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Fri, 12.01.1876

Blanche Wilkins, Teacher, and Disability Advocate born

Blanche Wilkins

*Blanche Wilkins Williams was born on this date in 1876.  She was a Black teacher and disability advocate specializing in educating the deaf through the intersectionality of self.

From Lacrosse, WI., she was the daughter of Charles Wilkins and Estelle Griffin Wilkins, both from North Carolina.  Wilkins was the first deaf Black woman to graduate from the Minnesota School for the Deaf (Class of 1893).  She attended MSD for ten years and was a top student in her class.  She was intelligent and confident, but unfortunately, due to racism, she was not accepted into Gallaudet College because she was black.

She went on to teach in schools for “colored” deaf children until schools began replacing deaf teachers with hearing teachers (based on the misconception those hearing teachers would be best able to teach language to deaf children).  From 1895-1898, she taught at North Carolina School for Colored Deaf, becoming their First Deaf Black Woman teacher.  Also, Wilkins was the first black teacher there when the North Carolina (Raleigh) Institution established a department of technical sewing, dressmaking, fancy work, etc.

In 1899, Wilkins became the first Black Deaf person to be placed on a NAD Executive Committee.  Records indicate that she may have also worked at the Texas School for Colored Deaf in Austin, Texas.   After the death of her husband, Wilkins moved to the Chicago, Illinois area and lived there for most of her life, working and teaching young deaf black children and working in factories (beadwork, lampshade work, power machine sewing).  She was also involved in missionary work along with her second husband.  The book “Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson” stated that Wilkins was a passionate Christian missionary and an outspoken advocate for her race and her deaf peers.  Some considered her “the most accomplished deaf lady of her race in America.”

She was involved in many advocacies and deaf leadership activities and supported others in their endeavors for a better life.  Blanche Wilkins died in Evanston, Illinois, on March 24, 1936, and is buried in Lincoln Cemetery.  In 2018, a new dormitory at Minnesota State Academy, Fairbault, MN. Wilkins Hall was named in her honor.

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