In 1869, the Boston School Committee decided to establish a public day school for the deaf in order to provide free education for deaf students in the area. At the time, options for deaf students were limited to private boarding institutions that some families could not afford. This new school provided an opportunity for students to receive a quality education while being able to remain home with their families. The school would be open to all students over five years of age in need, and tuition costs would be covered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Originally established as the School for Deaf Mutes, the school was renamed the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in 1877.
Horace Mann, former Massachusetts Board of Education Secretary, was not directly involved in the school's founding. In fact, he was no longer alive then. His advocation for oral education for the deaf in the 1840s directly influenced the school's curriculum, however. In 1843, he published his observations of deaf education in Europe in his ninth annual report for the Massachusetts Board of Education. Oralism is the practice of teaching the deaf to communicate orally, and to read lips. At the time, this method was unknown in the United States, and Horace Mann's ninth report directly influenced the choice of oral education as the founding curriculum at the Horace Mann School. The alternative, manualism, emphasizes education and communication through sign language. Today, many schools for the deaf offer a combination of oral and manual education, referred to as a bilingual education (American Sign Language and English). The Horace Mann School for the Deaf began to incorporate a bilingual approach in the late 1970s.