Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment

Agatha Tiegel Hanson, Class of 1893, has been selected as one of the 12 National Women’s History Month honorees for 2014. The honorees, an annual incentive of The National Women’s History Project (NWHP), represent a wide range of occupations and accomplishments, and exemplify the theme “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.” Hanson is the first Gallaudet alumna to join the list of distinguished honorees recognized over the years during the national observation.

A gala reception and dinner celebrating the honorees will take place on Thursday, March 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Hanson, who also was selected as Gallaudet’s Visionary Leader for the month of June during the University’s celebration of its sesquicentennial, was the first deaf woman to graduate from Gallaudet with a four-year degree and served as valedictorian for her graduating class. She organized a women’s secret society at Gallaudet and served as its first president. She was married to notable deaf architect and advocate Olof Hanson, Class of 1886, the subject of the Gallaudet University Museum’s first exhibition and the University’s Visionary Leader for April. Hanson was nominated as a National Women’s History Month honoree by Karen Christie, a recently retired professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who continued teaching a deaf women’s studies course started in 1993 by Gallaudet First Lady Vicki Hurwitz when Mrs. Hurwitz retired from teaching the course in 2003.

Because multicultural American women are frequently overlooked in mainstream history, the NWHP has championed their accomplishments for the past 30 years by observing March as National Women’s History Month. Awareness of these women’s notable contributions is also growing at colleges and universities that offer classes in this area.
Thanks to the efforts of three prominent women in the deaf community, the achievements of deaf women are being made known to a growing audience. In addition to the course initiated by Mrs. Hurwitz, Dr. Genie Gertz, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, began a course at California State University, Northridge, in 1996, and Dr. Arlene Blumenthal Kelly, a professor in the ASL and Deaf Studies Program, started one at Gallaudet in 1997. All three hosted the fifth annual Alumnae Panel during Homecoming on Thursday, October 24, at Peikoff Alumni House. The event featured eight panelists of varying ages who described what it was like to be a female student at Gallaudet between 1948 and 1998. The panel was established as a Homecoming event by students in the DST 402: “Deaf Women’s Studies” class.

Biographies on Agatha Hanson and three other deaf women were developed in 2012 by Blumenthal Kelly and Kristine Gauna, ’12, who minored in women’s studies, for an independent studies class. Gauna, who is currently an administrative research assistant in the Brain and Language Lab (BL2) at Gallaudet, researched and wrote short biographies on Hanson; Sophia Fowler Gallaudet, wife of the Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, and an important player in the establishment of Gallaudet University through her lobbying efforts before Congress; Alice Cogswell, a deaf girl taught by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, setting in motion a chain of events leading to the creation of founding of America’s first permanent school for the deaf in Hartford, Conn., and to the establishment of what is now Gallaudet University; and Mary Manning Ijams, the first student and later the first deaf teacher at the Maryland School for the Deaf, which her family was instrumental in founding. Gauna also sent the biographies to the organizers of a National Women’s History Museum that is being planned in Washington, D.C. “I am thrilled that (Hanson) will be recognized by a larger audience now, said Gauna. “I only hope that we can encourage NHWM to add more Deaf women to their museum.”

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