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Grand Opening of HERstory Exhibit at Museum

On September 29, 2015, the grand opening of the Deaf HERstory exhibit commenced at the Gallaudet University Museum Annex, located in the Jordan Student Academic Center, with an audience full of students, faculty, and staff.

This exhibit traces the history and lives of Deaf women in the United States, examining their stories through the lenses of women’s lives, education, movement and action, and overcoming struggles.

The opening featured five speakers: First Lady Vicki Hurwitz; Dr. Genie Gertz, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Jane Norman, Museum director, and curator emerita; and Dr. Arlene Blumenthal Kelly, professor, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies, and Meredith Peruzzi, curator of the Museum.

Norman explained that the role of the museum in an academic environment fosters an easy and efficient way of learning.

“We have a responsibility to everyone here: the scholars, historians, and people who work in museums to archive information. For those who love authentic stories, it is important for them to find and discover and bring forth those stories to the surface, as well as bringing life to those stories,” said Norman.

Norman translated a quote from early pioneer gender researcher Myra Pollock Sadker, adding a Deaf perspective. “If a Deaf woman reads a womanless deaf history book, she will feel worthless. With that, we need to embrace stories about women from diverse backgrounds and put that back into history, because that will allow us to understand and recognize the power of women in their dreams, their achievements, and their goals.”

Kelly noted the perfect confluence of this year’s 95th anniversary of women’s suffrage and the grand opening of the new exhibit.

“As you can see here, women’s lives, movement in action, education, leadership, religion, health, and various themes helped build this exhibit,” said Kelly.

Hurwitz shared her experiences substituting for a Deaf heritage course at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf in 1993. She noticed a lack of concentration on Deaf women’s history, with any mention of women being scant. “I decided to start a pilot course in deaf women’s studies, which was the first of its kind. My course became part of the Center for Arts and Sciences department at NTID. I taught that course for twelve years, before handing it over to another professor,” said Hurwitz.

She touched briefly on remembering how many young Deaf women she knew at the time did not have career goals. “They wanted to get married and have children; those were their plans. They didn’t know other Deaf women professionals. I decided to roll up my sleeves and establish a course dedicated to Deaf women.”

Gertz emphasized the importance of academic work while concentrating on intersectionality and the importance of preserving Deaf women’s history.

“This exhibit is important to us for many reasons. Many people have been excluded from history, such as deaf women, who have made important contributions to society. Their experiences and struggles, and overcoming those challenges, are lessons we can learn, but only if they are documented and shared,” said Gertz.

She concluded her presentation by making a call for continued focus on writing history. “This exhibit is an attempt to bring those stories to light, to make sure they become part of our documented history, as well as reflecting the academic work and opportunities that exist for our students and faculty. I hope that we will continue to write our HERstory and to make the mark that we have for history,” said Gertz.

The goal of the exhibit, shared by all four speakers, concentrates on stories that will motivate and inspire, as well as establish role models for young Deaf women, and document barriers that women come across, as well as their successes.

“We must be vigilant on how history is written and shared,” Norman reminded the rapt audience.

Peruzzi, who hosted the event, said “the exhibit opening was stunning – it was wonderful to have so many members of the Gallaudet ‘family’ there. I am looking forward to seeing the community enjoy the Museum Annex space in the years to come, as we develop more exhibits on the depth and diversity of Deaf culture.

The exhibit will remain open for viewings to the community and visitors on an ongoing basis.

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