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Famous Deaf Women

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Women & Deafness Home 


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    Famous Deaf Women


Objective: This category is devoted to exploring current and historical famous Deaf women.







Deanne Bray 





       Deanne Bray was born on May 14, 1917 and she was born deaf. As she grew up, she used one hearing aid and learned how to talk about she also knows sign language. After her education, Bray became a science and math teacher for deaf high school students. She recently just received her Master degree in education. Bray is most known for her acting skills. Bray’s main acting performance was best known as her role as Sue Thomas on the television show, “F.B. Eye” on the Pax Channel. Bray was also involved in many other productions. She was involved in the Non-Traditional Casting Project and Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness. She was involved in the Deaf West Theatre and hosted a deaf program called “Caption This”. Bray also guest appeared in “Heroes”, “CSI”, “Second Chance”, “Big River” and many other television shows, movies, and programs. Bray’s husband, Troy Kotsur, is also a deaf actor. Deanne Bray even has her own website www.DeanneBray.com, in where it gives information about her life and career in acting.


Berke, J. (2009 May, 4). People- Deanne Bray- Deaf Actress and Television Star. 

     Retrieved from http://deafness.about.com/cs/celebfeatures/a/deannebray.htm


Image Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=666&q=deanne+bray&oq=deanne+bray&gs_l=img.3..0l10.2043.7347.0.7706.




Posted By: 

Beena Thomas 



















Ashley Fiolek



       Ashley Fiolek born October 22, 1990 is dominating women’s motocross.  Born profoundly deaf, Ashley has learned that she can still accomplish anything that she puts her mind to. Her parents bought her first motocross bike when she was three years old. At age 7 she began competing against boys her same age.  Her saying is, “impossible is nothing”. She was the first female rider to be featured in action on the cover of Transworld Motocross (or any major American motocross publication). She is independently advancing the sport of women’s motocross racing within the U.S. to the next level. She is dedicated and ambitious to the sport of motocross, regardless of her hearing loss. Ashley was also the first-ever female factory rider for Honda Red Bull Racing, which is a historical achievement.  Although she has difficulties that other hearing competitors don’t have to face such as not being able to hear her engine to know when to switch gears or not being able to hear her opponents approaching her, nothing has stopped her from competing and winning.  She is the living truth that being Deaf or having a hearing loss does not limit your possibilities!


Ashley Fiolek Retrieved from: http://ashleyfiolek.com/


Red Bull Motorsports Retrieved from: http://www.redbull.com/us/en/motorsports/offroad/athletes/1331574649163/ashley-fiolek


Roenigk, A. (2010). Silence is golden. ESPN The Magazine

Posted By  B. Foster










Annie Jump Cannon 



               Annie Jump Cannon was born in Dover, Delaware on December 11, 1863.  At a young age Cannon became ill and progressively became deaf. Annie Jump Cannon sees herself as a deaf woman who primarily uses English for communication.  Cannon’s love for astronomy grew at a young age because of her mother who taught her the constellations, would practice with Cannon. As a young woman Cannon attended Wellesley College where she pursued her interests as a physics major since astronomy was not provided at the time. She later studied at Harvard College Observatory where she worked on classifying stars and discovering variable stars and novae.  Cannon created the mnemonic device, “Oh! Be A Fine Girl — Kiss Me!” which is still used by astronomers today to classify stars.  Outside of the lab Cannon led a very exciting life full of travel and advocacy.  Cannon was a part of the National Women’s party and was a major advocate for women’s suffrage.  Academic awards and honors were common occurrences in Cannon’s life: she received the Draper Award by the National Academy of Sciences, awards from Oxford, the Nova Medal by the American Association of Variable Stars Observers, and was voted one of the 12 greatest living women in America in 1923.  Annie Cannon became the world's expert in stellar classification and the Annie Jump Cannon award is given annually to new astronomers by The American Association of University Women.


Hennessey, L. (2000). Annie Jump Cannon. Retrieved June 4, 2008, from http://www.wellesley.edu/Astronomy/Annie/.

Posted By  S. Covert  










Ruth Benedict




 “The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answers, it’s that there are so many answers.”

–Ruth Benedict

               Ruth Benedict was an anthropologist born in New York on June, 5 1887. She became partially deaf due to an illness in early childhood. She was not diagnosed until she attended Norwich Public School in 1895. Due to her partial deafness Ruth became a very quiet and shy person.  This did not stop her from dominating, as a woman in a field that was predominantly men. She was a humanist scientist, a feminist, and a poet.  She wrote several books but the most widely read, Patterns of Culture, was translated into 12 different languages. Ruth’s father died before she was three and her mother, a schoolteacher, struggled to provide for her and her younger sister. Even though Ruth was a shy person, students of hers claimed that they were surprised by how soft-spoken she was. Because Ruth liked to travel she eventually moved to Los Angeles. She met her future husband, Stanley Benedict in Los Angeles. They eventually moved back to New York in 1914 and bought a house in Long island were Ruth entered Columbia University. That is were Ruth met Margaret Mead, her lifelong friend whom she shared an intimate relationship after separating form her husband in 1930. 

Resource  Historian, V. (2009). Ruth benedict. Retrieved from http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/alumni/ruth-benedict.html
Posted By  Diana Cruz 









Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna




             Charlotte Tonna was the daughter of Reverend Michael Browne who was an Anglican priest and a minor canon of Norwich Cathedral. She developed her strong attachment to Protestantism growing up there. When she fell ill with temporary blindness doctors prescribed her mercury experimentally. She believed the mercury caused her deafness, which all happened before she was ten years old. Through the failure of her first marriage to George Phelan, she experienced what she believed to be the most important moment of her life; her conversion to evangelical Christianity. She wrote under the pseudonym "Charlotte Elizabeth" to protect her income and anonymity from Phelan. In 1841 she married Lewis Tonna. During a two-year stay in Sandhurst she fulfilled her great interest in the young. She wanted to provide a religious framework and a moral foundation for them to succeed in the future. Charlotte believed that the official church in Ireland, the Anglican Church, was under attack. As a result she became fervent in converting Irish Catholics to Anglicanism to strengthen the Church. She was instrumental in setting up a Protestant Church in Ireland. Overall, her writings benefitted Ireland in that they enlightened English readers about the country and gained financial support for the evangelical cause. Since deafness came with treatment and given the time period she became deaf, it is most likely that she would have identified as being "deaf." In articles based on her life, it does not say whether she used sign language or not.


Murphy, Clíona. "'The Destruction Of The Protestant Church And Dismemberment Of The Empire': Charlotte Elizabeth, Evangelical Anglican In Pre-Famine Ireland." Women's Studies 30.6 (2001): 741. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.


Walker, T. (2004, June 7). The victorian web.

Picture from: http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/authors/tonna/index.html

Posted By  Mary Stegall










Helen Keller 



              Helen Adams Keller was the daughter of a Confederate Army Officer in the Civil War, Arthur H. Keller, and Katherine Adams Keller. When Helen was born she was everything her parents expected her to be, a hearing, seeing, and speaking baby girl. However, at 18 months old Helen's family doctor diagnosed her with "brain fever" that produced high body fever. Then a few months after she was diagnosed, her mother realized that Helen wouldn't respond to a waving hand in front of her face, or react to the dinner bell when it was rung. This is how her family found out that she had lost her sight and hearing. As Helen got older, her behavior got worse. She would have tantrums where she would kick and scream as loud as she could or she would giggle uncontrollably when she was happy. The Keller's knew they would need help so they traveled to Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston,Massachusetts where they found the miracle worker, Anne Sullivan. Mrs.Sullivan had a major impact in Helen's life. She would teach her many forms of communication skills and manners, attended college with her to interpret lectures or take notes, and even helped publish Helen's first book,The Story of My Life. After college, Helen tackled many social and political issues concerning women,the blind and deaf. At age 75, Helen embarked on a 40,000 mile journey across Asia where she would make public appearances and inspire millions of people around the world.

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

-Helen Keller


Herrmann, Dorothy. Helen Keller:a life. University of Chicago Press,1999.

Video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ch_H8pt9M8

Posted By  Jacqueline Najera










Juliette Gordon Low




            Juliette Gordon Low, the creator of Girl Scouts of America, was born in Savannah, Georgia on October 31, 1860.

In her early adulthood, Low suffered from chronic ear infections in one of her ears, causing her to lose hearing in that ear. Low became completely deaf on her wedding day, December 21, 1886, when a piece of good-luck rice that was thrown at the reception got lodged in her ear, punctured her ear drum, caused an infection, and ultimately left her deaf in the second ear.  

              Low founded The Girl Scouts of America in 1912. She had spent most of her adult life looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of young people. Girl Scouts of America started with 18 young women in Savannah, Georgia and has now grown to over 3 million members nationwide.  


(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.girlscouts.org/who_we_are/history/low_biography/

Posted By J. Whipple Jessica Whipple










Heather Whitestone

                    Heather Whitestone was born on February 24, 1973 in Alabama. When she was 18 months old she became profoundly deaf due to influenza virus. She grew up in a public school/oralist setting. At age 12 she transferred to Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri, where she learned ASL. In 1995, she entered the Miss America Pageant and won the title. Heather became the first ever deaf woman to win the Miss America Pageant. Since she became deaf at a very young age she had to overcome many obstacles because she was raised in a hearing environment. Her experience led to the development of her program STARS, Success Trough Actions and Realizations of your dream. The STARS programs purpose is “to motivate people of all ages to find their own paths to overcome their obstacles and achieve their goals.” After taking the title of Miss America she met her husband and children, all of which were hearing. In 2006, Heather received surgery for Cochlear Implants. She has worked hard to support the talents of other people and to help ensure that they are able to reach for the STARS, which ultimately leads people to their greatest achievements.

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.missamerica.org/our-miss-americas/1990/1995.aspx Berke, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://deafness.about.com/cs/celebfeatures/a/heather.htm Wendy Callahan. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.vaccinetruth.org/heather_whitestone.htm Michelle Jay. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.start-american-sign-language.com/heather-whitestone.html (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.washingtonspeakers.com/speakers/speaker.cfm?SpeakerID=1582
Posted By  Alexis S.










Nansie Sharpless

Nansie Sharpless was born on October 11, 1932. When she was 14 years old she came down with meningitis which caused her to become deaf. She attended Oberlin College where she struggled, but she had a friend that took notes for her. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Zoology in 1954. She continued her education at Wayne State University where she got get doctoral degree. She started working at Albert Einstein’s College of Medicine where she studied the chemicals of the brain and mental disorders. Sharpless wanted to help people with mental disorder. She worked in The Department of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein’s College of Medicine on October 9, 1987. She was remembered in the scientific community because she was deaf.


Lang, H. G., & Meath-Lang, B. (1995). Nansie Sharpless.  In A Biographical Dictionary: Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences
(pp.328-331). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 

Posted By  Jessica Welter











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