ISDAA’s Museum Offers a Tour of History

Many are not aware that the Main Building on the campus of The Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) holds a visual display of the school’s history. Located on the third floor is the Illinois School for the Deaf Alumni Association (ISDAA) Museum. Marene (Clark) Mattern, a 1968 alumni of ISD, is the Museum Historian. Mattern says that with the help of Curator Elaine (Lantz) Cady ’58 and Archivists Rozie Jacobs and Janet Pyers, the museum follows the rich history of one of the oldest schools for the deaf in the nation. Mattern says “In the fall of 1987, the Illinois School for the Deaf Alumni Association came back to life in anticipation of the school’s 150th anniversary since its founding on February 23, 1839.”

Mattern says that the museum holds “anything and everything.” She and Cady knew of many people who wanted to donate various items from their own time at ISD. Initially, they also went to each campus building and chose items that they wanted to have in the museum – items that showed what life was like at ISD and were an example of its historical changes. She said it was interesting because it is a “process with the state,” as items had to go on an “inventory list” in order to get rid of them and approved for the Museum. When you walk through the museum today, “You realize everything has a story behind it,” says Mattern. All the information and resources held in the museum can even help nowadays – Mattern explains that if engineering is digging and find old bricks throughout campus, they can discover tunnels and use maps or images stored in the museum to figure out the connections. Because the Main Building is the oldest state-owned building still used for its original purpose as part of the school for the deaf, it is actually a landmark on the National Historical Registry List. The Historical Preservation Society acknowledges that there is history there and Mattern realizes that there is a use for this historical information.

The ISDAA Museum holds a great assortment of items. There are dressers made by past students in wood shop, one of which Mattern tells was discovered in Florida – a grandson of that particular ISD student had the dresser, but wrote ISD a letter explaining he wanted to share it with others once the museum was opened. The dresser seems like a simple thing, but it “brought pride and was how they learned their trade.” Along with dressers or old desks taken from classrooms, the museum holds anything from archived black and white pictures, to previous ISD tiger mascot uniforms, to an old purple and lace Homecoming dress that was donated for display. There are linotype tiles of student pictures and photographs of Senator Orville H. Browning of Quincy, who formed the monumental bill that brought ISD (originally founded in 1839 as the Illinois Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb) into being. Uniforms for scouting, sports, band, clubs, or gym that span over the years can be regarded for their change in styles. There are even seats saved from Bowen Auditorium before is demolition and images from shoemaking classes in the 1890s.  Items from the previous Hiram Huff Dietary are put on view, along with souvenir mugs, buttons, patches and banners. Sections of the museum also pay tribute to athletic (memories from participants in The Deaf Olympics, for example), artistic or accomplishments otherwise of alumni. On view as well is the walking stick of Philip G. Gillett, superintendent from 1856-1893, that Dr. Mickey Jones had discovered on EBay!

Not only is the ISDAA Museum full of visual history and microfiche, but the museum team keeps a database of alumni, as well. They have extensive graduate lists from 1849 – current, lists of non-graduates, and lists of deaths or other life events. There is a lot of fascinating historical information in the museum’s “expansive collection of items representing ISD’s rich history.” The ISDAA Museum is open to the public from 10am-3pm each Monday through Friday. They even have souvenirs for sale. Though the museum is held presently on the third floor of ISD’s Main Building at 125 Webster Avenue, “many ISD alumni dream of a building dedicated solely to the ISDAA Museum someday, in honor of all who came before and who will come in future generations.”

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Kyla Hurt is a capable boondoggler trained in the arts; she’s also an accomplished event coordinator with experience from museum fundraising to art festivals. She enjoys puppies, sunshine, and good radishes – and wit. Wit is good, too.

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