MSS 161

Parsons, Frances M., 1923-2013

Papers of Frances Margaret Parsons, 1929-2006

Gallaudet University Archives

Descriptive Summary
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 161
Creator: Frances M. Parsons
Title: Papers of Frances Margaret Parsons, 1935-2006.
Quantity: 13.5 Linear Feet (27 document boxes)
Note: This document last updated 2006 September 7.

Administrative Information
Acquisition Information: Donated by Frances M. Parsons over a period of years.
Processed by: Octavian Robinson, 2006 September 7.
Processing Note:
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public. One box of documents is closed to the public until 2025. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.
Related Material in the Archives:

  • Films
    • A sense of wonder, a sense of worth [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: Deaf Film 17-6
    • [Teaching total communication in Trinidad] [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: 194-4
  • Manuscripts
    • Collection of Frances M. Parsons, 1939-1986. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: MSS 49
  • Photographs
    • Photograph album of Frances Margaret Parsons. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: AL 85, AL 94
    • Frances M. Parsons. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: Portraits
  • SMSS
    • Frances Parsons, 1997-2004. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: SMSS
  • Vertical Files
    • Frances M. Parsons. Gallaudet University Archives. Call Number, Deaf Biographical

Biographical Sketch
Frances Margaret Parsons, also known as Peggie, was born in El Cajon, California on September 25, 1923 to Harold and Hester Parsons. Her sole sibling is a twin sister, Hester “Polly” Parsons. She was identified as deaf as the age of five from an unknown cause. After attempts at oral and mainstreamed education, her parents enrolled both girls at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley in 1931. The family was hit by the Great Depression and Hester Parsons moved to Tahiti in the South Pacific. Harold, the father, followed shortly after with the twins. They lived in Tahiti for six years, during which Hester provided an informal education for her children. Frances disliked writing at first but discovered a passion for writing, particularly with adjectives, when her mother introduced her to a local author.

The family returned to the United States in 1941 when the U.S. declared war with Japan and the Japanese began to occupy the Pacific in their campaign for the Sphere of Co-Prosperity. The Parsons family embarked upon a sailing schooner and escaped to San Francisco where both girls returned to the California School for the Deaf. Frances graduated from CSD in 1943 and attended Gallaudet College (now University) for two years. She withdrew in 1945 to marry. She focused the next two decades on raising her two daughters, Vincette Dee and Valerie West in California. After her divorce in 1964 she returned to Gallaudet to complete her studies, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History in 1967. During those years, she began her international travels, traveling to France, Italy, England, Ireland, and Greece to study art history, archaeology, and sculpture.

In the fall of 1967, she taught English at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick. Within a year, she was offered a tutoring position in the tutorial center at Gallaudet. She returned to tutor in both Spanish and English from 1968 to 1973. After five years of teaching, she moved on to the Art Department as an Associate Professor where she taught History of Art until 1988. She was then employed as Coordinator of International History Collections at Gallaudet University, where she worked for five years until her retirement in 1993.

She went abroad several times throughout the 1970s and 1980s, touring Iran, China, Turkey, India, Australia, South Africa, western Africa, southeast Asia, Russia, Mongolia, and South America. Frances is an indefatigable traveler, having traveled to each of the seven continents, including Antarctica in 2006 at the age of 83. Her travels abroad were not solely for the study of art history, but rather, to promote the total communication method. Frances believed that total communication, rather than oralism alone, would be more effective in providing a good education as well as solid communication skills to deaf children. She lectured, met with teachers and administrators, taught sign language, and used herself as a model of an effective total communication environment. During her travels she became involved with the Peace Corps as a consultant, establishing a program for deaf volunteers in the Philippines in 1974. Her first major trip as a Total Communication “Ambassador” was in 1976 where she embarked upon a year-long trip taking her throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Australia. She continued to work with the Peace Corps as a Peace Corps Professional Participant. She received numerous honors, awards, and accolades for her trip. Many respected Frances for braving such far flung travels alone as a deaf woman. In 1977, Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees honored her with a commendation for her work abroad. She based her book, “I Didn’t Hear the Dragon Roar”, upon her travels alone in China in 1986. Her other publications also include “Sound of the Stars,” which she authored in 1971 based upon her life in Tahiti. The diaries which these two books are based upon can be found in this collection. Frances has added a few more recent publications to her repertoire: “Deaf Women’s Lives,” “I Knew Elizabeth Peet,” and NAD ABC signs translated into English.”

Frances is also a prolific author, having written numerous articles for various magazines such as Deaf Life, The Deaf American, The Buff and Blue, and The Silent News. She also appeared in a People Magazine profile about teachers.

In between her constant travels, teaching Art History, she earned a Master’s degree from the University of Maryland in Art History. Her thesis can be found in the Gallaudet Library collection. After her Master’s degree, she continued to study art history at Georgetown University, George Washington University, and Howard University. After her retirement in 1993, her attentions and energies were focused upon writing for various publications, managing her Frances M. Parsons international endowment fund which funded individuals to go abroad to teach English to the deaf, and travels.

Scope and Content
The Frances M. Parsons papers consist of correspondence, e-mail listservs, journals, diaries, memorandums, term papers, grade reports, resumes, directories of schools for the deaf, contracts, essays, presentations, publications, news clippings, reports, minutes, and proposals.

The collection contains 27 boxes of documents, which includes approximately 23,000 pages of documents, and dates from 1929 to 2006. The collection is divided into 4 series and one sub series- Personal Papers, Gallaudet Papers, Language and Culture Papers, and Journals and a sub series to the Gallaudet Papers, the Peace Corps sub series. The bulk of the collection deals with Deaf education-debates, agreements and disagreements, travels to advocate Total Communication. The Parsons collection covers all aspects of Frances’ life from her childhood journals to her student term papers to her faculty papers as a professor to her correspondence within her roles with the Peace Corps to her personal views on sign language and education pedagogy. The majority of the papers date from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s while Frances was at the peak of her travels abroad and the debate intensified over communication methods in the deaf classroom.

Series Descriptions

Series 1: Gallaudet University
The Gallaudet Series consists of 8 boxes of documents related to Frances’ service with Gallaudet as a tutor, Assistant Professor, and Coordinator of International History Collections. The documents in this series are primarily administrative memorandums, correspondence between faculty members and with students, lecture notes, student papers. This series contains all of the news clippings, correspondence, and reports Frances incurred as a result of her travels abroad advocating total communication. This series also includes depositions and attorney correspondence that concerns her forced retirement from the art department in 1988. This series is a wealth of information about deaf communities, deaf education, and deaf schools abroad, especially in India, western Africa, and southeastern Asia.

Series 2: Peace Corps Sub-Series
The Peace Corps sub-series contains of three boxes of documents. These documents are primarily correspondence with the Peace Corps program, deaf Peace Corps volunteers, biographies of various deaf Peace Corps volunteers, and contains a folder of surveys of deaf Peace Corps volunteers and their experiences.

Series 3: Journals
This series consists of all of Frances’ journals throughout her lifetime in three boxes. Some journals focus on specific locations she traveled at various periods, such as South Africa in 1981 or India in 1976. Many of her journal entries from her 1976 travel abroad were typed and mailed out to subscribers by the Gallaudet Alumni and Public Relations office. These journals provide insights into Frances’ various meetings, communiqués, travels, and individuals she met during her journeys abroad. The journals from Tahiti and China, which two books she authored were based upon, are also in this series. Some journals are not “location” specific and cover a time period, covering many different locales.

Series 4: Language and Culture
This is a complex series consisting of eight boxes. This series provides an excellent kaleidoscope of various debates in the deaf community- American Sign Language (ASL) versus English, education methods, the validity of ASL as a language, linguistics, culture and community issues. This series contains several various list-serv e-mails. One note: the e-mails are organized by subject line such as Bi-Bi Education or Cochlear Implant Nurse. However, these subject lines do not convey accurately the contents or subject of the e-mail.

For example, the Bi-Bi education e-mail folders contain over 400 pages of e-mails and cover topics such as Educational methodology, Cued Speech, Oralism, Signed Exact English, American Sign Language Interpreting and Transliteration, English Literacy, Educational Standards in Residential Schools and Gallaudet/CSUN/NTID/RIT, Mainstreaming, British Deaf historical Society, Publishing Business for deaf related materials, Language Acquisition, Cultural Values, ASL Usage, Lip-reading, Political Activism, Book Reviews of Lane et al, American Sign Language as a language, Historical Literature, “D”eaf Culture, Cochlear Implants, Legislation, Linguistics, Infant Hearing Screening, Definition of hard of hearing, Socialization, NAD Position Paper on Bilingual Education, Deaf as disabled or not disabled, Speech Training, Audism, Domestic Violence, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, American with Disabilities Act, King Jordan’s Salary, Teacher Training, Terminology, Academic Degrees, National Association of the Deaf, and Library Services for the Deaf.

Series 5: Personal
This series consist of four boxes of personal papers. These personal papers include Frances’ autobiography, resumes, correspondence with close friends and her relatives, numerous of holiday cards from friends all over the world, her diplomas from Gallaudet and CSD Berkeley, genealogical records, documents related to “Sound of the Stars”, and the Quota club.

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