The New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

by Gina Marie Guadagnino, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

© Gina Marie Guadagnino 2020. All rights reserved.

Manual of the Corporation of the city of New York. (New York : The Council, 1876). NYPL DIG.ID. 805123

The Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb was founded in 1817 by the Rev. John Stanford in downtown Manhattan.[1] In 1829, it expanded, moving to a location in midtown Manhattan close by the current site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. By 1856, the Institution had moved uptown from the 19th Ward to an area on the northern border of Carmansville known as Fanwood.[2] Many of the officers and directors of the Institution were wealthy landowners in Carmansville, including its First Vice President Shepherd Knapp, and directors William Beekman and Daniel F. Tiemann.

The Institution was a robust community unto itself, comprising not only the faculty and students, but a small army employed to keep life at the Institution running smoothly.[3] The 1860 Federal Census lists 344 individuals living on the premises, including 296 pupils, eighteen members of the faculty and professional staff, and twenty-six members of the domestic and mechanical staff.[4] The range of occupations practiced by the employees of the Institution speaks to the self-contained nature of the campus. The Institution employed its own bookbinder, shoemaker, engineer, gas maker, gardener, and nurse, to say nothing of the cooks, seamstresses, washerwomen, and other miscellaneous servants. While none of the faculty or professional staff were Irish, fifteen members of the domestic staff were, including the two cooks, one of the bakers, both seamstresses, and all five washerwomen, most of whom were illiterate.[5]

The Institution’s staff nurse, Margaret Collins, was born in Lismore, Co. Waterford, around 1830.[6] She arrived in New York in 1845 at the onset of the Famine at the age of 15 on the Caledonia, leaving her parents behind in Ireland.[7] It is unclear where or when she acquired her professional skills, although by 1855, she was already employed as a “hospital nurse” by the Institute.[8] She opened account 24769 at the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank on July 20, 1860, along with a fellow Institute employee, Bridget Morrissey, who was a washerwoman.[9] The pair appear to be the only employees of the Institute who held accounts at the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, though their deposit ledgers do not survive.

The 1860 Annual Report of the Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb includes a line item of $874.90 spent on the salaries of “waiters, chambermaids and laborers,” the category which would have included Margaret Collins’s wages as line items for the salaries of the faculty, professional staff, kitchen domestics, and mechanical staff are listed elsewhere.[10] Approximately ten Institute employees were paid from this pool of funds, though the amount of each individual’s salary was not recorded. Bridget Morrissey would have been paid from a separate line item that lists payment for washing services. In 1860, the Institute paid its five washerwomen $420.00; assuming that this sum was divided evenly, Bridget Morrissey would have had a salary of $84.00.[11] In today’s money, her gross pay would be the equivalent of $35,000.[12] In 1860, the Institute paid $5.13 to the local blacksmith, John McAvoy, an Irish immigrant who also held an account at the EISB.[13]

Of the Institution’s 296 pupils in 1860, eighteen of them had been born in Ireland, although many more had surnames that suggest an Irish heritage.[14] Joseph C. G. Kennedy, superintendent of the 1860 Federal Census, noted in his analysis of the population data that the signifier “deaf and dumb” was used to refer to individuals born deaf, or those whose deafness was the result of early childhood illness, thus impeding the development of verbal language skills, and therefore distinct from “merely deaf” individuals who had lost their hearing after the acquisition of language skills.[15] The State of New York paid all expenses for pupils who were residents of the State prior to their admission into the Institution; all eighteen Irish-born pupils were beneficiaries of the State.[16]

In the mid-19th century, Ireland had only one similar center for education: the Irish National Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Claremont.[17] Founded in 1816 out of a workhouse, by mid-century it operated under a similar model as New York’s Institution, having relocated to Glasnevin and boasting 160 pupils.[18] Dr. Harvey P. Peet, the New York Institution’s principal, was in regular correspondence with the principals of similar institutions throughout Europe, and it appears that there were strong cross-Atlantic ties between American and European schools for the deaf.[19] Joseph C. G. Kennedy’s analysis of the 1860 census discusses at length the various schools for the deaf in the United States. In so doing, he devotes several pages to the history of the education for the deaf in Europe and in America, closing with a detailed description of the New York Institution, in which he lauds Dr. Peet and his sons, three of whom also taught at the Institution, for creating an exemplar curriculum.[20]

The New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb changed its name to the New York School for the Deaf in 1933, and expanded again when it relocated to White Plains, New York in 1938.[21] To this day, the school remains known as Fanwood, in honor of its former Carmansville location.[22]

Today, the Upper West Side site of the former school building is home to the NYCHA-owned Fort Washington Avenue Rehab. The ground floor is occupied by Riverstone Senior Life Services Center.

 

[1] Jack Gannon, Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America. Washington: Gallaudet University Press, 2011. muse.jhu.edu/book/17340.

[2] Jack Gannon, Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America. Washington: Gallaudet University Press, 2011. muse.jhu.edu/book/17340.

[3] New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Annual Report And Documents of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf And Dumb, 1860. [New York: s.n.], 18451932.

[4] Harvey P. Peet, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

[5] Harvey P. Peet, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. It is notable that, of the 344 residents of the institution in 1860, only 10 Irish-born servants under the age of 40 were recorded in the census as being unable to read or write. Given the demands of cooking for such a large population, including orderings ingredients and following recipes, it is unusual that none of the kitchen staff were literate. This suggests either an extremely hands-on housekeeper, exceptionally skilled cooks, or some combination of the two.

[6] Margaret Collins, Account 24769. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[7] Margaret Collins, Account 24769. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[8] Harvey P. Peet, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. New York State Census, 1855 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

[9] Bridget Morrissey, Account 24769;. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[10] New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Annual Report And Documents of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf And Dumb, 1860. [New York: s.n.], 18451932.

[11] New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Annual Report And Documents of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf And Dumb, 1860. [New York: s.n.], 18451932.

[12] Relative income for 1860, according to Measuring Worth, https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/

[13] New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Annual Report And Documents of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf And Dumb, 1860. [New York: s.n.], 18451932.

[14] Harvey P. Peet, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

[15] United States. Census Office, and J. C. G. (Joseph Camp Griffith) Kennedy. Population of the United States In 1860. Washington: Govt. print. off., 1864.

[16] New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Annual Report And Documents of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf And Dumb, 1860. [New York: s.n.], 18451932.

[17] “Deaf and Dumb Institution, Claremont.” The Dublin Penny Journal 4, no. 196 (1836): 313-15. Accessed April 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30003274.

[18] “Deaf and Dumb Institution, Claremont.” The Dublin Penny Journal 4, no. 196 (1836): 313-15. Accessed April 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30003274.

[19] New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. Annual Report And Documents of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf And Dumb, 1860. [New York: s.n.], 18451932.

[20] United States. Census Office, and J. C. G. (Joseph Camp Griffith) Kennedy. Population of the United States In 1860. Washington: Govt. print. off., 1864.

[21] New York School for the Deaf 200th Anniversary Archives, http://www.nysd.net/200th-anniversary-archives.html

[22] New York School for the Deaf 200th Anniversary Archives, http://www.nysd.net/200th-anniversary-archives.html