Teacher, advocate, Women’s Army Corps, dean, interpreter
Memorial: Photograph courtesy of Gallaudet University Deaf Archives; Benson Hall; Elizabeth Benson Memorial Fund
Elizabeth “Benny” Benson was born in 1904 in Frederick, Maryland, to deaf parents who attended and taught at the Maryland School for the Deaf. Following in her parents’ footsteps, Benson dedicated her life to deaf education. She went on to become a pioneer in the audiology field.
Benson began her career at Gallaudet teaching audiology and lipreading to hearing graduate students, who in turn taught deaf and hard of hearing people how to lipread. She also spent her summers before World War II at the Hampton Institute in Virginia helping many African American teachers qualify for certification to teach deaf studies. During World War II, Benson served as a driver in the American Women’s Voluntary Services and later in the Women’s Army Corps. She then was assigned to Borden General Hospital in Chickasha, Oklahoma, where she taught sign language and lipreading skills to servicemen who became deaf during their service, often as a result of combat. As a result of her work, the Army Surgeon General promoted her from private to First Lieutenant. In 2014, the Army built a new barracks at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and named it in her honor.
After World War II, Benson returned to teaching at Gallaudet University and became dean of women in 1950. A skilled interpreter, Benson facilitated communication for notable people, including presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Cardinal Archbishop of New York Francis Spellman and many other senators, congressmen, and government officials.
After 44 years on the faculty and 20 years as dean of women at Gallaudet, Benson retired in 1970. She died in 1972.