Areas of Study

MSS 203

Madsen, Willard J., 1930-

The Willard J. Madsen Collection, 1916-1999

Gallaudet University Archives

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Gallaudet University Archives

Call No.: MSS 203

Creator: Madsen, Willard J., 1930-

Title: The Willard J. Madsen Collection, 1916-1999

Quantity: 5 linear feet (7 boxes)

Abstract: Collection of photographs, books, artifacts, news clippings, and other items gathered by deaf writer and educator Willard J. Madsen.

Note: This document last updated May 2015.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information: Donated to the Archives by Willard J. Madsen, 2002. This collection includes some older photographs and other items from the D’Onfrio family (including Anthony and Evely D’Onfrio), which were originally given to Dr. Madsen and later included in his donation. They have not been separated out from the collection.

Processed By: Christopher Shea, May 2015.

Processing Note: Much of Madsen’s original donation consisted of program books, catalogs, brochures, by-laws, and publications from Gallaudet and other deaf organizations. As these items have no personal connection to Madsen, they were removed and filed with the Archives’ holdings for the parent organizations.

Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.

Related Material in the Archives:


  • Full figure pose of Willard J. Madsen [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
  • Half figure pose of Willard J. Madsen [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
  • Head and shoulder pose of Willard J. Madsen [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
  • Head and shoulder pose of Willard J. Madsen from Kansas, Class of 1952 [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits

Vertical files

  • Madsen, Willard J. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Biographical

Biographical Sketch

Born in Peabody, Kansas, in 1930, Willard J. Madsen lost his hearing to scarlet fever at the age of two. He attended public junior high school before transferring to the Kansas School for the Deaf at Olathe, and went on to study at Gallaudet, graduating in 1952 with a degree in education. He taught at the Louisiana School for the Deaf for five years after that until he received a master’s degree from Louisiana State University.

Madsen joined the Gallaudet faculty in 1957, and taught at Gallaudet for the next 39 years until his retirement in 1996. Most of his career was spent teaching journalism and English to preparatory students, and he was also faculty advisor for The Buff and Blue, which he had worked on as a student.

He was also deeply involved in sign language education. As Gallaudet’s coordinator, and later (in 1971) director of sign language programs, he helped centralize and standardize sign language training for faculty and staff. He also oversaw Gallaudet’s training programs for new signers and continuing education courses in sign language for adults. Madsen was involved in developing the Gallaudet Sign Communication Proficiency Interview (SCPI).

Madsen was also a founding member of the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA), which provided certification for sign teachers across the country. He wrote two textbooks, Conversational Sign Language II and Intermediate Sign Language: A Bilingual Text.

He was well-known as a poet in both ASL and English, and his poems “You Have to Be Deaf to Understand” and “NO!” are considered classics of deaf culture. (Texts of these poems can be found in the Gallaudet University Archives’ Deaf Biographical file for Madsen, as well as in this collection.)

As mentioned in the processing note, this collection also includes some material from the D’Onfrio family. Anthony D’Onfrio was one of the founders of the District of Columbia Club for the Deaf, and with his wife, Evelyn (also known as Daisy), was an important figure in the District of Columbia deaf community.

Scope and Content

This relatively small collection consists of scattered pieces from Madsen’s career as a sign language educator. The largest single series is from the Gallaudet faculty sign language retreats that Madsen helped to run, and most of that is unlabeled snapshots of participants, along with a few souvenirs and some planning documents and reports.

The rest of the collection consists mostly of Madsen’s personal copies of some books on sign language and deafness, and a small collection of photographs, including some older photographs which were likely given to Madsen by the D’Onfrio family.

Series Descriptions

Series 1. Faculty retreat photographs and other items, 1983-1991

Boxes 1-2

Items from Gallaudet faculty retreats, where faculty members were immersed in an ASL-only environment and participated in various exercises to improve their expressive and receptive capacity for sign language. Most of this series consists of unlabeled photos of participants engaging in skits and exercises, as well as some photos of social events during the retreats. The series also includes a set of six commemorative banners made by retreat participants using torn bedsheets and markers. Also present is a report on the 1983 New Faculty Orientation and some planning materials and instructions for participants for the 1990-1991 events.

Series 2. Other sign language instruction materials, 1967-1986

Box 3

A variety of materials that Madsen used over his career as a sign educator. Of interest is a set of background information on the Nevil Communication Enhancement Program, which Madsen used to teach faculty at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf at Mt. Airy. This series also includes some blank evaluation and scoring forms for Gallaudet’s Sign Communication Proficiency Interview, which Madsen helped to develop and implement.

Series 3. Books and papers, 1916-1974

Boxes 3-4

A collection of Madsen’s personal copies of books and papers on the topics of deafness, sign language, and deaf culture. None are Madsen’s own work. Many of them are inscribed to Madsen by the authors.

Series 4. Correspondence and other materials, 1967-1998

Box 4

A small collection of letters to and about Madsen, and some material from events he attended.

Series 5. Other photographs, 1900s-1992

Boxes 5-6

A collection of black-and-white and color photographs. The older photos in this series are probably from the D’Onfrio collection, and include a portrait of Anthony D’Onfrio, a photo of Anthony D’Onfrio and his wife, Evelyn, and an unidentified photo of five women. Also present are large (11″ x 14″) portrait photos of Gallaudet President Leonard Elstad and Dean George Detmold, and a contact sheet of pictures from the Gallaudet production of 1776. One item in this collection, a photo of a crowded deaf club, is mistakenly labeled “Ole Jim” on the back. See series 7 for a few other photographs.

Series 6. Artifacts, 1950-1975

Box 6

Includes a 1950 issue of Collier’s Magazine with an article on Gallaudet, a Japanese-made “Speech Indicator” device with a throat microphone, and some souvenir items produced by Gallaudet and other deaf organizations.

Series 7. Framed art and photographs, 1972-1979

Box 7

A small collection of art, graphics, certificates, and photographs from both the Madsen and D’Onfrio collections. Includes some of Madsen’s sign language certifications, a matted print of his poem “NO!” and a laminated plaque of “You Have to Be Deaf to Understand,” an acknowledgment issued by the District of Columbia Club of the Deaf on the occasion of Anthony D’Onfrio’s death, and an art print by deaf artist Lois A. Lehman.

Series Descriptions and Folder Lists

Box Folder Title Date(s)
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1985
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1985
1 Photographs and negatives from faculty retreat 1985
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1986
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1987
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1987
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1987
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1988
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1988
1 Photographs from faculty retreat 1989
1 Photographs from faculty retreat Undated
1 Photographs from faculty retreat Undated
1 Photographs from faculty retreat Undated
2 Banners from faculty retreats Undated
3 1 New Faculty Orientation report 1983
3 2 Planning and information for faculty retreats 1990-1991
3 3 Background information for Nevil Communication Enhancement Program 1971-1972
3 4 Brochure for Sign-a-Thon ’76 1976
3 5 Fliers on Sutton Sign Writing Undated
3 6 Game boards for Sign Lotto Undated
3 7 Grant proposal for interpreter training 1972
3 8 National Symposium on Sign Language Research and Teaching brochures 1977-1986
3 9 Report on Post Office vocational education 1967
3 10 Sign Communication Proficiency Interview evaluation and scoring forms Undated
3 11 A Hand Book in the Manual Alphabets … 1916
3 12 An Introductory Course in Manual Communication, inscribed by Louie Fant Undated
3 13 Bilingualism: A New Direction in the Education of the Deaf, Barbara Kannapell 1973
3 14 Methods of Educating the Deaf … (NAD publication) Undated
3 15 Roberta Magarotto program book, inscribed by artist 1973
4 1 Play It By Sign, Suzie Linton Kirchner, inscribed by author 1974
4 2 Sing Unto the Lord, Theo DeLaney 1959
4 3 Suggestions Relative to the Mastery of the Language of Signs, Elizabeth Benson 1972
4 4 The Historical Aspects of the Rochester Method and Its Influence Today, Delbert L. Erickson 1966
4 5 Thirty Wonderful Years by Albert Seal, inscribed to Madsen 1974
4 6 This Thing Called Deafness, Robert K. Lennan Undated
4 7 Correspondence 1979-1998
4 8 Correspondence on Louisiana School for the Deaf 1992
4 9 Edward J. Merrill letter on Madsen 1977
4 10 Program and brochure for Mary E. Switzer dinner 1967
4 11 News clippings 1964-1999
4 12 News clippings 1970-1994
4 13 Photograph of deaf club Undated
5 Older photograph of women (Knoxville, TN) Undated
5 Older photographs Undated
5 Photograph of Anthony and Evelyn D’Onfrio Undated
5 Photograph of Anthony D’Onfrio Undated
5 Photograph of student group 1992
5 Photographs 1986
5 Photographs from canal house Undated
5 Postcards Undated
6 Collier’s Magazine, December 23, 1950 1950
6 Large portrait photo of Leonard Elstad Undated
6 Large portrait photo of George Detmold Undated
6 Contact sheet from production of “1776” Undated
6 “Speech Indicator” device Undated
6 Trenton Silent Club glass ashtray Undated
6 Gallaudet College tile coaster Undated
6 Christ U.M. Church for the Deaf glass plate 1975
7 Lois Lehman art print 1978
7 Mounted print of poem “NO!” 1977
7 Visual Communication Arts newsletter 1982
7 Certificates 1972-1979
7 Manual Alphabet poster 1972
7 District of Columbia Club for the Deaf acknowledgment on Anthony D’Onfrio’s death Undated
7 Novelty photographs (2) Undated
7 Plaque of “You Have to Be Deaf to Understand,” signed by Betty Lang Undated
7 Dee Cee Eyes plaque for Daisy D’Onfrio 1980
7 Copperplate print block of six women seated in front of Chapel Hall colonnade Undated

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