The History of NEHD
New England Homes for the Deaf
1901 – Present
In March of 1901, Rev. Dr. S. Stanley Searing (a friend of Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, son of Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who helped establish the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut) met with a group of men to discuss the need to establish a home to care for Deaf and Deafblind elders in New England. They immediately began fundraising.
By May, the group had become a legal corporation called New England Home for Deaf Mutes (NEHDM.) In 1903, NEHDM had raised enough money to rent a house in Allston, Massachusetts and hired a matron to care for the first residents. By the summer of 1905 the home was filled to capacity with a waiting list and it was time to move.
Fundraising efforts allowed for the 1905 purchase of a new home in Everett, Massachusetts and a Board of Trustees was established. By 1920, NEHDM had outgrown their home once again, and a capital campaign was launched in June of 1924 to secure a larger facility with enough land to allow for future growth. During this time, the NEHDM was privileged to have two very famous members, Helen Keller and her teacher/interpreter Ann Sullivan.
On June 1, 1925, “Riverbank” in Danvers, Massachusetts was purchased from John Fredrick Hussey (a kind and generous philanthropist) and the name was changed to New England Home for the Deaf (NEHD.) Keller and Sullivan were directly responsible for the purchase. After meeting the two, Hussey was so impressed with the home’s mission that he sold Riverbank and three acres of land for less than half the selling price.
Hussey and his family served as board members and benefactors of NEHD, donating land, funding and establishing an endowment for the Home for several years.
In 1926, the Salem Deaf Club was honored for its longstanding support of NEHD. The large stone barn attached to the home was converted to a meeting room and dedicated as “Salem Hall,” where many Deaf Community meetings and social events were held over the years. An addition was constructed in 1927 to accommodate more residents.
During the 1960’s, a group of community based Deaf members spent a great deal of time visiting and conducting social events for the residents. Headed by Claire Samson, the “Friends of the Home” (FOH) was established in 1968.
In the early 1970’s, NEHD qualified for Medicaid support which helped with some of the home’s medical costs, but did not cover the Home’s many other expenses. In 1981, Eddy Laird was hired as NEHD’s Director.
The passage of the Older Americans Act in the 1980’s aided in the popularity of local Councils on Aging (COA) as a means of support for senior citizens. Deaf seniors however, found COAs impossible to benefit from, due to a lack of communication access. With help from several area Agencies on Aging, in 1987, NEHD established five Deaf Senior Centers throughout Massachusetts: Boston, Danvers, Quincy, and Lawrence. In 2007, the Bay State Deaf Seniors of Western Mass joined the network.
After working several years as Assistant Director, Judith Good replaced Laird as President/CEO in the early 1990’s. Around the same time, Dr. Richard E. Thompson became the first Deaf Chairman of NEHD’s Board of Trustees. Their first plan of business was to develop a plan to meet the need for independent living housing for members of the Deaf Community. Financed by HUD, in 1997, the 24 unit Thompson House was opened. It was the first independent living facility with specially designed visual and tactile safety and signaling systems for low income Deaf and Deafblind elders in New England. NEHD was honored in Washington, D.C. with the presentation of the National Organization on Disability Award by the National Organization on Disability, J.C. Penny and the American Association of Housing and Services for the Aged.
As the residents of NEHD aged in place, it became clear that the home would not meet the regulations for skilled nursing services. The Board of Trustees once again, sought assistance from the community to raise funds for a new building. Donors came forward to purchase rooms and equipment in honor/memory of their loved ones. In 2004, the new fully equipped and adapted 60 bed nursing/rest home was opened.
On November 22, 2006, as the residents slept, a nearby chemical plant went up in flames and an explosion blasted the neighborhood. The home suffered structural damage, but miraculously, not one resident was injured. They were forced to temporarily relocate to a nearby facility while repairs were made to the building.
Due to the tremendous outpouring of support from the community, over $400,000 was raised to help rebuild the campus and residents were able to return home after two months. The Riverbank Mansion experienced serious damage and was sold in 2009. Also in 2009, NEHD added 24 beds to the rest home, expanding the campus capacity to 81 residents.
The story of NEHD has historically been based on the fundraising efforts of generations of those devoted to ensuring the perpetuation of the home’s mission. This holds true today as it did in 1901.