Gallaudet University professor Frances M. Parsons dies at 90

frances m parsonsTHE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — The legendary outspoken activist for the education of deaf children around the world died this week from injuries she suffered from an accident in the parking garage of the Washington, DC condo building she lived in.

Ninety-year-old Frances M. Parson, known as “Peggie” to her friends, lived a long and storied life — both as an educator of the deaf and a world traveler — outliving most of her contemporary colleagues and friends, only to make new ones around the world as she continued to travel and educate.

Following her retirement as a professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, she volunteered at the university’s archives, organizing her 27,000 page collection of books and papers from her life — including the documentation of her visitation of most schools for the deaf around the world. Parsons is solely responsible for the success of thousands of deaf people as she helped turn these schools into producing English literate graduates who could come to Gallaudet then return home to educate their fellow countrymen.

Parsons never back down from her belief that fluency in English was the key to success in educating deaf children. New methods would be proposed and tried but like the tide, they’d come in then go out. With the emergence of the Cochlear Implant, English would once again be the prominent method of educating the deaf. Indeed, when she was almost 80, she got a CI for herself which enabled her to hear sounds again — something she had not been able to do very well since age 5.

Her mind was still sharp, feisty and there’s no doubt she’d easily live another half-dozen years, but at 90, her accomplishments are of legendary stuff. Mere mortals are awarded accolades from Gallaudet after achieving only a fraction of Parson’s accomplishments. Accolades for Parsons are two decades overdue, and now, a bit late. A serious omission exists here. The powers that be at Gallaudet can rectify this.

More on Parson’s life and a call for recognition:

Woman struck and killed by SUV was retired Gallaudet professor – The Washington Post.

frances m parsons


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11 replies

  1. Parsons was walking her dog when she was hit by a car in the parking garage and she did not recover from her injuries. Newspaper reports say a new resident may not have been familiar with the parking garage layout.

  2. To have lived that long and then be brought down by an inattentive driver is a shame. Rest in peace, Professor Frances M. Parson. You will be missed by many.

  3. I don’t know the situation, but the driver may not have been “reckless”. Sometimes there are just things called “accidents”. There is a parking garage in my town that has a TERRIBLE layout and when exiting the bottom floor, there is a blind turn right into a sidewalk with little warning. I’m surprised that no one has been killed here.

  4. The passing of a true trailblazer!

  5. So sad. She really did change the world. Short post on her impact in Trinidad and Tobago:

    Peggie Parsons in Trinidad and Tobago

    Frances Parsons, known to friends around the world as Peggie, was hit by a car and died yesterday. Peggie’s life was long and remarkable: she was instrumental in establishing the Deaf Peace Corps, she travelled around the world many times teaching and promoting deaf education, wrote several books and worked for many years at Gallaudet University.

    Peggie first visited Trinidad in 1975 to teach American Sign Language, signed English and Total Communication, an approach to deaf education which emphasizes the use of all possible methods of communication, including speech, lipreading and, crucially, sign language. Before her visit, teaching at the schools for the Deaf was strictly oralist, that is, the deaf children were forced to try to speak and make use of their residual hearing, and signing was banned. This approach was failing deaf children badly, and denying them access to education in an accessible, visual language.

    Her trip caused a considerable stir. She was pictured in the newspapers alongside Governor General and (soon to be) first President Sir Ellis Clarke, she spoke on the radio, to general amazement, and was featured in reviews of the notable events of the year on television.

    Despite her oversubscribed classes, there was certainly resistance to the use of signing at first from teachers accustomed to the oralist approach who were reluctant to switch. Peggie’s friend, Wallace Pedro, Principal of the Cascade School for the Deaf, was determined however, and, over time, sign language has been accepted as crucial to the education of deaf children.

    Peggie was made an honorary member of the Trinidad Association in Aid of the Deaf in recognition of the work she did here, and when the first dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language was completed recently, her name appeared on the first page.

    I never met her, but we did correspond by email recently. She was anxious to know how her friends in Trinidad and Tobago were and how things had changed at the schools for the deaf. She was extremely keen to come back to visit, despite concerns about her beloved hearing dog being quarantined. She would have found that much has changed since 1975. There is a growing pride in Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language, and the use of signed English in the schools has been questioned. But her visit in 1975 remains a crucial turning point in the history of deaf education in the country, marking the shift away from oralism, and towards signing in the classroom. For that she will be remembered for years to come.

  6. More on Parsons from People magazine:,,20066432,00.html
    [this link is temporarily? not working. It was working when the link was posted.]


    Life of Frances “Peggie” Parsons (1923-2013)
    FIVE LINKS to click to:
    1) watch the video of Frances, 2) see pictures of Frances during her presentation 3) watch the video of Gallaudet student talking about Frances and 4) read all about Frances’s Life!
    Interesting Lady! She will be greatly missed!

    Frances “Peggie” Parsons with her Books

    Frances was born deaf and became a supporter of total communication and an advocate for deaf rights. She wrote Sound of the Stars in 1971 and was a co-author on several other books: I Didn’t Hear the Dragon Roar in 1988, American Sign Language: Shattering the Myth in 1998. In 1992 her writing was included as part of a collection, No Walls of Stone: An Anthology by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers by Jill Jepson (Editor). People.Com (1976): Click HERE

    Frances M. Parsons, affectionately known as “Peggy,” is a retired Associate Professor of History of Art at the Gallaudet University. She is also an international traveler and an author of three books. She talked about the impact of two Frenchmen, L’Epee and Sicard, who used sign language as the primary means of communication in the earliest efforts to educate deaf children. NVAD Guest Speaker: Click HERE

    Frances Margaret Parsons, also known as Peggie, was born in El Cajon, California on September 25, 1923 to Harold and Hester Parsons. Her sole sibling is a twin sister, Hester “Polly” Parsons. She was identified as deaf as the age of five from an unknown cause. After attempts at oral and mainstreamed education, her parents enrolled both girls at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley in 1931. The family was hit by the Great Depression and Hester Parsons moved to Tahiti in the South Pacific. Harold, the father, followed shortly after with the twins. They lived in Tahiti for six years, during which Hester provided an informal education for her children. Frances disliked writing at first but discovered a passion for writing, particularly with adjectives, when her mother introduced her to a local author. Gallaudet University: Biographical Sketch: Click HERE

    Tribute Speech on Professor Frances Parsons by Cynthia Vonne Gulak – See more at:
    Tribute Speech on Professor Frances Parsons by Cynthia Vonne Gulak. Shares the story about Frances Parsons� activities fighting for the education of deaf children around the world against oral education while advocating total communication. Set up schools for the deaf in different countries, and formerly taught Art History at Gallaudet College. – See more at:
    Tribute Speech on Professor Frances Parsons by Cynthia Vonne Gulak. Shares the story about Frances Parsons: activities fighting for the education of deaf children around the world against oral education while advocating total communication. Set up schools for the deaf in different countries, and formerly taught Art History at Gallaudet College. Gallaudet Video Library (1985): Click HERE

    VIDEO: Frances Parson, Returned Peach Corps Volunteer and Deaf Educator Click HERE


  1. (UPDATE — Frances M. Parsons dies) Gallaudet University honorary degree nomination suggestions: Frances M. Parsons | THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT by Lexie Cannes
  2. Frances M. Parsons – Sound of the Stars | UCL UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries

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