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Black History Month recognizes a worldwide “first” from Rochester

Written by on February 14, 2020

Rochester’s own Shirley Jeanne Allen made history in 1992 when she earned her Doctoral Degree in Education (EdD) from the University of Rochester – the first deaf black woman in the world to attain this achievement. Prior to this, Allen earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet University in 1966 and her Master of Arts from Howard University in 1972.

But Allen began a different course in life — as a musician. She was pursuing her degree in music when typhoid fever resulted in her becoming deaf at age 20 when she was preparing for her senior recital. Undaunted, Allen performed her senior recital anyway, without being able to hear the music she was playing.

In her family were many educators, including her grandmother, father, stepmother, and numerous aunts and uncles. Allen notes these family members as the influence and inspiration for her decision to shift careers from music to education.

Allen’s struggle with racial inequality was compounded by her obstacles to conventional communication because of her deafness. She turned her challenges into opportunities when she decided to devote her career to advocacy and education. Allen was a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology from 1973 until she retired in 2001.

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