March is Women’s History Month. This celebration of female achievements began with a group of women in Santa Rosa, CA who formed The National Women’s History Project. If you’re unfamiliar with NWHP, I encourage you to check out their website. The efforts of this organization led Congress to request a Presidential Proclamation designating the week of March 7, 1982 as the first National Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress responded to a petition from the NWHP and passed Pub. L. 100-9 which resulted in President Reagan signing a proclamation designating March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” A proclamation has since been issued annually.Each year, The National Women’s History Project announces a theme, and encourages readers to submit names of women to be honored on their website. This year’s theme is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment. I have chosen one of their honorees to highlight as ‘A Woman in Time.’
Agatha Tiegel Hanson was born in 1873. She became deaf and blind in one eye at the age of seven. To give historic context, Agatha entered the world just eight years after slavery was abolished, and one year after Susan B. Anthony and supporters were arrested for attempting to vote. In 1878, when Agatha was five, A Woman Suffrage Amendment was first introduced to Congress. In 1888, she enrolled at Gallaudet University, then a school for the deaf and blind. Agatha was one of 13 women allowed in on a trial basis. She graduated Valedictorian in 1893, the first deaf woman from Gallaudet with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Agatha Tiegel Hanson was a woman of her time and ahead of her time. This is evident in her Valedictorian speech, “The Intellect of Woman,” which you can read in its entirety on handspeak.com. I find the following passage at the end of her speech particularly telling:
Over and above the peculiarities which pertain to a woman as a woman are her needs as a human being. She has her own way to make in the world, and she will succeed or fail in whatever sphere she moves, according as her judgment is rendered accurate, her moral nature cultivated, her thinking faculties strengthened. It is true that we have made a start in the right direction. But that start has been made very recently, and it is still too early to pass sentence on the results. There yet remains a large fund of prejudice to overcome, of false sentiment to combat, of narrow-minded opposition to triumph over. But there is no uncertainty as to the final outcome. Civilization is too far advanced not to acknowledge the justice of woman’s cause. She herself is too strongly impelled by a noble hunger for something better than she has known, too highly inspired by the vista of the glorious future, not to rise with determination and might and move on till all barriers crumble and fall.”
In this address, Agatha extols a woman’s right to independence of thought and deed. She knows full well the obstacles from history, and yet she demonstrates confidence in the evolution of civilization. She sees past historic bias and recognizes the momentum of change. This is progressive thinking from any woman of that day, but being deaf must have given Agatha particular insight to prevailing prejudice and the potency of determination. I can see why this strong and intelligent woman was honored by The National Women’s History Project.
In 1980, the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) was founded in Santa Rosa, California by Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett and Bette Morgan to broadcast women’s historical achievements.
© 2014, A Woman in Time