This week, we will reflect on the life of Lillian Hahn Skinner (1918-2000), an Asian Deaf woman who made her mark as a “Guidelight in the Deaf Community”.
While raising a family in California, she tirelessly and enthusiastically gave her life in service to the Deaf community by working and volunteering on several committees locally and nationally within Deaf civic and sport organizations. Through it all, she was known to be a strong advocate for Deaf people and strive for success or progress with a twinkle in her eyes, keen intelligence, wits and strong leadership skills.
Mrs. Hahn Skinner was born as a second-generation immigrant with Korean being her first language in the home. She became Deaf when she was 10. Thereafter, she attended the California School for the Deaf, Berkeley and graduated as the class valedictorian. She went on to Gallaudet University and graduated as the ’39 class valedictorian with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts. She then went to work as a teacher for 15 years at Maryland School for Deaf Colored Children and Arroyo Elementary School in Simi Valley, CA. Later in her life, she went to California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and graduated with a master’s in guidance and worked as a guidance counselor and adult education teacher at CSUN, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and Pierce College for 12 years.
While working, Ms. Hahn Skinner engaged with numerous organizations! In no particular chronological order on when she served, she was President of the California Association of the Deaf (CAD), Hollywood Club, and Los Angeles Club for the Deaf which is quite a notable achievement back in the days. She served 5-terms as secretary and 2-terms as president of the Farwest Athletic Association of the Deaf. She was the first Deaf woman elected to chair the American Athletic Association of the Deaf National Basketball Tournament. She served for 8-years as a board member of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Ms. Hahn Skinner was one of two Deaf members appointed to sit on a reorganized 15-member Rehabilitation Advisory Committee for California State Department of Rehabilitation which was no doubt an important position where she could provide invaluable input on the vocational/ employment service needs of Deaf people. She helped to found and serve as first-chairperson on the Board of California Home for Aged Deaf. What an impressive list of community involvement! While there is currently no confirmed record, we would not be surprised if she was the First Deaf Asian or First Deaf Asian Woman to serve on these committees.
It is clear, as shown in her valedictory letter to the Gallaudet ’39 class, that Mrs. Hahn Skinner believed strongly in Deaf people and their capabilities to chase their dreams: “The future stretches out before us, boundless and full of opportunities. What we accomplish then lies with us- in the foundations we have built…” And, she seemed to understand that Deaf people would have challenges ahead (which the understanding of Deafhood years later would help to coin as the “system”) so she encouraged her classmates to keep going with the spiritual collective support of Deaf people to sustain them. She shared a quote that still matters to all of us today:
“Let us go forward with the memory of all our cherished years with the remembrance of all our achievements and failures- but with hope for the future and with strength to fulfill our ambitions.”