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History of Baby Sign Language & Deaf Women in History by Jenni

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History of Baby Sign Language

Learn the history of Baby Sign Language (BSL), from its roots in a strange observation made by a 19th century linguist, through to mainstream acceptance in the 2000s.

1800s: William Dwight Whitney discovers children in deaf families outperforming hearing peers.

1980s: Dr. Joseph Garcia rediscovers BSL and starts teaching signing to hearing families.

1990s: Prof. Acredolo & Goodwyn’s research shows that BSL works and that there are enormous benefits.

2000s: BSL is gaining widespread acceptance as the evidence mounts.

Deaf Women in History

Deaf swimmer Gertrude Ederle (1905-2003) became the first woman to swim English Channel.

Charlotte Lamberton was a deaf professional dancer who used vibrations to keep rhythm, she appeared in Broadway and Hollywood productions throughout the 1930s and 40s.

Marie Jean Philip (1953-1997), who was a Gallaudet graduate, educator, and international advocate for deaf language rights. Philip was one of the first people to research, study, and establish American Sign Language as a recognized language!

Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) became progressively deaf throughout her childhood, but not before she learned about the constellations from her mother. Cannon’s lifelong passion for astronomy led her to pursue a degree in physics, studying stars and novae in the College Observatory at Wellesley. She became the leading expert in stellar classification, a world traveler, and an advocate for women’s suffrage.

Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927), who became deaf as a young adult, devoted her time to charity work and founded The Girl Scouts of America in 1913. She was known to her friends as “Daisy”.

Claudia Gordon was born in Jamaica, became deaf at age 8, and moved to America when she was 11 to receive an education. Gordon worked tirelessly to become the first deaf African American female attorney in the United States. She held an advisory position in the White House Office of Public Engagement, and currently serves at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a regulatory agency which protects workers and promotes diversity.

Check out our YouTube channel for videos featuring ASL by Jenni.


Jenni Hemphill is the current Assistant Supervisor for the Boardman, Springfield, and Greenford locations. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education (K-12) in 2001 and a Master’s of Library and Information Science plus K-12 degree in 2015, both from Kent State University. She taught at the Ohio School for the Deaf for ten years, where she taught all ages, and has been a contract interpreter for the deaf locally.

She started at PLYMC back in 2014 and loves helping patrons, of any age, find their next best read, and going out into the community to schools for off-site programming. She currently runs the ASL Club Program for PLYMC.

Her and her husband have two children, who attend Springfield Local Schools. She loves to read, spend time with family, and trying new things.