Woodford, Doreen Emily

Doreen Emily Woodford was an advocate of the rights of deaf people in Britain and the developing world. She was born on the 18 February 1926 in Wandsworth, London to a deaf father and a hearing mother. Her grandfather was also deaf. She was born hearing but became deaf. Being an only child, in a deaf household her first language was deaf signing followed by speech. Doreen’s family were good caring Plymouth Brethren people who struggled on a merger income. Doreen from a young age was a determined, independent minded driven homo sapiens – wise person. From her Christian upbringing she held firmly all her life both to the teachings of the faith and its practical social concern for people. Obstacles were seen not as an unsurmountable wall but a challenge. Whilst a child she raised chickens to provide pocket money her parents couldn’t give her. In 1941 Doreen left school aged 15 and trained in childcare at Barnardo’s. During WWII many qualified teachers were conscripted into the armed forces and Doreen was persuaded to help teach deaf children. A pivotal moment came when Doreen moved to Southport and met deaf people at the Southport Deaf Club. Her plans for her future changed in 1944 when she went to teach at the Crown Street School for the Deaf, Liverpool which had been evacuated to Southport. Seeing the quality and dedication of Doreen the head teacher, Frank Denmark, in 1945 insisted that she took training and opened the way for her to go to Manchester University to study under Professor Ewing. In 1950 she became a Certificated Teacher of the Deaf. Doreen’s next appointment at the Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate was key. It was at this school that she opened the first class for teaching children with multiple disabilities. At the school there were Tanzania and India deaf children who were sent by wealthy parents. Doreen became the guardian of two Tanzanian boys. When in the late 1950s she visited their family home in city of Mtwara she became aware that children in developing countries had little opportunity to attend school and she resolved to do something about it. In 1969 she was appointed a teacher at the Alice Elliott School Liverpool. In 1975 she was became a teacher at the Summerfield School in Malvern and ended her working career as the adviser for sensory deprived children at a primary school in Haringey. Doreen who had signed even before she could speak had a constant battle as a teacher to get signing used as a teaching language. In the late 19th century signing was used as a teaching language but the Milan 1880 ‘Second International congress on the Education of the Deaf’ passed 2 condemning resolutions. The resolutions were probably influenced by the outspoken condemnation by Alexander Graham Bell who argued for a complete ban of sign language. The Conference passed two resolutions. 1. ‘The Convention, considering the incontestable superiority of articulation over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society and giving him a fuller knowledge of language, declares that the oral method should be preferred to that of signs in the education and instruction of deaf-mutes. The second resolution underpinned the first by declaring that The Convention, considering that the simultaneous use of articulation and signs has the disadvantage of injuring articulation and lip-reading and the precision of ideas, declares that the pure oral method should be preferred. This attitude in the educational profession persisted until the 1960’s. When Doreen was awarded the ‘Mary Grace Wilkins Travelling Scholarship’ she forthrightly chose to research the place of sign language and the quality of its presentation and use in the classroom. Doreen’s extra-curricular activities included becoming the leader of Girl Guide troops for the deaf. Not only did she introduce the girls to the Guiding principles and activities she gave then an appetite for adventure and to be self-reliant. She became an active member of the Trefoil Guild and wrote Seventy-Five Remarkable Years A Record of Deaf People and the Girl Guide Movement 1910-1985. Doreen was a founding member of the British Deaf History Society and wrote several books. In 1982 Doreen was awarded the Diploma of Chaplains for the Deaf. She also took the Royal Life Saving Society training course which she passed and was awarded an Instructor’s Certificate. She was an enthusiastic member and secretary of the Shropshire Wesley Historical Society. Throughout her career Doreen campaigned for the recognition of the profession of Teachers of the Deaf, and published material for training purposes. She promoted the work and recognition of Teachers of the Deaf by having high level meetings with professionals and decision makers in Government. In 1981 Doreen became the chair of BATOD [British Association of Teachers of the Deaf] which she helped to get established. She regularly wrote articles in their magazine and was in demand as a lecturer. When Doreen had to retire in 1986 aged 60 her enthusiasm to teach, support, pastor and inspire deaf children opened new opportunities. She studied for and received in 1987 a Postgraduate Diploma in Language in the Multi-Racial Community In 1985 she helped start the ‘Initiatives for Deaf Education in Developing Countries’ This organisation with members from the UK and 20 African and Asian countries held workshops and conferences supporting the deaf. Doreen established the charitable society ‘Allah Kariem [God provides] which became better known as ‘Friends of the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf’ Its aim was to aid work with deaf and deafblind in Jordan and the Middle East. As one of four founder members Doreen was honoured to have the Woodford Foundation named after her. The Foundation has projects in parts of Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi. The Much Wenlock Methodist Church was packed to overflowing at her funeral both with her friends and many representatives of the Deaf Teaching profession and the charities she supported.

  • The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2012/feb/08/doreen-woodford-obituary Accessed 31 March 2022 British Association of Teachers of the Deaf www.batod.org.uk/information/doreen-woodford18-february-1926-31-december-2011/ Accessed 31 March 2022

  • Bulletin 36, Shropshire Wesley Historical Society

Entry written by: DHR
Category: Person
Comment on this entry