The national economic downturn also undercut the efforts of deaf teachers to fulfill their long-standing goal of building an advanced institution for technical instruction. Throughout the 1930s, scattered activists from across the nation put forward proposals for such a school. The efforts of Peter Peterson, an instructor at Minnesota's residential school, revealed activists' limited influence. Rather than calling for a national effort as attempted by earlier activists, Peterson proposed that deaf leaders ask Henry Ford to underwrite establishment of a college. "All we need is a Moses to lead us through the wilderness," he claimed.
Despite their continued inability to spur the establishment of accessible, advanced vocational instruction, deaf activists in several cities secured limited federal support for community-based programs where deaf adults studied basic vocational and general academic subjects. Between 1934 and 1937, for example, William Marra, a recent graduate of Gallaudet College, helped more than 2,500 of Kansas City's working adults strengthen their skills. One single mother enrolled after being fired from her factory position because of her poor writing skills, and was rehired after attending classes. These efforts, although limited in reach, underscored the unmet need for instruction for countless other deaf adults.
Few deaf students of either gender received up-to-date instruction, but the situation of female deaf students was most troubling. Reiterating charges first put forward in the nineteenth century, deaf critics claimed that administrators continued to use female students to perform institutional tasks and reduce school expenses but did little to prepare them for employment." Margaret McKellar, a Gallaudet College student, warned that without proper instruction most deaf women would be confined to "the vast army of unskilled laborers, doing household work, scrubbing floors, working in factories and laundries with small chances of ever advancing their standard of living." These criticisms were confirmed in a 1933 survey of some 250 alumni from three dozen schools. Although the majority of respondents wanted to enter the paid workforce, they left school ill prepared because most never graduated.
Deaf women found their employment restricted by formidable gender, economic, and racial barriers as well as by inadequate training." Surveys consistently revealed that deaf women were usually segregated in marginal industrial positions. One study of former pupils of Indiana's residential school, for example, noted that most women were employed in menial positions at machine and laundry work. Next Page