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Iowa History Daily: April 4 - Vinton's School for the Blind

Iowa History Daily: On April 4, 1853 the Iowa Asylum for the Blind (more recently the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School; former Vinton Institution for the Instruction of the Blind), opened in Iowa City under the direction of founder Samuel Bacon. Made nationally famous by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,” after the graduation of the noted author’s sister Mary in 1889 the school provided education and other services for the visually impaired until the doors closed for good in 2020.

Samuel Bacon, blinded by a bout with Scarlet Fever at the age of 11, dedicated his life to the education of the visually impaired. After successfully starting schools for the blind in Ohio and Illinois, Bacon arrived in Iowa in 1852 and agreed to start teaching three visually impaired students in a rented house. Over the course of the year, Governor James Grimes and members of the Iowa Legislature worked to improve services by creating improved institutions. On January 18, 1853, the General Assembly voted “An act to establish an Asylum for the Blind.” By April, twenty-three pupils made up the first class admitted to the institution. Bacon advocated in 1854 the state should change the name from “Asylum for the Blind” to “Institution for the Instruction of the Blind,” and the legislature agreed in 1855. The General Assembly also set aside an annual appropriation of $55 per student per quarter before eventually changing the sum to $3,000 annually. In addition to receiving instruction, students manufactured goods to offset costs associated with the school.

With fifty students in attendance by 1856, the school needed to expand. A donation of land near Vinton convinced the Governing Board to relocate the school, even though Bacon protested. Although he stayed on during the transition, Bacon ultimately left to found the Nebraska School for the Blind once the move to Vinton occurred in 1862. With a curriculum consisting of academic subjects, music, and industrial training, the school thrived. At first, only students between the ages of seven and twenty-two could attend the school, eventually others aged twenty-two to thirty-five could enroll for industrial training programs focused on skills like chair caning, basketry, or needlework. Many individuals from other states including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas joined the ranks of visually impaired Iowans at the school. In 1872, the school changed names to Iowa College for the Blind.

A custodial care institution from founding until 1911, the school gained official accreditation from the Iowa Board of Education in that year. As the school matured, so did the curriculum. While any of the manufacturing programs came to an end, new activities like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, track team, cheerleading team, and wrestling team allowed students to gain new experiences. The school started to teach Braille in 1920, again changed names to Iowa School for the Blind in 1926, and eventually changed names yet again, to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, in 1951. For 162 years, the school formed the bedrock of Vinton, Iowa. In 2020, the Iowa Board of Regents sold the 11 building, 48-acre campus to the City of Vinton for $1, as a three-year long process to shift the way in which the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School educated students. In 2008, the Board of Regents, as well as the Iowa State Board of Education and the Iowa Department for the Blind and Association of Area Education Agencies created the Statewide System for Vision Services in order to create a coordinated system of services for blind and visually impaired students. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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