In its 150+ years of existence, Kendall School has been housed in a number of different buildings all over what is now the Gallaudet University campus in Washington, D.C.


The earliest years of the elementary school’s history also are those of the university, for the lower school predated and inspired the establishment of the university. It began with Amos Kendall, a Dartmouth-educated journalist, whose political acumen and connections led him in the late 1820s to Washington, D.C. Kendall held several federal government positions, including the role of postmaster general during the administration of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. After leaving politics in his middle years, Kendall invested substantially in the newly-invented telegraph and, as legal manager and business partner of Samuel F.B. Morse, became quite wealthy.

In 1856, Kendall was one of many Washingtonians who were approached by a man soliciting donations to found a school for deaf and blind children in the area. This man had brought five deaf children from New York and recruited several deaf and blind children from among the local population. On learning that the children were not provided proper care, Kendall successfully petitioned the court to make them his wards. He donated two acres of his estate in northeast Washington, D.C., named Kendall Green, to establish housing and a school for them. The school opened with 12 deaf and six blind students.

In 1864, the U.S. Congress granted the institution a charter to operate a collegiate program. Abraham Lincoln signed the charter authorizing the conferring of college degrees by the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, which eventually became Gallaudet University. Columbia Institution’s first home was two modest frame houses, one (“Rose Cottage”) of which was donated by Kendall along with two acres of his large estate just outside the then city limits on Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue). The second house was rented from William Stickney, Kendall’s son-in-law. Boundary Street was unpaved and the houses were surrounded with fields and woods. 

Within two years, the student enrollment had risen to 20, and Kendall used $8,000 of his own money to build a two-story brick building for the Columbia Institution. The building opened in 1859 and for many years was known simply as the “Institution” Later, it became known as Old Fowler Hall, since it stood just behind where the present Fowler Hall is. In 1860, the state of Maryland made provisions for all of its deaf students to to be educated at the Columbia Institution and the enrollment quadrupled. To accommodate the growing enrollment, a three-story addition with a columned porch and balcony was made in 1862 to the front of the Old Fowler Hall and it housed the Primary Department.

Within four years, another addition was made to Old Fowler Hall. The enlarged building provided not only classroom space but also dormitory rooms, since at that time all of the Columbia Institution’s students were required to live on campus during the week.

In 1885 the directors of the Columbia Institution decided to separate the identities of the grade school and college department, which had been established in 1864. In honor of its founder and benefactor, the lower school was named the Kendall School for the Deaf. At the same time, Kendall School got a new building with its new name carved above the front door. Known now as Kendall Hall, the building still stands. It cost $17,000 to build.These older homes of Kendall School were poorly lighted and heated by contemporary standards. There was no central heating on campus until 190

5. The classroom areas, but not the dorm rooms, were heated. Lighting until the 1900s was by oil lamps.Boundary Street was unpaved until 1875, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks ran along the eastern border of Kendall’s estate, where West Virginia Avenue is now.

Kendall School around 1880

In 1895 the Kendall School boys moved out of the combination class/residential building and into a new dorm, which in 1910 was named Dawes House in honor of U.S. senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, a former director of the Columbia Institution. The girls remained in the main school building until 1910, when they moved to Denison House (Faculty Row House #4). This house was named after James Denison, the first principal of Kendall School. During this time, Kendall School served not only elementary-age children but also high school students and did so until the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) opened on campus as a national demonstration facility in 1970. Many of Kendall’s graduates now go on to high school classes there.

Denison House 1998

There were no more moves for Kendall School until 1938 when the older girls moved from Denison House into a room on the second floor of college president Dr. Percival Hall’s house. The school’s enrollment was 77 at the time. At about the same time, the Kendall School principal was moved from Faculty Row House #5 to House #3. A few years later, some of the eldest Kendall girls and two of the students in the Normal Department (teacher training program) moved in with the principal, who at that time was Sam Craig, and his family.Besides these homes, the dorm buildings, and the Kendall School building, the school also used rooms in the basements of some of the college buildings used for vocational and art classes.

During World War II the Kendall School enrollment dropped somewhat but rebounded afterwards, especially in 1946 when a preschool was established for 3- and 4-year-olds.By 1949 the enrollment was up to 92, with students coming not only from the District of Columbia and nearby states, but also from the Middle East, Canada, Peru, Colombia, and Cuba.

In 1950, Dawes House became the home of the preschool classrooms as well as of the boys in the upper grades. The enrollment jumped again in 1952 after a group of local parents won a court ruling ordering that Kendall School accept the black students of the District of Columbia. Previously the District sent its black deaf children to a school in Maryland. In the first school year after the court ruling, 16 black children and four black teachers became part of Kendall School and comprised its Division II. Initially housed in the old gymnasium, they had a new building of their own put up (at a cost of $120,000) within a year.

In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against segregated schools and Kendall School classes became integrated.

Since the College had taken over the Kendall School building and Dawes House in the summer of 1953 the Division II building became the Primary Department. The intermediate and advanced classes moved to House #3, which by then had been named the Fay House. The older girls lived in Denison House where home economics classes also were held. The older boys lived in House #2, by then known as the Ballard House, and on the third floor of Fay House. Vocational classes remained in the basements of college buildings. Although confusing, all the building switching served to consolidate the Kendall facilities at one end of campus, separate for the most part from the College facilities. Nonetheless, crowding remained a problem. A report made in the mid-1950s pointed out that the Kendall children had to use the College gymnasium for lack of other recreational facilities, some Kendall students had to eat in the College cafeteria and walk 250 yards back and forth three times a day to do so, and some of the basement classrooms were not up to health standards. The report recommended construction of a new building along the architectural lines of the building erected in 1953, estimating its cost at $225,00O. It was to be built near the Primary Department building.

However, when that recommended building was finally completed in 1961, it was located far away from the original proposed site, resembled the Primary Department building only in its U-shape, and had cost $1,125,000.

When it opened, the two-story sections of the west wing were devoted to dorm rooms. The east wing, which was tucked into a hill, contained the classrooms and recreational facilities.

The capacity of the school was 116 day and residential students, although there were only 106 students enrolled in its first full year of use. The residential program was dropped a few years later and the dorm rooms remodeled into classrooms. In 1970, legislation passed by Congress transformed the Kendall School for the Deaf into Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES). The change in name was accompanied by a change in purpose and program. Congress passed the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School Act (P.L. 91-587), which transformed the historic Kendall School into a demonstration elementary school, expanding its role to include research and dissemination.

In 1977, KDES split into physically separated interim facilities since the building it had occupied for the previous 16 years was torn down to make way for KDES’s permanent home as a national demonstration school. The interim facilities consisted of the Early Education Center in Fowler Hall and North Campus, a collection of temporary structures. The Early Education Center included the Preschool and Primary Departments plus appropriate support service and administrative personnel. Once a dormitory, Fowler Hall was remodeled into classrooms, offices, and a demonstration home and parent meeting area. The North Campus buildings housed the majority of the administrative offices as well as the elementary department, middle school, and educational technology services.

The current home of KDES sits on the same site as the 1961-77 building. This building features open space areas, self-contained classrooms, and small tutoring rooms. Staff and visitors may observe instruction without disturbing it from ramps, platforms, and hall space. The current building is the latest stop on the long and winding journey through the history of Kendall Green from the days when the first eight students held class in two modest frame houses.