Deaf Women Legends
The month of March is recognized in America as Women’s History Month. Originating in 1981, Congress declared the week beginning March 7th, 1982 to be further known as the first, official “Women's History Week” in the United States. However, it wasn’t until the National Women’s History Project pitched the idea for Congress that initiated the passing of Pub. L 100-9 that validated the month of March 1987 to be “Women’s History Month”.
Since then, women have continued to make strides in an effort to protect and bring awareness to women’s rights as well as the equality of both women and men. In honor of March being Women’s History month, we would like to recognize and celebrate some of the extraordinary women within the Deaf community that have done wonderful things for women everywhere.
Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (1790-1846) was a Deaf writer who made a name for herself through her work, especially her writing of “The Wrongs of Woman”. This nineteenth-century novel exposed the poor working as well as the living conditions of women working in England, particularly those of lace embroiderers. As a result, “The Wrongs of Woman” helped to not only bring awareness to the importance of safety in the workplace but also was able to help with the creation of more strict worker safety laws.
Juliette Gordon Low was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1860. Due to multiple ear injuries throughout her childhood, Juliette lost the majority of her hearing. Known for her interests in athletics, nature, animals, and the arts, it is no surprise she channeled those interests into the Girl Scouts movement, which she founded in 1913 with help from her charity work. The Girl Scouts of America organization still serves as a large part of millions of girls' lives around the world.
Marlee Matlin lost most of her hearing when she was 18 months old. Among her accomplishments, she has won an Oscar and received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama. She has starred in more than a dozen movies and series. In 2015 she made her Broadway debut in the revival of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Spring Awakening.” She has also published her New York Times best-selling autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later.” and three novels for children including “Deaf Child Crossing” and “Nobody’s Perfect.”
Helen Keller was an American educator, advocate for the blind and deaf. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and passionately campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, antimilitarism, and other similar causes. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she became proficient at using braille and reading sign language with her hands. In September 1964, Keller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States' two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame at the New York World's Fair.