Beyond Hellen Keller: Deaf Women in History
Eight women who have made a large impact on both the deaf and hearing communities.
Written by: Jillian VanDyke
Whenever we think of the history of women, deaf women are not often our first thoughts, and even then we may not think beyond Hellen Keller. There have been plenty of women over the years that have made an outstanding impact on both deaf and hearing communities. This article highlights deaf women who have made history as positive role models into the 21st century.
Marlee Matlin is an American actress and activist who was the first deaf performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her debut film performance in “Children of a Lesser God” (1986). Beyond her acting, Matlin strives to bring more deaf representation into Hollywood by advocating for deaf roles to be played by deaf people.
Juliette Gordon Low
Known as the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low created the largest and most successful organization for girls in the world. She is known and remembered for the efforts that were put into making this large organization in the beginning of the 20th century.
She passed nearly a century ago, but the Girl Scouts organization is still blossoming world-wide. “As of 2017, there are over three million members and over fifty million members since its founding in 1912. The organization is self-sufficient due to its many patrons and yearly cookie sales to raise funds.”
Linda Bove is known as “Linda the Librarian.” She earned deaf teachers the recognition they deserve, as well as showing the world sign language. Her role on “Sesame Street” is still the largest role in the series for someone in the deaf community.
“Sesame Street” books were another way she educated the world on American Sign Language. “One was ‘Sesame Street Sign Language ABC with Linda Bove’ that taught how to sign words and letters to children.”
Amid a battle with cancer that required two sets of operations in her 20s, she raced motorcycles and speed boats, dived off hotel rooftops, leaped from helicopters, set herself on fire, and water-skied at more than 100 mph. This earned her the title “world’s fastest woman,” reaching speeds of about 600 mph while piloting a rocket car across a dried lake bed in southeastern Oregon.
Claudia L. Gordon
Claudia L. Gordon is the first deaf Black female attorney in the United States. She currently works in the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Previously, she held a position in the White House Office of Public Engagement as the Public Engagement Advisor to the Disability Community for less than a year. She is also the first deaf person to work at the White House in a detailed capacity. In an interview, she pointed out that there was a deaf intern working in the White House before her, and that there are currently other deaf people working in less prestigious positions in the White House.
Abigail Heringer was one of the 43 women on season 25 of The Bachelor. She is 25 and is from Salem, Oregon. Bachelor franchise blogger Reality Steve reports that she was born deaf. She is also a financial manager at the Opus Agency who graduated from Linfield College in 2017 with a BS in finance. She underwent cochlear implantation surgery at Oregon Health & Science University when she was just two. As she approached a dapper Matt James in a gorgeous gown, she told him in their first meeting she was hearing impaired. "I am deaf, but it's okay because I will be reading your lips," she stated.
Scrolling through TikTok, you might have come across a viral video of a woman (Shannon Heroux) who said that she was refused service at Dunkin’ Donuts because she was deaf. On September 10, 2021, she shared a video in which she said, "A little while ago, I got refused service at a Dunkin' Donuts because I'm deaf." Heroux became quite emotional. "I didn't know how to process it. I was confused, I couldn't hear anything. I wear an implant, but I was not wearing it at the time. I've never been refused service before and it hurts — it hurts really bad."
Shannon brought light to the ways people in the service industry have failed to accommodate deaf individuals, especially amid the pandemic, when people are wearing masks.
Sista Chandra is a TikToker who has garnered 80.6k followers for her lively personality and coffee-making videos. She spoke on her deafness in several videos, pointing out in one that telling someone they have a good voice for a deaf person is actually a back-handed compliment. Through the platform of TikTok, she is able to show viewers that deaf people do not fall under a single category and are able to do everything a hearing person can do except hear. Her coffee videos are quite amusing and the response she gets is entertaining.
In a recent video, she shares how she has been mistreated by an airline because they assumed she was in need of a wheelchair. She points out that not all physical disabilities affect mobility. Sista Chandra does an incredible job at informing the public and debunking misconceptions about the deaf community.