The Michigan School for the Deaf was founded in 1848 by an act of the State Legislature. Governor Ransom, governor at the time, suggested to the Legislature that a joint school for the deaf and dumb and the blind be established. E.H. Thomson introduced a bill to the Legislature. He proposed the establishment of an institution to be called the Michigan Asylum for Educating the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. The bill was enacted into law and signed on April 3, 1848 .
In the early 1820s, a state-sponsored school was proposed to be established in Detroit . However, the school never materialized in Detroit . A few blind students were taught in a preparatory school at the University of Michigan located at Romeo during the 1840's. Until the actual opening in 1854 of the "asylum" which is now known as the Michigan School for the Deaf and Blind, deaf and blind children were not educated in any organized program in the State ofMichigan. Michigan did not send deaf and blind students to schools in other states as was the practice in several of the neighboring states.
In the spring of 1849, carrying out the instruction of the Legislature to appoint a board of trustees, Governor Ransom called upon Elon Farnsworth of Wayne County, Charles C. Haskell of Genesee, John P. Cook of Hillsdale, Charles E. Stuart of Kalamazoo, and Charles N. Taylor of Kent County to serve on the board of the proposed school. The Board met in Detroit , May 27, 1849 . By September of 1849 the villages of Flint , Romeo and Kalamazoo had extended offers of donations of land, cash and building materials. In November, 1849 the Board selected the site of the proposed hospital for the insane and also that of the proposed school. The hospital was to be in Kalamazoo and the school in Flint.
In 1850, Elon Farnsworth was given authorization to personally visit some of the asylums in other states for the insane, deaf and dumb, and the blind for the purpose of obtaining information in regards to planning, construction and management of such institutions. The visits to the other schools were found to be stimulating to the Board.
In a report in 1851, the Board voiced its opposition to a joint school for the deaf and blind. Realizing that separate schools for the deaf and blind were out of the question, it was proposed that a classroom building be erected with suitable and separate rooms for the deaf and the blind. Students who were of suitable age, financial means, and strength would be boarded in the Village of Flint; those who could not afford to pay for room and board is accommodated at the school under the charge of the principal.
In November of 1853, the Board offered the Reverend Barnabas Maynard Fay the position of principal of the school. He had previous experience as a teacher at the Indiana Institution for the Blind and the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in New York. In January of 1854, the Board approved the appointment of Reverend Fay. The new school was to open February 1, 1854 in Flint.
On February 6, 1854, the first student was enrolled. In a report dated April 18, 1854, Reverend Fay reported they had 12 students, 11 deaf mutes and one blind. The legislature during the beginning years of the school found support for their view that education should be the purpose of the "asylum" in the Michigan Constitution of 1850. Under a section entitled "Education" (Article XIII, Section 10) it is stated, "Institutions for the benefit of those inhabitants who are deaf, dumb, blind or insane shall always be fostered and supported." Therefore, by Constitution and the more immediate decision of the representatives of the people, education of the deaf has been the prime function in the state service to the deaf.
In 1867 an act was passed changing the name of the school from the Michigan Asylum to the Michigan Institution for Educating the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind.
In 1879, the Legislature separated the school for the blind from the school for the deaf.
In 1887 the name of Michigan School for the Deaf was given. It is unclear as to the exact date when the Michigan School for the Blind was relocated to Lansing, Michigan.
In 1937 the school was placed under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education. It still remains under the State Board of Education.