Sunday, March 25, 2007


In this vlog, Barb DiGi wanted to make a tribute to Mary Williamson Erd, an unforgotten "Sign" hero, who was the only female signer shown in "The Preservation of Sign Language" video. Mary W. Erd performed from a famous poem by Longfellow titled, "The Death of Minnehaha" and see how she produced a sign that looked like EAR-CHEEK for deaf. You would be surprised what Barb DiGi had found out. Enjoy!


Vital Records

Mary Williamson Erd's article about Michigan School for the Deaf

Picture of Mary Williamson Erd

Two Deaf Teachers Honored (bottom right)

Death of Minnehaha poem

Many thanks to Sign Media for granting permission to copy the video. You can purchase "The Preservation of Sign Language" videotape from


Amy said...


The specific link for a picture of Mary Williamson Erd, which takes me to Silent Worker... what is it?? Where is it?? Is there any more of that??

Wow... Im floored!

I bow before thee... oh my mistress Barb... I am unworthy....

Amy Cohen Efron

Teri said...

WoW! It is such a heartfelt video!

I did feel something struck at my heart when you mentioned that we should honor her.

You did a great job gathering information on Mary W. Erd and delivering it to the audience.

Thank you for taking time to do a research and sharing it with us.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...


Interesting. The year of the 1880's were the biggest for the deaf community.

How did you know about her?

By the way, I researched the "first" structure and standard sign language book recently. INTERESTING!

I found the information from the Library of Congress.

It's possible to see that it might be the first sign language book.

1881 - "Sign Language Among North American compared with that among other people's and deaf-mutes" Author: Garrick Mallery.

White Ghost

David said...

My jaw just dropped first on my desk top and then my carpet. Mary's expression is so "WOW". I think Mary knows about handshapes because she signed with her 5 fingers handshapes. So creative and so I dont know how to say.

That makes me realize there are so many unknown Deaf heros around the world. Many of them are not on the documents or lost in the system.

I guess we need to become Deaf archeologists to find out. You are a great archeologist!


LaRonda said...


Like Mary Williamson Erd, you too are and unsung hero! I am so impressed with the research you did on Mary. Your commitment to finding out just who this woman was is moving.

Isn't it interesting how this woman wasn't really well known back in her lifetime,but now she has become someone incredible in our lives today? Could she have foreseen the legacy she would leave to the deaf community through her Hiawatha poem in ASL?

That's what unsung heroes are all about. People who may not be in the "who's who" arena still leave indelible marks on others.

Your name is also being praised today. Look at Amy gush over you! (wink) This month, I'm sure other deaf women in the blog/vlog world are honoring women like you, Barb, who touch them in deep way (Like Teri mentions).

Thank you for celebrating deaf women and know that there are people who honor you as an inspirational role model as well. You make a difference!

~ LaRonda

Carl Schroeder said...

You're outstanding! Glad you discussed hand shapes, non-manual cues (torso shifting), repeating rhymes, and movements. We are lucky to have such a film footage of Mary Williamson Erd's poetic masterpiece.
I found the sign HEAR/HEARD fascinating. Barb, did you say you only see the words, hear and heard? I began to wonder if Mary signed HEARD by reduplicating the first part of the sign HEAR to imply the past tense for the verb hear?

Barb DiGi said...

Hey Amy and the others,

If you just want to find more information about deaf history by reading Silent Worker, it is :

Gallaudet Archives

and type any name you want to look for. Have fun!

Toby Welch said...

Hey Barb! What a scholar you are! I really enjoyed your shared on your research! I appreciate it!

Amy said...



FINALLY FINALLY you showed me the 'Holy Grail' of THE Deaf History --- accessible by my own fingertips!


Amy Cohen Efron

Anonymous said...

Hey Barb --

Many Thanks! The Gallaudet Archives have more information than the Library of Congress' online.

There are 5 sign language books written by the same author, Garrick Mallery. It is the year of 1880's! I gather it is a possible evidence that he wrote 5 books on sign language.

I am glad that he violated the Milan-1880 resolution.

What a big year for the deaf history........1880!

White Ghost

Anonymous said...

One of rare discover'ers'!

Although, I have seen this brief movie, it is such astonishing, extraordinary discovery of Mary Williamson Erd's 'gem' biography!

I agree with Amy's first comment. I am at your command! \o_

Kathryn from Ontario, Canada :)

Anonymous said...

wow! thanks so much for sharing it with us. it is so honorable! now we know who she is. thanks again, kira :)

Jay said...

Yes! We, of all ages, can learn something, even from the vBlogsphere. You have modeled how education can reach outward into the Internet. Bravo!

jwomick said...

OH MY! U MUST KEEP UP RESEARCH about persons who u really interest in that person and personality i glad that i LEARN A LOT STUFF from u! u have a lot talents to research! why not u can make vlogs FAMOUS deaf people tell them about them make them HONOR THAT PERSON who did make famous as look them up. PLEASURE KEEP UP WITH VLOGS u are so great with that! I really enjoy watch ur vlogs.

Joshua Womick

Anonymous said...

Hi Honor Barb,
Wow wow You are wonderful teaching or alert us new information about Deaf history or Deaf person ... I am interesting in you for teaching about Deaf person or Deaf history .. I am really proud of you . I think Deafread should label you in bestest vlog for wonderful woman for teaching all of us in deafread member or non-members . SMILE !

Aslpride said...

As you see how beautiful ASl poetry in video. The question, what in hell is other people trying to destroy our ASL by force us to use oral, total communicate, etc! It is evidence that ASL is beautiful language! Thank you, Barb. :)

PR said...

I'm so grateful that you made a tribute to Mary Williamson Erd! She was one my projects for my historical linguistics of signed languages when I was in the linguistics program, I also analyzed her signs. Unfortunately, my paper on historical lingusitics of signed languages did not get materialized. Many thanks for getting Mary Williamson Erd out in the open. There were other women in the old films as well, but they usually signed poetry.

Noah Buchholz said...

Impressive analysis! PLEASE DO more vlogs like this, showing different UNIQUE signers like Mary Williamson Erd.


BEG said...

Wow...I'm impressed, both at what MW Erd did and what YOU did with your research and detective work. Thank you for putting this together for us to view!

One note, though. I know many native american women view the word "squaw" pretty much the same way many of us view the (spoken word) "deaf mute"...

Barb DiGi said...


Just re-read your questions and realized that I didn't answer it. Silent Worker was the original newpaper for the deaf and it evolved into Silent News that was crumbled in, I think, early 90's. Then came DeafNation..then came DeafRead! Oh you are hilarious about what you said, I just walk the aisle with you! You inspired me!

Teri: I am happy that you found this vlog heartening. When doing the research, I admired Mary Erd more and more everytime I found a piece of information of her. It is hard to believe that Deaf Heritage and Deaf Women did not mention about her which is why I did this.

White Ghost: Cool, you found that book! Tell me more about what you have learned if you can with your vlog!! Let's start up the vlogger's research team on deaf history! How did I know about her? While viewing the videotape on "The Preservation of Sign Language", Mary caught my eye. Her name was on the videotape cover so decided to find out who she was but nothing is stated on these books I mentioned. So googling was the way to go. Keep me posted!

David: Hope your jaws are intact by now! Gallaudet archives started to open for public access to these sources. All you have to do is to read the Silent Worker little by little and see what you can learn. Here's the shovel..

LaRonda: Thanks for your nice comments. It is just amazing how we are able to surf the net to find information about almost anyone. Also about having the opportunity to share this neat historic piece through vlogging. It's fun!

Carl: If you had noticed, she did sign hear (like we do) only once then the remaining signs for hear was EAR-LOOP-to-CHEEK. Isn't it interesting to see how the sign production for hear and deaf is almost the same, only the location is different.

Toby, Kathryn, Anonymous, Kira, Jwomick: Thank you for your kind words!

Jay: You have shown numerous clips of yours that we surely learned from you! You are a model also!

ASLpride: You are welcome. We must always thank George Veditz for thinking of preserving sign language where we all can appreciate todya.

PR: How neat you did your research. How about posting on the net by b/vlogging? I would love for you to share what you know about other women doing early ASL poetry. It's just so fascinating.

Noah: Unfortunately we have a very limited number of resources that trace back as far as 1913 however there are plenty to find out by reading Silent Worker. Check it out!

Barb DiGi said...

BEG: Actually, the term squaw was offensive back in the 70s and now I am starting to see how this term is being reclaimed. See below:


"Squaw" has been a familiar word in American literature and language since the 17th century and has always been normally understood to mean "an Indian woman or wife." The term as commonly used contains no disrespect to Indian women any more than the words "woman" or "wife" do to Anglo-American women.

We should still be free to use words in a respectful way. There is, in fact, a desire among many native Americans to preserve the usage of the word "squaw."

Marge Bruchac (an Abenaki9 Indian) writes in her article Reclaiming "Squaw" in the Name of the Ancestors10:

When our languages are perceived as dirty words, we and our grandchildren are in grave danger of losing our self-respect. We must educate, rather than tolerate the loss of our language due to ignorance.

Ms. Bruchac suggests that we treat the word ‘squaw’ in the same way that the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women has: "They have declared that it will no longer be tolerated as an insult, but will instead be recognized as a term of honor and respect."11

Thanks BEG for making me looking up and seeing how interesting this name squaw is being reclaimed just like what Ella Mae Lentz meant to reclaim deaf mute. Wow another discovery on how this parallels!

Anonymous said...

wow... what a discovery! bless your heart. *hands waving*


todos la vie said...

This was educational for me. Your introduction and pointing out of the handshapes and old signs guided me through the old film. Thanks for sharing your talent.

Anonymous said...

Squaw is an English loan-word whose present meaning is "(an) American Indian woman", regardless of tribe. The word was borrowed from Algonquian words meaning "young woman".

Squaw is NOT an English word. It IS a phoenetic rendering of an Algonkian word that does NOT translate to "a woman's private parts." The word "squaw" - as "esqua," "squa," "skwa," "skwe" and other variants - traditionally means the totality of being female, not just the female anatomy.

Mauserw said...

I will have to admit I was speechless when I saw this.. equally for the content re Mary Williamson Erd and for the presentation skill and hard work done by Barbara Di Giovanni.

It is exceedingly rare for such a video showing such good examples of the uniqueness of ASL to even exist, let alone star a female signer. Beyond all of this, Mary Williamson Erd's skill and attention to the poem itself and expressing it through sign is most impressive.

I am curious, why was the video made...perhaps Mary Williamson Erd herself initiated the recording of this poem for an unknown reason (academic requirement perhaps or maybe she was savvy enough to have recognized the impact a visual presentation would have) or perhaps someone had seen Mary perform and wanted to save it for future generations? Maybe we will never know. What is unquestionable is Mary's skill both in expressing the poem through signs and expressing the meaning of the poem. The poem itself , chosen from "The Song of Hiawatha" is not a simple poem. Expressing the meaning is complex and not a project easily done, yet done so masterfully by Mary Williamson Erd.

I am equally impressed with Barbara Di Giovanni's effort and skill in producing this, including her attention to detail, for example, the sign used for "hear" and her findings on the internet for Mary Williamson Erd. The quality of your Vlog is excellent both in content and form...I am most impressed Barbara!

Who knows? Maybe there is more information out there, perhaps another visual presentation done by Mary Williamson Erd that is waiting to be found, locked away in a storage room somewhere?

Without a doubt the best Vlog ive seen to date!


Jean Boutcher said...

What a beaut! Mary Williamson was such an inspiration. Poetically from the head to the feet. Gracefully rhythemic movements.
Her facial expressions are so impressive.
I am so glad you particularly noticed ther sign "hear." Actually, the sign employed by Miss Williamson was not meant to be for "deaf"; rather, it was meant for "HAVE HEARD" or "HAD HEARD". Today the sign has evolved to "FINISH HEAR". I like the 1920ish sign for HAVE HEARD much better than the 1970ish FINISH HEARD because the latter is much less rthythmic and more cumbersome; thereby, losing the graceful movement.

I so thoroughly enjoyed watching your vlog on Ms. Williamson. More vlogging on other people we do not know.

Dianrez said...

Please correct me if I am wrong...The Silent Worker was a publication started by NAD in its early years, and evolved into the Deaf American magazine (now closed). It had nothing to do with the Silent News, which started publication in 1969 and closed with the death of its founder, Julius Wiggins.

Barb, you're doing a wonderful job researching and bringing out a memorable Deaf lady of the past. There are so many others now in oblivion that we need to be inspired by and to read up on. Write a book, Barb!!

PR said...

Barb, I'd love to share my research on historical linguistics of sign language with you and others. The only problem I have is I'm struggling to set up vlog. I'm not at all technical savvy! That's why I was so grateful you showed Mary Williamson Erd! :~D Anyway, hopefully, I'll be able to vlog by next week!

IamMine said...

I am joining this really late...because your vlog was long and I was running out of time with kids interrupting me!

But my jaws fell and hit the floor...worth the pain, I tell you!!

I was very, very inspired and felt so empowered when I watched Mary.

That is a pure poetry and also could apply to music.

That is music for us the deaf - phew.

Thank you for sharing this with us - especially coming from a DEAF woman who found her for the WOMEN MONTH!!

How appropriate!! And timing is just perfect since many of us are interested in researching the ASL and Deaf history!!

Thank you so much... and I am so happy to be part of this "new" deaf world - aka deaf internet world! :D

That is POWERFUL feeling!

Thank you again, Barb!!

mule435 said...

Cool and Say nice to see Old film of A Deaf woman and Her Asl sem not bad and It is lucky to find old one and Keep it up

Barb is good lecture!

Aidan Mack said...

Hi Barb,

I overlooked your vlog. I wondered about you. Then I realized you already posted vlog.

Thank you for sharing the information about Mary Williamson. It is amazing to watch Mary Williamson when she expressed the poem through ASL. It is important for us to find more document about Deaf women in the period time. I am curious what Deaf women were like when the women protest about right to vote.
From the period time to modern time, ASL stands strong. ASL need us as much as we need them. Importantly we treat ASL good then ASL would be able to stand strong when the darkness come and try to destory it.

Thank you so much,

Jean Boutcher said...

Hi again,

Is it possible for you to collect information on more deaf women in the 19th century and in the early 20th century and write a book with a DVD of your collection of vlogs on the history of deaf women? It is important that we preserve the information that does not appear in Deaf Heritage or Deaf Women?

By the way, have you watched Arlene Blumental Kelly's conversation about women on Bob's Vlog today?

Domvera said...

Amazing! I learned something new about Mary Williamson Erd. I wish to see the book that should written and published for deaf and hard of hearing readers. Also it will be good idea to share in Deaf Women Studies at any college courses especially NTID and Gallaudet. Don't you think?