MSS 220

Adler, Edna P. (Edna Paananen), 1915-2000,
and Williams, Boyce R. (Boyce Robert), 1910-1998
The Edna P. Adler Biographical Collection on Boyce R. Williams, 1899-2000

Gallaudet University Archives
Descriptive Summary
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives

Call No.: MSS 220
Creators: Adler, Edna P. (Edna Paananen), 1915-2000, and Williams, Boyce R. (Boyce Robert), 1910-1998
Title: The Edna P. Adler Biographical Collection on Boyce R. Williams, 1899-2000
Quantity: 7 boxes (3.75 lf).
Abstract: Articles, papers, correspondence, manuscript drafts, notes, and more collected by deaf vocational rehabilitation specialist Edna Adler while researching and writing a biography of her coworker, Boyce Williams.
Note: This document last updated February 2018.

Administrative Information
Acquisition Information: Donated to the President’s Office by Edna Adler’s daughter, Karen Wilson, in 2000, then transferred to the Archives in 2008. Genealogical data (series 8) donated by Edna Adler, 1995.
Processed By: Begun by Corinne Palaia and Michael J. Olson, completed by Christopher Shea, February 2018.
Processing Note:
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions.
Related Material in the Archives


  • Boyce R. Williams, photographs, 1927. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Donated Photograph Collection PH0080
  • [Assorted photographs of Boyce R. Williams.] Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
  • [Assorted photographs of Edna P. Adler.] Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits


  • Adler, Edna P., 1915. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: SMSS

Vertical Files

  • Adler, Edna P. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Biographical
  • Williams, Boyce R. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Biographical

Biographical Sketch
Born in 1910, Boyce Williams lost his hearing at age 17 after a bout of meningitis. He briefly attended the Wisconsin School for the Deaf and then entered Gallaudet College in 1929. He graduated in 1932, becoming a teacher at the Wisconsin School and later at the Indiana School for the Deaf. It was there that he met and married his wife, Hilda Tillinghast. At the Indiana School, he was promoted to vocational training director in 1937- a position where he saw how deaf people often struggled with discrimination when seeking jobs. Determined to change this, Williams attended Columbia University, where he got a master’s degree in deaf education in 1940. In 1945, Williams returned to Washington, DC, where he took a position with the federal Office of Vocational Rehabilitation as a consultant on the deaf and hard of hearing. Working closely with deaf groups such as the National Association of the Deaf and National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, Williams developed a framework for vocational rehabilitation services for the Deaf. His work helped educate the hearing world about the capabilities and challenges of the deaf while providing the deaf with training, education, and job placement opportunities.

During his time at OVR, Williams had a hand in developing programs such as the National Theatre for the Deaf, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Captioned Films for the Deaf, the National Leadership Training Program on Deafness, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and more. Due to his work in vocational rehabilitation, Williams was awarded an honorary LLD degree from Gallaudet in 1958. In 1970, the government created a federal Office on Deafness and Communicative Disorders, and Williams became its director until he retired in 1983.

Williams was a leading figure in the deaf community, including serving on Gallaudet’s Board of Directors and the National Association of the Deaf Executive Board and being president of the Gallaudet College Alumni Association. After his retirement, Williams was awarded Gallaudet’s Powrie V. Doctor Chair of Deaf Studies from 1983 through 1984. He passed away in late 1998. Edna P. Adler was born in 1915 and lost her hearing to meningitis at age 10. She attended the Michigan School for the Deaf and was a 1937 graduate of Gallaudet. Adler joined the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration in 1966 and was eventually promoted to assistant chief of the deafness and communicative disorders branch, making her the first deaf woman to have a high-level federal position. Before joining the RSA, Adler taught at the Michigan and Missouri Schools for the Deaf in the 1930s and 1940s. She received a master’s degree in rehabilitation services from Wayne State University and worked at the Center for Deaf Adults in Lansing, Michigan, before moving to Washington, DC. She received an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet in 1981. She retired in 1989 and passed away in 2000.

Scope and Content
This collection was gathered by Edna Adler as she worked on writing a biography of Boyce Williams. While the biography was never published, this collection does include her research notes and draft copies, as well as a wide variety of newspaper and magazine clippings, speeches, and papers written by or about Boyce Williams. These focus particularly on his career developing vocational rehabilitation programs for the deaf. Besides Williams, this collection also includes material on the development of vocational rehabilitation programs, mostly from the 1960s and 1980s, including Williams’s work on the subject and handbooks, legislation, and reports from the federal government other groups. Williams’s wife, Hilda Tillinghast, was a descendant of a family that had long been involved with deaf education. There are a few items in this collection related to the Tillinghast family, including a genealogical chart, a 19th-century wedding announcement, and a program from Hilda’s funeral.

Series Descriptions

Series 1. Williams family items, 1899-1989
Box 1
A small collection of items related to the Williams and Tillinghast families, including a copy of Boyce Williams’s CV from the late 1960s, a poem written by Williams’s son John, and an 1899 wedding announcement for Edward Tillinghast and Hilda Watson. Also included is a partial genealogical chart for the Tillinghast family, but it is a very faint copy and difficult to read. See also series 8 for more on the Tillinghast/Watson families.

Series 2.
Edna P. Adler biographical research materials, 1966-2000

Boxes 1-2
The material was collected and produced by Edna Adler during her work on her biography of Boyce Williams. This includes two separate draft manuscripts of the book. This series also includes
a variety of clippings on Williams (see series 7 for more),
correspondence with other people on Williams’s life and career, and
several notebooks that Adler filled with notes and outlines while working on this project.

Series 3. Boyce R. Williams speeches and writings, 1940-1988
Boxes 2-3

Papers, correspondence, and speeches produced by Boyce Williams during his career in vocational rehabilitation. Bulk is papers and speeches that Williams delivered at various conferences and deaf-related events. It also includes a set of correspondence from 1940-1945, when Williams worked at the Indiana School and attempting to get a position with the federal government. Of particular interest is a set of reports from Williams, Frederick Schreiber, William Castle, and Edward Merrill on a 1988 trip to the Soviet Union to study the deaf community.

Series 4. Vocational rehabilitation papers and publications, 1959-1996
Boxes 3-5
Material on the topic of vocational rehabilitation, particularly of the deaf, not written by Boyce Williams. Includes papers, manuals, reports, and handbooks published by the US federal government and other individuals and agencies. It also includes copies of some federal legislation on vocational rehabilitation.

Series 5. Federal Security Agency memos, 1945-1949 Box 5
A small collection of memos published by the Federal Security Agency (the predecessor to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and later the Department of Health and Human Services). Most are general memos addressed to various state agencies for the deaf and vocational rehabilitation, alerting them of new publications or resources they can use.

Series 6. Photographs, 1918-1996
Box 5
A small collection of Williams family photographs, mostly portraits and group photos.
Series 7. Clippings, 1931-1999
Boxes 5-6
See series 2 for more clippings—a collection of newspaper and magazine articles, most about Boyce Williams.
It includes material on his retirement and his term as the holder of the Powrie V. Doctor Chair.
Series 8. Genealogical materials, 1893-1994
Box 7
A collection of news and book clippings, correspondence, family trees, and other material related to the Tillinghasts and other families. Individuals featured include John McGann, an Irish deaf educator and grandfather of Hilda Watson (later Hilda Tillinghast); Edward and Hilda Tillinghast; David and James Watson, and others.

1 1 Edward and Hilda Tillinghast wedding announcement 1899
1 2 John David Williams poem: “Beyond Silence” 1983
1 3 Program from memorial service for Hilda Tillinghast Williams 1989
1 4 Tillinghast genealogical chart Undated
1 5 Williams and Ray Jones business cards Undated
1 6 Williams CV ca. 1967
1 7 Clipping and report collection 1973-1984
1 8 Clipping collection for biographical research 1966-1996
1 9 Clipping collection on meningitis and deaf education 1986-1996
1 10 Correspondence and clippings on Williams 1997-1998
1 11 Correspondence and clippings on Williams’s death 1998-1999
1 12 Correspondence on biography 1993-1997
1 13 Doris Wishart letter to Edna Adler on Tillinghasts 1993
1 14 Draft biography of Williams (1/3) Undated
1 15 Draft biography of Williams (2/3) Undated
2 1 Draft biography of Williams (3/3) Undated
2 2 Draft of Williams biography 1996
2 3 Edna Adler-Norman Tully correspondence 1998
2 4 Karen Wilson letter to I. King Jordan on Adler collection 2000
2 5 Notebook and correspondence on Williams biography 1995-1998
2 6 Notebook of comments Undated
2 7 Research notes Undated
2 8 Clippings and correspondence on honorary degree from Carthage College 1985
2 9 Correspondence on Indiana School and federal employment 1940-1945
2 10 Papers and reports on cooperation between deaf schools and vocational rehabilitation 1950
3 1 Reports and magazine on Russia trip 1988
3 2 Speeches, articles, and correspondence 1947-1964
3 3 Speeches, articles, and correspondence 1947-1964
3 4 Speeches, articles, and correspondence 1947-1964
3 5 Speeches, articles, and correspondence 1965-1974
3 6 Speeches and articles 1974-1983
3 7 Travel report for 6th World Congress of the Deaf 1971
3 8 American Annals of the Deaf with lists of rehabilitation agencies 1989
4 1 Books on deaf rehabilitation 1973-1978
4 2 Brochures and paper on rehabilitation ca. 1967
4 3 Clippings and reports on vocational rehabilitation 1969-1996
4 4 Conference proceedings on vocational rehabilitation for the deaf 1980
4 5 Department of Health, Education, and Welfare brochure on hearing loss 1968
4 6 De Paul University report on rehabilitation of deaf youth 1967
4 7 Federal legislation on vocational rehabilitation 1971-1994
4 8 Guides and reports on severely disabled deaf 1971-1980
4 9 Memo on vocational rehabilitation of the deaf Undated
4 10 Papers and reports on rehabilitation ca. 1966-1986
5 1 Reports and clippings on vocational rehabilitation of the deaf 1959-1989
5 2 Reprint articles on deafness and vocational rehabilitation 1960s
5 3 St. John’s Hospital review of deaf program 1982
5 4 Testimony and correspondence on VR centers for the deaf 1970-1972
5 5 US government manuals on rehabilitation of the deaf 1942-1972
5 6 US government reports on rehabilitation of the deaf 1950s-1960s
5 7 Federal Security Agency correspondence 1945-1947
5 8 Federal Security Agency correspondence 1947
5 9 Federal Security Agency correspondence 1948
5 10 Federal Security Agency correspondence 1949
5 11 National Census of the Deaf photo Undated
5 12 Photos of Williams Undated
5 13 Williams family photo 1936
5 14 Williams family photos 1918-1996
5 15 Brochures and clippings on Mary Switzer sculpture 1997
5 16 Clippings and press release on Williams 1951-1967
5 17 Clippings and press release on Williams retirement 1983
6 1 Clippings and programs from events honoring Williams 1958-1999
6 2 Clippings and statements on creation of federal Deafness and Communicative Disorders Branch 1967
6 3 Clippings, correspondence, and brochures on Powrie V. Doctor Chair 1982-1995
6 4 Clippings on Williams 1931-1989
6 5 Gallaudet Today articles on Williams 1970-1998
7 1 Clippings on John McGann Undated
7 2 Clippings on Tillinghast family 1893-1991
7 3 Correspondence and clippings on Tillinghast family 1896-1970
7 4 Correspondence and genealogies for Tillinghast family 1986-1993
7 5 Clippings on Watson family 1937-1994
7 6 Records of Watson family 1937-1986
7 7 Records of Watson family 1919-1983

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