Loyalties in Deaf History: Gender, Marriage, and Transnational Discourses

AHA Session 236
Disability History Association 2
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Brian H. Greenwald, Gallaudet University
Forming a Transnational Deaf Public Sphere
Joseph Murray, Gallaudet University
The 20th-Century Marriage Debate at Gallaudet University
William Thomas Ennis III, Gallaudet University
The Audience

Session Abstract

Like non-deaf people, deaf people grapple with divided loyalties. This session explores deaf people's historical efforts to navigate their loyalty to their nation-states, local communities, professional and social institutions, and their gender. For deaf people, those loyalties are complicated by communication choice. Papers explore ideas of contested loyalties through the Deaf President Now movement, in which one of the core protestors considered her position across gender and deafness, ultimately swinging support to the protest that led to the replacement of a hearing woman with a deaf man to serve as president of Gallaudet University for the first time in its history. In contrast, eugenics infiltrated educational curricula in efforts to shore up family fitness through hygiene classes. These ideals reached college campuses, with a record number of eugenic related classes being offered in the 1920s. This, too, was evident at the nation's only college for deaf students. Students experienced loyalty questions about whether they should marry deaf or hearing spouses. Finally, for a more transnational scope, deaf people were co-equals of their hearing counterparts. Moving between shifting contours of their community, formed by a common language, and living and working within English speaking Americans Deaf people essentially checked their loyalties at the door negotiating spaces that had been primarily defined by able bodied hearing people. These papers illuminate the complexities of divided and contested loyalties imposed by society at large and within their own communities across institutions, nation building, gender, and communication.
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