In 1856, the Texas Legislature established the Texas Deaf and Dumb Asylum, which became the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD). Gov. Elisha M. Pease appointed a board of trustees, which rented land at this site. By January 1, 1857, the first day of school, no students had arrived, but by summer of that year, 11 students were enrolled, including Emily Lewis, whose account of the school's early history portrays a life of hard work and self-sufficiency under school matron Josephine Snyder.
New Yorker Jacob van Nostrand, with 19 years of deaf education, became the school's first superintendent in 1857. In 1875-76, he returned to New York, and Gov. Richard Coke appointed Gen. Henry McCulloch as superintendent. McCulloch's leadership caused the faculty and staff, including then-principal Emily Lewis, to leave. During the tenure of the next superintendent, Col. John Salmon "Rip" Ford, Lewis returned to the staff, where she stayed until her retirement in 1914. In 1887, the state created what became the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphan School, which served non-white students. From integration of the schools in 1965 until 2002, its campus in east Austin remained part of TSD's facilities.
The 20th century brought many changes to the campus facilities, administration and curriculum, including status as an independent school district. Newsletters and yearbooks document an active sports program over the school's long history, and alumni and staff fondly recall the long-standing, twin-towered main building, and the significant leaders who provided support and education to the school's students and families.