Community Collaboration: the Scranton State School for the Deaf & the Belin Family

The Scranton State School for the Deaf (PA Oral School for the Deaf) has been a central element of the history of Northeastern Pennsylvania for decades. Interestingly enough,it is also strongly reflective of the Belin family’s philanthropic endeavors and their desire to better the community. In that regard, the Waverly Community House Archives is proud to share that history with our readers in today’s blog post.

The history  of the Scranton State School for the Deaf is traced all the way back to 1882 1889 SSDwhen a man named J.M. Koehler, assisted by a number of city residents, began to instruct a small class of eight deaf children in a room provided by the Scranton Board of Control. In order to extend the range of outreach, Mr. Koehler held a meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a formal facility for deaf instruction and education. Through community interest, attendees voted to create this institution which was initially conceptualized as primarily a “signing school,” to be instructed solely through sign language. Present at this meeting, Mr. Henry Belin Jr., was later appointed as committee chairperson; in preparation for the prospective school’s creation, Mr. Belin traveled to Philadelphia to visit the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. This school, featured a branch taught mainly by oral instruction as opposed to the signing method; the branch of the method was directed by Emma Garrett. After his visit, Mr. Belin was heavily inspired by the oral method of teaching and voiced his desire to emulate the prospective Scranton School after Miss Garrett’s branch. Garrett later visited Scranton in preparation for the school’s opening and aided Mr. Belin and the committee in hiring an instructor and finding a venue. On September 10th, 1883, the Pennsylvania Oral School for the Deaf was created and operated out of the chapel of the German Methodist Church until the facility on Wyoming Avenue was made available in 1886. On October 20th, 1883 the first formal meeting was held and a committee was appointed with the intention of “looking after the school and providing support.” Henry Belin Jr. served on this committee until his death in 1917.

In addition to Henry’s involvement with the school, Gaspard D’Andelot Belin also took great interest in benefiting the community through the Pennsylvania Oral School for the Deaf. Throughout adulthood, D’Andelot held various positions on the Board of Trustees of the institution. Letters in the archive also indicate the respect that many students had for Gaspard due to his generosity and frequent visits to the school to see the children and to bring gifts. An excerpt from a letter written to him by one of the many students reads as follows:

“Thank you very much for the delicious candy you sent us. I was very glad you had sent it because I like candy. We boys and girls hope that Governor Elect Earle will appoint you to the Board of Trustees of our school again. I hope you’ll be president for the rest of your life because you have been so kind and have never forgotten us.”

This heartfelt letter is simply one of many that indicate the impact Gaspard Belin had on the children at the school. It serves as a reminder of how community philanthropy and generosity can transform an entire community and genuinely make the daily lives of individuals and families better each day.

The Pennsylvania Oral School for the Deaf later became known as the Scranton State School for the Deaf; it is most presently called the Scranton School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and is headquartered in South Abington Township.

*Photo Credit: Scranton School for the Deaf, 1889.

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