North Carolina Among First to Establish School for the Blind

A postcard from the early 1900s showing the Governor Morehead School’s original campus on Caswell Square in downtown Raleigh. Image from the State Archives.

On May 1, 1845, North Carolina’s school for the blind, the Governor Morehead School, opened in Raleigh. Originally conceived by Governor John Motley Morehead in 1843, the school became a reality in January 1845, when the General Assembly approved an act to provide for the education of deaf and blind persons.

Four months later, the school opened in a building two blocks west of the State Capitol, with four teachers and 23 deaf students between the ages of 8 and 32. The school’s students became the first in America to produce a newspaper made for and by the deaf, and for a brief time during the Civil War they worked for the war effort, making musket parts.

After the war, efforts were made to address the needs of African Americans with disabilities and a separate school opened in 1869. In time enrollment at the white school exceeded the facility’s capacity and the legislature funded a separate deaf school in Morganton, which opened in 1894.

In 1963, administrators changed the name of the original Raleigh facility to the Governor Morehead School, and in 1971, operations of the white and black schools were consolidated.

Musicians Doc Watson and Ronnie Milsap are among the school’s best known alumni.

The N.C. Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, part of the State Library, works in tandem with the Governor Morehead School to provide resources for people who are blind or have physical disabilities.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.