Image Description: Fair skinned woman dressed in 1870 fashion with pearl necklace. Woman is wearing glasses and has brown wavy hair swept back in a updo.
Agatha Tiegel Hanson was born in 1873 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She became deaf and lost her eyesight in one eye at the age of 7 due to spinal meningitis. In 1888, at only 15 years old, Hanson enrolled at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which remains to this day the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students. Gallaudet had only provisionally accepted a small group of female students by that time, and none of them had completed the requirements for a degree.
In 1888, when Hanson entered Gallaudet, women were permanently allowed enrollment to the university. Enrollment, however, came with limitations. Because of the dearth of facilities for women, all female students were required to live in House One, an on-campus residence that also served as the president’s home.
Hanson graduated from Gallaudet in 1893 as the university’s first woman to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, and first female valedictorian. Upon graduation, Hanson delivered the commencement speech, entitled “The Intellect of Women,” in which she railed against the structural inequalities that stood between women and success.
Following her graduation from Gallaudet, Hanson went on to teach at the Minnesota School for the Deaf. She later relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where she became involved in the Puget Sound Association of the Deaf, the Episcopal Church’s deaf mission, and the Washington State Association of the Deaf.
Hanson was also a prolific writer, contributing to “The Silent Worker” – a national newspaper serving the deaf community – as well as publishing a book of poetry entitled “Overflow Verses.” She also later served as an editor at the Seattle Observer, a newspaper for the deaf.
On October 17, 1959, Agatha Tiegel Hanson, the first female graduate (and valedictorian) of Gallaudet University and an early champion of both deaf and women’s rights, passed away at age 86.