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Frances M. Parsons – Sound of the Stars

By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 8 June 2018

Frances Margaret Parsons and Hester West Parsons were deaf twins from El Cajon, California. They were born in 1923 and it was not realized that they were deaf until they were five, or perhaps they lost their hearing aged five (see links at end).  The sisters were sent to the State School for the Deaf at Berkeley, but their father lost his job in the depression.  Their mother, Hester Tancre Parsons, missed her daughters who were boarding, and conceived a plan to move the family to Tahiti, which they did in 1935.

When she was fifteen, Frances began to keep a journal which was published in 1971 as Sound of the Stars.  The book covers the last two years on Tahiti, from the outbreak of war until their return to the U.S.A. in January 1941.  The book is full of strange and quirky characters, locals and colonials, and has line drawings in the text.

Back in California they finished their schooling, then Frances married in 1945 and then had two daughters.  She eventually completed a B.A. in Art History, which she then taught at Gallaudet.  Something went on there in the late 1980s between her and colleagues that meant she was “terminated from the position in 1988 and filed a grievance, followed by a civil suit.” (See here)

She travelled widely around the world, and describes in the preface of her book I Didn’t Hear the Dragon Roar (1988) how she was being mugged in Maputo when one of the muggers realized she was deaf he told her he had a deaf sister, and then he helped her up and returned her purse.

It seems that when she was asked to lecture in Argentina and other parts of the world, she realized that oralism was the dominant educational form and that inspired her to travel and encourage manual education (see here).  In her late 70s she had a cochlear implant, and this website says “Parsons never back down from her belief that fluency in English was the key to success in educating deaf children.”  Whatever had happened at Gallaudet in the 1980s was clearly forgiven enough for her to leave a large collection of papers to the college in her will.

She died when she was struck by a vehicle while walking her dog, in 2013, aged 90.

If you have a link to a proper obituary please comment below.

http://www.vad.org/Frances_Parsons_Lecture.html

http://videocatalog.gallaudet.edu/?video=13538

http://www.gallaudet.edu/archives-and-deaf-collections/collections/manuscripts/mss-207

Madras, India (by Frances Parsons)

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