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Dr. Jane Norman: An Appreciation

April 7, 2020

Dear students, staff, and faculty:

With sadness, I report the passing of Dr. N. Jane Norman, a retired faculty member in the Department of Art, Communication, and Theatre and director emerita of the National Deaf Life Museum. Dr. Norman passed away of natural causes on April 4 in Riverside, California, with her family by her side. She was 80 years old.

Dr. Norman was a talented actor, director, producer, film judge, and media consultant. Early in her career, she was a news anchor with NEWSIGN at KRON-TV4, the NBC affiliate television station in San Francisco. She also worked with D.E.A.F. Media in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she directed the Public Broadcasting System show Rainbow’s End for Deaf children. At Gallaudet, she was a professor in three departments and chaired our Department of Television, Film, and Digital Media. She was the creative vision and driving force behind 1989’s celebrated Deaf Way festival. During Deaf Way 2 in 2002, she coordinated the International Deaf Film Festival, with over 55 entries from around the world. She also led the 2010 WORLDEAF Cinema Festival, and began work in 2007 to establish what is now the National Deaf Life Museum. 

Meredith Peruzzi, '11, joined the staff of the National Deaf Life Museum in 2013 and is now the museum’s manager and curator. She wrote, “Throughout her life, Dr. Norman’s goal was to tell the story of the Deaf community. She brought her considerable strength in organizing to television, film, and museums in pursuit of that goal, and her email signature was ‘Together, we will tell our story.’ The National Deaf Life Museum will stand as a lasting tribute to her commitment to sharing individual and collective Deaf stories with the world.”

Nellie Jane Norman was born on September 11, 1939 to Frances Christine Thomas Norman and Fred Gene Norman. She graduated from the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton in 1957. Originally a member of the Gallaudet College Class of 1962, she took time off from school and worked in the printing industry in the Washington area and New York City. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet University in 1968, and subsequently received her master’s degree at New York University and her Ph.D. at Howard University in 1995. 

Even with her advanced academic credentials, Dr. Norman was intensely proud of another distinction--her membership in the International Typographic Union (ITU). Her father had been a printer and a member of the ITU. In his day, it was rare for a deaf person to become a federal union member; the elder Norman had to request support from his U.S. Senator, Harry F. Byrd. Once Mr. Norman had his ITU card, he helped many other Deaf people enter the printing industry and join ITU. Dr. Norman not only followed in her father’s footsteps, but further pushed back against arbitrary restrictions by securing her union card as a Deaf person and as a Deaf woman. She and her father had a lifelong bond over their work as printers.

Dr. Norman started her Gallaudet career as a member of the Department of Theatre. She later joined the faculty of the newly-established Department of Television, Film, and Digital Media, and served as that department’s chair. She retired as a member of the Communication Studies program in the Department of Art, Communication, and Theatre.

In 1985, the television department at Gallaudet asked her to redesign Images, a half-hour television program. Her work resulted in the nationally-televised Deaf Mosaic, which earned multiple Emmy awards as it celebrated the richness of Deaf culture. During the 1988 Deaf President Now movement, Dr. Norman was co-director of media relations for the Deaf President Now Council.

Dr. Norman’s enduring professional legacy will be her genius at lifting up Deaf culture, language, and art. She was especially proud of having founded the WORLDEAF Cinema Festival at Gallaudet in 2010, and seeing the National Deaf Life Museum open on April 8, 2014, the 150th anniversary of the signing of Gallaudet's charter by President Abraham Lincoln.

Last fall, Dr. Norman proposed the idea of creating an exhibition on the history of American Sign Language research. With insight that came from decades of lived experience, she recognized that ASL research was a catalyst for cultural understanding. Studies taking place at Gallaudet and other universities as early as the 1960s would have an impact far beyond the American Deaf community. This exhibition idea is one more example of Jane Norman’s visionary leadership, and the university is taking steps to carry out her dream. More information will follow.

Dr. Norman is survived by her sister, Fredericka C. (Freda) Norman, E-'69; her nephew Nikolaus Norman-Peterson and his wife Sarah, and a beloved grand-nephew, Desi. Due to the spread of COVID-19, memorial services will be scheduled at a later date. 

Jane Norman was an extraordinary visionary and leader in our community. She led significant efforts that kept the light on our culture, our signed languages, and our history. We will miss her passion, energy, and belief in the power of our community, the power of art, and the power and beauty of American Sign Language and other signed languages. Let us each commit to taking her torch and carrying it forward. Please join me in sending our collective condolences to Dr. Norman’s family. 


Roberta J. Cordano

Posted by Darrius Doe | Posted April 13, 2020 at 7:00 AM


800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002


800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002