History of the Community in Minnesota

Oral-Visual History Video Interviews with Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Advocates

Introduction

MNCDHH is proud to present a video collection of oral-visual history interviews conducted with deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing advocates in Minnesota.

In these interviews, you will see people talk about their life experiences, including where they went to school, what they did for work, and other funny and serious experiences that they have had as deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing people in Minnesota. You will also see them discuss the work that they have done to advocate for the community in Minnesota. Many of their advocacy stories are connected, so watch for those connections!

Be amazed by their inspiring stories, and don’t be surprised if they make you laugh or cry. Watch, enjoy, and learn!

Links to the Video Interviews

This video collection is made accessible through American Sign Language (ASL), open captions, voiceovers, and Microsoft Word transcripts of audio content with video descriptions included. The transcripts also include interview & translation notes (with additional information & corrections).

Background on the Oral-Visual History Project

With the support of the Minnesota Historical Society, MNCDHH and Barb Sommer, a nationally recognized oral historian, collaborated on an Oral-Visual History Project to record, collect, and preserve the stories of deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing advocates in Minnesota.

The term “oral-visual” reflects the fact that the interviewees used a wide spectrum of communication modes, including visual and tactile sign languages. This video collection represents a valuable record of the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing community’s diverse experiences and unique languages and cultures, and the significant contributions that the community has made to Minnesota’s history through vital activities such as advocacy.

All the oral-visual history interview materials were produced or remastered to comply with accepted oral history standards and Section 508 accessibility standards, and will be archived at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Acknowledgements and Credits

Extra special thanks go to the interviewees who agreed to participate in this exciting project and share their stories of advocacy.

Special thanks also go to the organizations who produced and contributed valuable historical materials for this project, including the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Metro Division (DHHSD) of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Digiterp Communications, the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens (MADC), the Minnesota Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (MRID), and the St. Paul Neighborhood Network.

The final videos were produced and remastered by ZenMation for the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans.

This project was made possible by Legacy funding granted to MNCDHH from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund established through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008 and administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Historical Photos & Documents Online in the “Minnesota Reflections” Collection of the Minnesota Digital Library

Introduction

MNCDHH is proud to present an important archive of historical photos and documents that are available online in the “Minnesota Reflections” collection of the Minnesota Digital Library.

The items in our online collection were donated by the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing community. On behalf of the community, MNCDHH submitted 173 items to the Minnesota Digital Library, including:

  • 30 from the Charles Thompson Memorial Hall (a deaf clubhouse in St. Paul that is also on the National Register of Historic Places)
  • 24 from the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens
  • 119 from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Alumni Association Museum

It was a lot of work to put this collection together, but we enjoyed traveling through history and learning about the vibrant lives and celebrated accomplishments of this strong community.

We invite you to take your own journey online through this amazing collection, which is free and available to everybody who is interested in learning about the history of deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing people in Minnesota.

How to View the Community Collection in “Minnesota Reflections”

To see the whole collection and choose individual items to view:

  1. Go to the web page for the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans’s community collection.
  2. Click on the Browse Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans button (near the top of the web page).
  3. Change the “Display” button (near the top of the web page) from 50 to 200 items.
  4. To search the items, use the search bar (near the top of the web page). Click on “Advanced Search” if you want to search in specific fields.
  5. To see an individual item, click on the thumbnail or title to get the full image.
    • You can use the zoom bar above the image to zoom in or out of the image.
    • Below the image, you can read the full description of the item.
    • For documents, you can use the text tab above the image to read electronic text from that page. You can also click on “Text Search” to find words in the document. You can also click on “View Image & Text” to see the image and text side-by-side.

The Minnesota Digital Library has tip sheets to help you search the community collection and other historical items in the “Minnesota Reflections” collection:

What’s in the Community Collection? Read the “Digital Delights” Article

We found many fascinating stories as we journeyed through the collection, and we wanted to share them with you. Read our article and then click on the links to see the photos and documents which are part of those historical stories. Don’t stop there – explore the collection on your own, too!

The PDF version of the ‘Digital Delights’ article is available on the Minnesota Digital Library website, and the text version is available below.

Text Version of the “Digital Delights” Article

A monthly glimpse into the collections at Minnesota Reflections, a project of the Minnesota Digital Library

By Teika Pakalns, Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans, October 1, 2012

Digital Delights: Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans

Until now, deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing Minnesotans have been all but invisible in the archives of Minnesota’s history. In partnership with the Minnesota Digital Library, the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MNCDHH) embarked on an exciting journey through the collections of the Charles Thompson Memorial Hall, the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Alumni Association Museum to document the vibrant lives and celebrated accomplishments of this strong community.

In 1863, the present-day Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf was established in a store in downtown Faribault. The school soon moved across the river to a new building, Mott Hall, which became part of a handsome campus. School superintendents and teachers supervised the education of the students in subjects ranging from writing to woodworking. There was also time for extracurricular activities, such as military drill squads for male students, drum corps for female students, theater performances, and even farming. The students always found plenty of time for fun outdoors and indoors. Sports were also very popular, and ranged from basketball to football where students played without helmets in the early days!

Educators have long debated the best methods for instructing deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing children. In 1884, notable educators such as Edward Miner Gallaudet and Alexander Graham Bell attended a national conference in Faribault and discussed the advisability of employing deaf teachers to teach deaf students, which became part of the oralism vs. manualism debate. Oral education classes have been offered in the past at the present-day Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. George Wing, a deaf teacher at the school, developed a system for written language instruction called Wing’s Symbols. American Sign Language (ASL) has also been an integral part of education at the school, as seen in this charming portrait of students fingerspelling with their teacher and speaking directly to us from over one hundred years ago.

In the summer of 1885, alumni of the present-day Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf held their first reunion and voted to form an association that became the Minnesota Association of the Deaf (now the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens), as shown in their report. Subsequent conventions were held all over Minnesota, including in Duluth where attendees took a Tally-Ho tour and in St. Paul where they visited the Indian Mounds. In the assorted group portraits from the conventions, one can spot notable deaf Minnesotans who served as president of both the state and national associations of the deaf, such as teacher Dr. James L. Smith, architect Olof Hanson, and activist Jay Cooke Howard.

Other distinguished individuals to search for in the collection include Wesley Lauritsen, Audree Norton, Marie A. Patenaude, Peter N. Peterson, Louis A. Roth, Anton Schroeder, Thilda P. Smith, Anson Spear, Victor R. Spence, Louis C. Tuck, Frank Turk, and Blanche Wilkins.

Not to be missed are the fascinating stories of Petra Fandrem Howard, Cadwallader Lincoln Washburn, and Charles and Margaret Thompson.

Petra Fandrem Howard attended the first oral education class at the present-day Minnesota Academy for the Deaf. She enjoyed traveling, but was also a busy activist. She was a suffragette who worked for women’s right to vote. She attended many Minnesota Association of the Deaf conventions with her husband Jay Cooke Howard, including the 12th Biannual Convention in Duluth. They later divorced, and she went on to become the first female president of the Minnesota Association of the Deaf and the first deaf vocational rehabilitation counselor in Minnesota.

Cadwallader Lincoln Washburn was born into a local prominent family of political and business fame (including ownership in the Gold Medal flour mills). He was a graduate of the present-day Minnesota Academy for the Deaf, and was good friends with fellow graduates Olof Hanson and Charles Thompson. He went on to become a prominent artist who traveled extensively, met personalities such as the artist Pablo Picasso, and became renowned for his drypoint etchings.

Charles Thompson came from a wealthy local family and had many residences, including his winter home in Thomasville, Georgia, his horse farm in Windom, and his camp at the ‘deaf colony’ in Alexandria. A sense of his lifestyle can be gathered from his chauffeur’s memoirs. Together with his wife Margaret Brooks Thompson, he became a generous benefactor of the deaf community. When he died, Margaret dedicated the first deaf clubhouse in America to his memory. The Charles Thompson Memorial Hall was designed by the deaf architect Olof Hanson, and was completed in 1918 to much fanfare. It has supported diverse activities such as fraternal society meetings, sports teams, vaudeville performances, and dinner events, and continues to serve as a clubhouse and civic center for the community to this day.

Have Questions or Information to Add?

If you have questions about items in our collection, or if you have information to add to the item descriptions, please contact MNCDHH (see our contact information at the bottom of this web page).

Background on the “Minnesota Reflections” Project

The “Minnesota Reflections” collection, which is now almost 8 years old (as of 2012), is a project of the Minnesota Digital Library. The collection currently has over 116,000 images, maps and documents from more than 133 of the state’s cultural heritage organizations. This site offers resources on Minnesota’s history and geography for researchers, educators, students, and the public.

Our collection in “Minnesota Reflections” consists of items contributed by deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing community members in order to preserve their unique heritage and make it available for sharing. The collection includes photos and other historical information contributed by the Charles Thompson Memorial Hall, the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Alumni Association Museum.

Our collection was supported by a grant from the Minnesota Digital Library. Current funding for “Minnesota Reflections” comes from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the state’s constitution.

Acknowledgements and Credits

Special thanks go to:

  • Marian Rengel, Minnesota Digital Library Outreach Coordinator, for her steadfast support of this very special project. We couldn’t have completed it without her expert assistance!
  • The trustees of the Charles Thompson Memorial Hall, the board members of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, and the keepers of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Alumni Association Museum for their generous donations of these valuable historical items.
  • Doug Bahl and Cynthia Weitzel for selecting the items to be included in our collection and bringing them to be scanned at the University of Minnesota.
  • Doug Bahl for providing the historical details for the item descriptions, and Teika Pakalns for writing and compiling the metadata that was submitted to the Minnesota Digital Library.