Celebrating deaf and hard and hearing women

To celebrate International Women’s Day, here are the achievements of 5 famous D/deaf and hard of hearing British women.

Ethel Smyth – a member of the women’s suffrage movement and composer (1858 – 1944). Despite her father being opposed to her developing a career in music, she became a composer. Her work was both praised and criticised as being too masculine for a ‘lady composer.’

Smyth joined the suffrage organisation Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1910. Her ‘The March Of Women’ became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement. Ethel Smyth was one of the 109 women who followed WSPU’s leader Emmeline Pankhurst call to break a window in the house of any politician who opposed votes for women. She was arrested and imprisoned for 2 months.

Ethel Smyth had many relationships and affairs, mainly with women.

She began to lose her hearing from 1913 and completed one more major work. Afterwards, she developed a love of literature and published 10 books.

Evelyn Glennie – musician (1965 – Present). Dame Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie is a Scottish virtuoso percussionist. She has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12.

Evelyn studied at the Ellon Academy and the Royal Academy of Music. She was also a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

Evelyn tours and performs with orchestras and musicians. She has her own registered tartan and she performed at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in London 2012.

Evelyn lobbied with Sir James Galway, Julian Lloyd Webber and Michael Kamen, which led the UK government to announce £332 million for music education.

She has released several albums and won many awards, including an OBE in 1993 which was promoted to a DBE in 2007.

In response to largely inaccurate reporting by the media, Evelyn published ‘Hearing Essay’ to describe being deaf. In her TED talk ‘How To Truly Listen,’ she discussed how she feels music in different parts of her body. She regularly plays barefoot during live performances and studio recordings to feel the music.

Dorothy Miles – poet and activist (1931 – 1993). Dorothy Miles (née Squire) was born in Holywell, Flintshire. She became deaf in 1939 when she contracted cerebrospinal meningitis.

When she was 25, she moved to America to study at Gallaudet College. There, Dorothy became the first member of a junior class to be a member of the Gallaudet Phi Alpha Pi: the college’s scholastic honour society. She also edited the student magazines and won prizes for her writing and acting.

After graduating, Dorothy taught and counselled deaf adults. In 1967, she joined the National Theatre of the Deaf and created sign language poetry. It is suggested that she is the source of most sign language poetry performed today.

Dorothy returned to England after 20 years of living in America. She was soon part of the National Union of the Deaf’s ‘Open Door’ TV programme, as well as discussions leading to the ‘See Hear’ TV series. Dorothy Miles was also involved in setting up the first university course for training deaf people to become BSL tutors.

A group of deaf and hearing friends established The Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre, following her death in 1993.

Millie Bobby Brown – actress and model (2004 – Present). Born in Spain to English parents, Millie was born with partial hearing in one ear and gradually lost all hearing in that ear.

Her rise to fame was for her role as Eleven in the hit Netflix show ‘Stranger Things.’ With this role, she won the Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor in a Television Series. She is the youngest person ever to:

  • become an Emmy Award nominee
  • feature on a Time 100 list of the 100 most influential people
  • be appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

In January 2017, she made her modelling debut in Calvin Klein’s By Appointment campaign. The next month, she signed on to the agency IMG Models.

She deleted her Twitter account in June 2018 after being bullied following a false accusation of homophobia. She addressed her bullies when she won the Best Performance award for ‘Stranger Things,’ saying, “I was taught, if you don’t have anything nice to say, just don’t say it. There should be no space in this world for bullying, and I’m not going to tolerate it and neither should any you.”

Claire Stancliffe – sports coach 1989 – Present). Claire was born in Reading. She began to lose her hearing aged 4 and was profoundly deaf aged 8.

At school, Claire played in the boys’ team because there wasn’t enough interest for a girls’ team. She played league football for Vicarage Farm U16 Girls and then Northampton Town Ladies FC. Aged 17, she struggled more and more with being deaf: missing out on dressing room banter and not being able to communicate on the pitch. Through online research, she found the Great Britain Deaf Football Team.

Claire’s international debut was at the Deaf World Cup 2008 for England, aged 19. 4 minutes into the game, she scored a 30 yarder goal with her right foot (despite being left-footed), and scored 3 more goals. England won the match 10-1. Claire now plays for Corby Town Ladies FC and Great Britain Deaf Women’s Football.

In July 2016, Claire Stancliffe was voted Sky Sports Sportswoman of the month, beating Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. She recently received a Points of Light Award from Theresa May.

Independent writer, volunteer and performer from Lancashire, England. May every day be GEP: Good, Exciting and Productive!