A Brief Herstory of DWU
Deaf Women United is an organization of, by, and for Deaf women. Founded in 1985, its goals are to provide tools, information, a system of communal support, and training in the areas of organizational management, personal growth, and empowerment. Prior to DWU’s birth in 1984, Marcella Meyer, then the Executive Director of the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness in California, and other individuals, formed a committee whose efforts resulted in the highly successful 1985 Deaf women’s conference, “Deaf Women United.” At this conference, the concept of a national Deaf women’s organization was born and the name, Deaf Women United, Inc. was adopted. The keynote speaker was Barbara Brauer. As the pioneers of the Deaf women’s movement, our first DWU Board of Officers were “CB” Buchholz, Allie Joiner, Marsha Kessler-Nowak, Sheila Conlon-Mentkowski, Betty G. Miller, Sandra Ammons-Rasmus and Gwen Speakes.
The first DWU Board developed the official DWU mission statement and action plans with funds and assistance from the Women’s Technical Assistance Project. The Board also drafted the DWU bylaws and successfully secured a “not-for-profit” tax-exempt status. Also, the 1985 Deaf women’s conference participants developed a consensus on a list of purposes, which were:
- to learn more about ourselves as Deaf women, to communicate our needs, and to develop inner resources to meet those needs;
- to acknowledge and accept the diversity of individual Deaf women; to explore how the experience of being Deaf and being a woman affects our lives; to empower women to commit to positive changes by determining how to take control of our lives;
- to formally establish Deaf Women United and share the vision and resources needed to empower other Deaf women in our local communities.
1987 carried the flame ignited at Santa Monica to the 2nd DWU Conference at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Kathy Jankowski was the Chairperson of this conference, “Diversity… Growing Together” with the keynote speaker, Barbara Jean Wood. During their business meeting, four new members were added to the DWU Board of Directors: Elizabeth Aviles, Lois Hoover, Kathy Janowski and Marilyn Knetzer, bringing the total number of Board members to 11. Also, the DWU bylaws were expanded, making a more complete version.
In July of 1990, the 3rd DWU Conference, “New Perspectives” chaired by Yvonne Dunkle and held in Boston, Massachusetts brought more significant changes to DWU. The Keynote Speaker was Roz Rosen. The bylaws were once again amended and this changed the Constitution of the DWU Board. Yvonne Dunkle joined the Board as Past Conference Chair and a new Chairperson, Eileen Forestal (for New Jersey) was selected. Five new members were elected to the Board: Nancy J. Bloch, Nancy Creighton, Martha Scribner Kasarda, Donna Platt and Jaqueline S. Roth. This Board brought the original “seeds” of DWU to fruition and accomplished much with quarterly newsletters, a national DWU membership drive, chapter development efforts, public relations efforts, a new logo contest, and streamlined DWU operations.
During the Fall of 1993, New Brunswick, New Jersey was the site of the 4th DWU Conference, “Renaissance, Rebirth, Renewal.” The joining forces on the Board of Officers along with Nancy Creighton were Lisa E. Flynn, Vicki Hurwitz, Cassandra Boryslawski, Susan Jackson and Luanne Kowalski. Keynote speaker was Marilyn J. Smith who spoke on “Rebirth of Deaf Women.” She joined the Board as the Chairperson for the 1995 DWU Conference. This Board focused on Chapter development and fiscal stability for DWU and also designed a new brochure for distribution throughout the nation.
“In Celebration of Self” was the theme of the 5th DWU Conference held during July 26 – 30, 1995 in Seattle, Washington. This conference broke previous conference registration records. In addition, there was a special celebration of DWU’s 10th birthday! The keynote speaker was Kathy Jankowski who spoke on “Validating Ourselves.” New Board members elected to work with Lisa Flynn , Vicki Hurwitz, Cassandra Boryslawski and Marilyn J. Smith were: Genie Gertz, MJ Bienvenu, Marsha Northrup and Colleen D. Daviton as the 1997 Conference Chair.
The national and local fundraising efforts were continued during the 1995-1997 DWU Board tenure. A website homepage was developed. A membership directory was developed for the DWU members.
“Together We Accomplish More” led the unifying spirit at the sixth DWU Conference in Rochester, New York in 1997. Carrying on this endeavor are new Board Officers: Bridget Bonheyo, Lisa Jacobs, Sandra McLennon, Damara Paris and Tina Jo Breindel as 1999 Conference Chair. They joined MJ Bienvenu, Colleen Daviton and Genie Gertz. The Keynote Speaker was Laurene Gallimore from Salem, Oregon who spoke about Deaf women, women of color, women from all walks of life and the need for more collective collaboration for community support.
During the 1997-99 DWU Board tenure, the following goals were achieved: DWU homepage put on the web, and the establishment of the DWU domain name; work was done to establish the criteria for the Deaf Women of Achievement and the Wall of Honors, a honor to recognize Deaf women for their contributions to society; and creative fundraising activities including a first DWU publication, “Know That. . . Quotes from Deaf Women for a Positive Life,” a collection of quotes from Deaf women who express themselves in this book.
The seventh 1999 conference theme, “Leading Deaf Women into the Next Century” brought 200 Deaf women together in San Diego, California. The conference participants achieved a sense of personal and professional growth unified by Sharon Carter who was the keynote speaker who put in an effort toward the diverse leadership that is needed for the next century. New board members: Teresa Tempesta Murbach, Allie Joiner, and Lisa Furr were sworn in. Also on the board is Jo Bienvenu as the 2001 Conference Chair. Bridget Bonheyo, Damara Paris, Sandra McLennon , and Tina Jo Breindel stayed on.
2001-Austin, Texas: A Kaleidoscope of Deaf Women hosted by Deaf Women of Austin and chaired by Jo Bienvenu
2003-Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Women Beeing Together hosted by Deaf Women of Sioux Falls and chaired by Deb Kuglitsch
2005-Elliott City, Maryland: The Platinum Key to Success: Celebrating 20 years and Beyond hosted by Deaf Women United and Maryland locals and chaired by Lori Bonheyo
2007-New Orleans, Louisiana: Eyes Up New Roads hosted by Deaf Women of Baton Rouge and hosted by Pauline Bienvenu Wood
2009-Portland, Oregon: Honoring Our Deaf Women Pioneers hosted by Deaf Women of Oregon and Washington and hosted by Damara Paris