The Texas School for the Deaf was established by the legislature in 1856 as the Texas Deaf and Dumb Asylum. Governor Elisha M. Pease appointed a board of five trustees and instructed them to find a site for the school. The trustees rented a fifty-seven-acre tract, a half mile south of the Colorado River in Austin, that had a two-room cottage, three log cabins, and an old smokehouse that could be made over for a school room. The school opened with three students in January 1857, and at the end of the first summer only eleven students had enrolled. Rather than being discouraged at the low enrollment, teachers at the school felt that it would quickly increase once a railroad to Austin was completed. Superintendent Jacob van Nostrand and the board of trustees asked for funds to begin construction of a carefully designed campus. In response, the 1858 legislature appropriated $5,000 for the purchase of the rented property, for minor improvements and additions to the existing buildings, and for the construction of two frame buildings to serve as school and living quarters. During the Civil War the school had no money for salaries; teachers and students supported themselves by farming and by making clothes from the wool of the sheep that they raised. A total of sixty students attended the school during its first thirteen years.
A change in the law in 1876 allowed the governor, rather than the board of trustees, to appoint the school's superintendent. The two superintendents who served during this period were Henry E. McCulloch and John S. Ford. Neither man had special knowledge of teaching or of the deaf; nevertheless, they each took genuine interest in the school's well-being. They fought, though with little success, for higher salaries for teachers. In spite of a high turnover rate among the faculty, the school made good progress in areas such as vocational instruction. Among other new programs, the school's first monthly publication The Texas Mute Ranger, forerunner of the Lone Star, was established in 1878. In 1883 the legislature gave the power to appoint the superintendent back to the trustees in an effort to make the position less political.
A substantial building program, begun in 1875, continued under McCulloch and Ford and was completed in the late 1880s. In 1893 the method of instruction at the school was changed from a strictly manual form of communication to a combined manual and oral system, and an oral department was instituted to give students a chance to develop any residual speech ability they might have. A deaf-blind department was organized at the school in 1900 and was maintained until 1934, when it was transferred to the Texas School for the Blind. In 1919 the legislature established the Board of Control and placed it in charge of overseeing the school's administration. By 1923 the Texas facility was reported to be the second-largest school for the deaf in the country. It had 450 students in the mid-1940s and offered courses in a variety of trades, in addition to academic instruction. Acoustic work for children with residual hearing was instituted as part of the academic training. In 1949 control of the school was given to the new Board for Special Schools and Hospitals, and the name of the facility was changed to the Texas School for the Deaf. The school had gone by this name informally for years. Tensions rose, however, because the school was still categorized as an eleemosynary institution rather than an educational one. Students and teachers alike resented the stigma that society attached to "charity cases." In 1951 the legislature reclassified the school and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Texas Education Agency. The school claimed the distinction of being the oldest public school in continuous operation in the state. Beginning in 1955 several of the old buildings on campus were razed, and a completely new physical plant was built. The School for the Deaf merged with the Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School in 1965. The two facilities were integrated during 1966, and the Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School became the East Campus of the School for the Deaf. The East Campus housed the school's programs in early childhood and elementary education, as well as the department for multi-handicapped deaf students.
In 1981 the Texas School for the Deaf became an independent school district and was also made a state agency. It served as a resource center for other deaf-education programs in the state, offering inservice training for teachers and staff, onsite testing programs, and conferences on various subjects in order to help raise the level of instruction for the deaf in both public and private schools. Also in 1981 Victor Galloway became the school's first deaf superintendent. In the late 1980s the school had 400 students, eighty of whom were day students; the rest lived on campus in cottage environments. The school received accreditation from the Texas Education Agency and from the Conference of Executives of American Schools for the Deaf. In contrast to the days when deaf children were taught only certain crafts and trades, society had begun to accept that the deaf could make significant contributions. Careers in such fields as computers, teaching, and law were becoming available, and between 40 and 60 percent of the school's graduates went on to attend a college or technical school. In 1989 the legislature appropriated funds for extensive renovation of the South Campus. The school planned to move all of its programs to the South Campus once the construction was completed but had made no decision about the future of the East Campus facility. Other superintendents of the School for the Deaf include William Addison Kendall (1887–95), T. A. Rose (1895–99), B. F. McNulty (1899–1905), Gus Urbantke (1913–19), Felix B. Shuford (1919–23), T. M. Scott (1923–39), E. R. Wright (1939–44), John F. Grace (1949–65), A. W. Douglas (1965–72), and Virgil Flathouse (1974–80). In 1987 Marvin Sallop became superintendent.