Reminiscing 115 Years of History

By Sara Baines-Miller | Posted on: September 28, 2023

DePaul Students Past and Present

Reflecting on 115 years of serving and supporting children and their families in our community is truly a gift we are deeply grateful for. We hope you enjoy this article as we look down memory lane to see how we began and how we continue to adapt to the ever-changing times. Happy 115th birthday DePaul!

Before the Beginning; a Brief History Lesson on Pittsburgh

At the turn of the 20th Century, Pittsburgh presented an environment far different from the one enjoyed today. In the January 1868 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, author James Parton described Pittsburgh as “Hell with the lid taken off.” Reaping the economic benefits and suffering the ill effects of the Industrial Revolution simultaneously, the once peaceful little frontier trading village seated at the confluence of three idyllic rivers exploded into a bustling city noted for its iron, steel, and glass as well as for its smoke, noise, and ballooning population. 

As the iron and steel industry boomed, thousands of European immigrants poured into the city. The population passed 100,000 in the 1870’s and 300,000 in the 1890’s. By 1910, the city was the nation’s eighth largest, with 533,905 inhabitants (Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia; 1998). 

In the early 1900s, Pittsburgh’s unhealthy living and working conditions were a fact of life for thousands of mill and factory workers. A number of epidemics ravaged the crowded neighborhoods, preying especially upon children, the immune-compromised, and the elderly. Meningitis, scarlet fever, and infantile paralysis contributed to a dramatic increase in the incidence of deafness. 

The Beginning of DePaul

As the number of diagnosed deaf children in Pittsburgh climbed steadily, the Diocese of Pittsburgh began to explore options to meet the educational and spiritual needs of deaf Catholic children. The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill joined the Diocese of Pittsburgh to establish a Catholic institution dedicated to the education of deaf children. 

The Sisters of Charity soon began their training in order to best serve and teach the children in the hard of hearing and deaf community. They traveled all over the country in search of the best methods to teach their students. Their preparations included training at the Boston School for the Deaf in Massachusetts as well as visits to various schools for the deaf in Northhampton, Hartford, New York, and Washington, D.C. This mentality to strive for continuing education would become an echoing theme and a lasting legacy for the school.

Sister Patricia Marie teaching class

Opening Day

On September 7, 1908, “The Pittsburgh School for the Deaf” officially opened with one student. Word of mouth spread amongst the diocese. Enrollment totals reached between 23 – 25 students by the end of the school’s first year.

Name Change

Enrollment at the school continued to grow, as did the need to serve children who were deaf or hard of hearing in all aspects of life. Gradually, a curriculum of various subjects for the students developed as the scope of the school widened. In addition to the communication, language, and oral speech skills taught by the Sisters of Charity, other trade and domestic skills such as carpentry, shoe repairing, arts and crafts, sewing, and needlework were also taught to students. St. Vincent de Paul was chosen to be the school’s patron saint on the basis of his charity work. In 1910, the school was officially named, “The DePaul Institute.”

Sisters meeting with parents about school services

DePaul Becomes an “Approved Private School”

The Sisters of Charity always had a mindset of service for any students or families that walked through DePaul’s doors and never wanted to charge for services. However, as additional funds were needed with technological advancements increasing, The DePaul Institute underwent the process of becoming an “Approved Private School” and gained approval to receive state funding in 1973.

New Location and Another Name Change

With the introduction of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the need for greater building repairs, the Bishop of Pittsburgh decided to move the DePaul Institute to a new location. In 2002, DePaul moved to its current location in the former Sacred Heart High School in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The DePaul Institute changed its name to the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech in 2004.

Depaul Building Sign

Computing Revolution

DePaul School for Hearing & Speech continues to embrace our responsibility to provide the best education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing through the development of academic skills and new technology that ensure success in the educational and social transition. Significant technological updates began with the “computing revolution” during the 1982-1983 school year. DePaul received a grant to purchase its first computer (an Apple II E) and software. 

Now, computers grace every office and classroom at DePaul. As technology has moved forward, children have gained greater access to developing language, designing projects, problem-solving, and thinking critically. 

Additionally, each student has access to a Google Chrome Book. For more information on the integration of devices in the classroom, check out our Blog article, How the Pandemic Changed Us.

DePaul kids using computers


DePaul School Today

DePaul School for Hearing and Speech stands among the exclusive 41 schools across the United States dedicated to imparting Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) education to children who are hard of hearing or deaf. Remarkably, we serve as the sole LSL institution in the West Virginia tri-state area as well as Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Moreover, DePaul School for Hearing and Speech is among a select few LSL schools nationwide that extend their teaching to children beyond the age of six. We offer comprehensive programs catering to children from birth up to fifteen years old, including late-diagnosed children, those with various speech-related challenges like apraxia, and those transitioning from sign language or Total Communication programs.

At DePaul, students who are hard of hearing or deaf embark on a transformative journey where they acquire the skills to speak, listen, and actively engage in the world of hearing and speaking. Typically, a DePaul student spends four years at the school before smoothly transitioning to their local neighborhood school. Impressively, over 70% of students who participate in DePaul School’s Early Education programs successfully transition to their neighborhood schools by the time they reach first grade.

DePaul Students

Contact Us

We are honored and excited to be celebrating our 115th birthday and we look forward to 115 more years of serving our community and our students. If you have any questions or would like to learn more information about one of our programs, please reach out to us. We look forward to speaking with you!

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