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 Iowa History

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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp






Iowa's pioneers were a race of strong, healthy, and hardy people.  In the early years there were few among the settlers whom we might call "unfortunates"; that is, people who have mental or physical handicaps which make them unable to care for themselves.

The first legislature in the Territory of Iowa, 1838-1839, paid little attention to the care of unfortunates.  The care of the poor was left to the townships and one law provided that the overseer of the poor should care for the insane.  The territorial legislature  of 1842 passed a law permitting counties to build a county home or poorhouse.  The state legislature of 1849 provided that anyone between ten and twenty-one who was deaf or blind should be allowed $50 per year for two years for educational purposes.



In 1853 Iowa became the fifteenth state in the Union to provide a school for the blind.  In January of that year the legislature passed a law establishing an "Asylum of the Blind."  The institution was to be located at Iowa City, which was then the capital.

Samual Bacon, a blind teacher of the blind, had opened a private school for the blind at Keokuk in August, 1852.  He was made principal of the new school at Iowa City and in February, 1853, he moved his own school to that place.

Mr. Bacon was a capable and worthy man.  He held his position for ten years.  He visited schools for the blind in other states and attended the first national convention for teachers of the blind in 1853.  Twenty-three pupils were enrolled in September, 1854.  Music and industrial subjects were stressed from the beginning of the school.


The legislature of 1858 appointed a committee of three of its members to select a new location for the school.  A grant of $15,000 was made for a new building and the law provided that any community desiring the school must give an additional $5,000.

The citizens of Vinton offered the necessary money and also forty acres of land, whereupon the committee decided to locate the school there.  Rev. Orlando Clark became principal of the school in 1862 and it was moved to Vinton in August of that year.  Before the close of 1863 there were sixty pupils enrolled.

In 1872 the legal name for the school was changed to "Iowa College for the Blind."  It is now called the "Iowa School for the Blind."  At first the school was managed by a board of its own.  In 1898 it was placed under the management of the Board of Control but in 1911 it was changed to the State Board of Education.

In 1909 the legislature passed a law requiring all blind children between the ages of twelve and nineteen who were physically able to attend the school.


In 1854 Reverend William E. Ijams, who had taught in the Illinois school for mutes, established a private school for deaf and dumb people at Iowa City.   A year later the legislature made a grant of $5,000 annually, for two years, for a school for the deaf and provided for a board of seven to manage it.  The school opened in February of the same year with Mr. Ijams as principal and his mother as matron.  They started with twenty pupils but at the end of two years had fifty-four enrolled.  The school was crowded for room and the state did not provide enough money to hire competent teachers.

A commission was appointed in 1866 to seek a permanent location for the school.  The city of Council Bluffs offered sixty acres of land and the commission decided to locate it there.  The legislature voted $125,000 for buildings and the school was moved to Council Bluffs in 1870.

The school for the deaf has had several misfortunes.  In 1876 some of the buildings were destroyed by storm and by fire.  In 1885 a cyclone destroyed a portion of the buildings and in 1902 fire again brought damage to the school.

In 1892 the name of the institution was changed to the "Iowa School for the Deaf."

The laws which were mentioned concerning the School for the Blind, as to management and compulsory attendance, also apply to the School for the Deaf.


In 1875 two soldiers' orphans' homes were abandoned.  One was located at Cedar Falls and the other at Glenwood.  The following year a law was passed which provided for the establishment of an "Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children" to be located in the abandoned orphans' home at Glenwood.  An appropriation of $1,000 was made to repair the buildings but that was not enough as the buildings were in bad shape.  The school was opened in September, 1876, with Dr. O. W. Archibald, a local physician, as superintendent.  The beginning enrollment was eighty-eight.

In 1882 the name was changed to "Institution for the Feeble-Minded."  The institution now owns more than a thousand acres of land and has a dairy herd of seventy-five cows.  It is managed by the State Board of Control.


Perhaps one of the worst features of a war is the fact that many children thus become orphans.  This was true in the Civil War.

The first efforts in Iowa toward caring for war orphans was through the establishment of "Homes."  These homes were, in the main, started by interested communities and supported largely by gifts of money.  In a few cases the state helped by giving money.

Shortly after the Civil War counties were authorized to provide soldiers' orphans' homes which were managed by a state board.  Under the Code of 1897 the county plan was changed in favor of a single state home.  The "Orphans' Home and Home for Destitute Children" was established and located at Davenport.  The law provided that all children of resident soldiers or orphans of soldiers under fifteen years of age who were destitute or unable to care for themselves were eligible for admission, and such others, destitute and of like age and having a legal settlement in the state, could be admitted upon approved application so long as none of the former class were denied admission.

In 1898 the name of the institution was changed to "Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home."  Admission, however, is not limited to orphans of soldiers.


In the Code of 1873 the Iowa legislature provided for the establishment of a reform school at Eldora, for the "reformation of boys and girls under eighteen years of age."  The purpose of the law was to "reform" or "make over" boys and girls who were guilty of some offense but not to condemn them as criminals.  The law stated that the children were to be "instructed in piety and morality, and in such branches of useful knowledge as are adapted to their age and capacity, and in some regular course of labor, either mechanical, manufacturing, or agricultural, as is best suited to their age, strength, disposition, and capacity, and as may seem best adapted to secure the reformation and future benefit of the boys and girls."

In 1889 a separate department of the Iowa Reform School was established at Mitchellville, thus making two institutions for the reform of children.  The legislature of 1913 declared the two schools to be "separate and distinct" and gave them the names "Iowa Industrial School for Boys" and "Iowa Industrial School for Girls."


Iowa has established several other institutions for the care of unfortunates.  They are:

Four state hospitals for insane.  These are located, in the order of their establishment, at Mt. Pleasant, Independence, Clarinda, and Cherokee.

A hospital for epileptics and school for feeble-minded, at Woodward.

A state sanitarium for tuberculosis patients, at Oakdale.

A soldiers' home, at Marshalltown.

A juvenile home, at Toledo.

With the exception of the first two institutions mentioned in this chapter, all are under the management of the State Board of Control.  The School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf are managed by the State Board of Education.


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