Edmund Booth (1810 - 1905) and William E. Ijams (1830 - 1893) are the founders of Iowa School for the Deaf. Booth, an Iowa resident, became deafened at the age of 8 and received his formal schooling at the Hartford School for the Deaf in Connecticut. After moving back to Iowa, he held several political positions and lobbied the Iowa legislature to start a state school for the deaf.
Ijams opened a private school for the deaf in Iowa City. He also lobbied the state to begin a school for the deaf and presented his pupils at an Iowa Hall of Representatives assembly in 1854. On Jan. 24, 1855, Senate File No. 51 passed and the Iowa Institute for the Deaf and Dumb was born.
The school was opened in "Goose Town," a Bohemian section of Iowa City. The first 21 pupils ranged in age from 11 to 27 and were from the eastern part of the state. As word spread about the first school for the deaf, enrollment grew and the school soon needed larger quarters.
In 1870, the school moved to Council Bluffs. The location was selected because it was readily accessible by railroads and the 80-acre tract of land was purchased for a bargain price of $1,200. The school was a self-sustaining entity with its own farm, power plant and hospital. Students learned traditional subjects but also were provided a variety of trades classes, including baking, shoe repair, furniture making and domestic work.
Full high school diplomas, recognized by the state of Iowa, were first awarded to pupils in 1932. Previously, students simply progressed through the coursework and left school upon completing the classes.
The Board of Control first governed the school. By 1953, the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, held governance.
Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children) passed in 1974, and eventually radically changed the enrollment of ISD, as it did with all schools for the deaf in the United States. The law mandated local school districts provide special education services to those residing in the districts.
ISD's largest graduating class was in 1984, with 63 pupils. This was due to an outbreak of rubella in mothers some 18 years earlier which caused deafness in many babies throughout the country. Enrollment grew to keep up with the need for special education for these children, and ISD had nearly 400 pupils on campus.
Nebraska School for the Deaf, which was located in Omaha, closed in 1998. An agreement between Nebraska and Iowa enables Nebraska's children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to attend ISD.