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January 21, 1855 – On This Day In Sioux Falls History, we say Happy Birthday to James Simpson, early citizen and true visionary of our great city! James would overcome many personal obstacles in his life and go on to establish one of South Dakota’s oldest institutions right here in Sioux Falls.

By the age of 14 James had completely lost his ability to hear and both his father and mother had passed away in that same year. Spurred on by the support of his older brother James would graduate from the Michigan School of the Deaf and then enrolled in the Fanwood School for the Deaf in the bustling metropolis of New York City! 18 years old and alone in one of the biggest cities in the world, Simpson put his nose to the grind stone and graduated their program in 3 years!

James found a passion for teaching at the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, IA where he taught for 3 years in Council Bluffs becoming a leading voice among the faculty, also marrying Miss A. Laura Wright while making his residence in Iowa. It was this marriage that would change the course of James’ life in more way than one!

In 1880 James fell ill, and prescribed himself some RR away from the school. He would travel to… Sioux Falls!!… to stay with his brother-in-law, attorney E. G. Wright! Coincidentally, the South Dakota School for the Deaf had just opened in Sioux Falls that same year… and was in dire need of leadership!

Upon being offered the job as superintendent and teacher at the school James accepted and immediately went to work! For the next 23 years James would lead the school to become one of the greatest of its kind in the nation! From 7 students, 1 teacher, and one rented school building/dorm when he took over in 1881, the school would grow to over 50 students, 4 full time teachers as well as dedicated support staff, and 6 separate buildings with 30 acres of well groomed campus greens and gardens upon his departure! James Simpson would pass away just a few months after resigning his post as the head of such a beautiful and worthy work right here in our beautiful city. Sioux Falls certainly owes a debt of gratitude to one of our by gone citizens!