The students also did what they could to help our soldiers in the war; “The sewing classes did a great deal of sewing for the Red Cross. They made utility bags to be sent to soldiers in Australia.” Also in Nineteen hundred and forty-two the first annual class reunion was held.

Principal, Mrs. McDaniel retired after eighteen years in Nineteen hundred and forty-four, at that time Miss Anna B. Goldsborough. The same year the Girl-Scouts were formed. In forty-seven the long time janitor John R. Bailey, suffered a heart attack. Temporarily until Mr. Bailey returned to work, Bertram Downer, former student and my father took his place, but Mr. Bailey never regained his health and died in forty-eight. Bertram Downer continued to work there after Mr. Bailey’s death and is still working at the deaf school for fifty-two years and counting.

The year of Nineteen hundred and fifty-four saw the highest enrollment at the school ever at One hundred and two students. The year after, Miss Goldborough retired and to take her place as the principal was Miss Sadie Stovall. In fifty-six the first physical education program was developed for the school. The “Burnham” Gymnasium/ practical arts building was built in fifty-seven. Eighty-three years after the original school building was built it was destroyed in sixty-two when the new “Helen Wales” School building was built, also, Miss Stovall retired in the same year.

Until Nineteen hundred and sixty-six the position of principal was vacant when, Miss Patricia Quinn took over. In Nineteen hundred and sixty-eight, the head custodian Mr. Fielding retired, and my father Bertram Downer took the position as head custodian.

In seventy-four the principal Mrs. Patricia Quinn McIntyre resigned. Also in this year the A.D.A.P.T. unit, regulated by the us government, was installed, under Chapter 766, all Massachusetts “special education” schools are required to allow students to enter the school if they have any form of mental or physical retardation.

There is not very much information to be found from the last 24 years, so I will end my term paper on this note, for the last eighteen years I have been curious about how the deaf school came to be. Now as I sit here writing this paper I am glad that I found out my (as I would like to say) heritage. With the permission of David Farwell, the Administrator of “The Beverly School for the Deaf,” I plan to build the deaf school’s historical web-site. I rather enjoyed my extensive research time and writing about “The History of The Beverly School for the Deaf.”


1. Annual reports of The Beverly School for the Deaf. Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Thirty-third, Sixty-second, Seventy-fourth/fifth, Eighty-first, Eighty-second, and Ninety-first editions

2. Beverly School for the Deaf centennial year booklet

3. Wales, Helen. The School for the Deaf and writings for friends. Charleston, Illinois: Prairie Press Books, 1969

4. Morgan, William C. Beverly, Garden City by the Sea. Beverly: Press of Amos L. O’Dell, 1897 P.129-131

5. Histories of American Schools for the Deaf. Washington D.C.: The Volta Bureau, 1893