A Vision for Hearing

Rose Feilbach Broberg ’34 herself had a hearing loss as a girl, inherited from her mother, who was deaf. This is how she entered a career that occupied her for more than 30 years and took her across the United States in a decade when women did not habitually travel by themselves. It was also responsible for the time she spent the night in a house of ill repute.

That was in 1943, when she was on her way to become director of a hearing-impairment agency in Portland, Oregon. She took a cross-country train called the Portland Rose, which had a stop in Cœur d’Alene, Idaho. Her travel agent—“I never forgave him”—had booked her into what was assumed to be a hotel. It wasn’t. When Rose figured that out, “I shoved my dresser up against the door,” she says, and did not sleep very well.

Then her mother had a series of strokes, and the Hearing Society gave her a job in Washington, D.C., where she has lived for the rest of her life.

Rose is now 93, and though she occasionally needs to have something repeated, she is still sharp and funny. She and her husband, Ralph, who is 88, just moved from their house near Chain Bridge, in McLean, Virginia, to an assisted living facility in Bailey’s Crossroads, at the west end of Arlington County, Virginia, where their sheets and towels are changed weekly and they can enjoy a library, crafts, chapel, and a very nice dining room. Their daughter, Pam, lives in nearby Annandale with her husband and two teen-age children.

Rose met Ralph because of a hearing loss, also. He had a hearing impairment from birth, which steadily worsened, and he came to the Washington Speech and Hearing Center, where she worked, when he moved from Berwyn, Illinois, outside Chicago, to the D.C. area. (Ralph spent his 32 working years as an aeronautical engineer with the Department of the Navy.) “Women by and large get a hearing aid when it’s necessary,” Rose says. “Men had to be sold on it.” She got him to take lip-reading lessons through the society, and eventually they married.

After Rose graduated from Moravian College for Women in 1934, she got the first scholarship in special education given at Columbia University. She spent a year studying at Columbia Teacher’s College and at the Nitchie School of Lip-Reading. In the long struggle between adherents of lip-reading and adherents of American Sign Language as communication assistance for the deaf, Rose is firmly on the side of lip-reading. “I taught the hard-of-hearing, not the deaf,” she says. “With lip-reading, you use your speech. With signing, you lose your speech.”

After working for nonprofit assistance agencies for the hearing-impaired in New York and Washington, Rose moved out to Arlington in 1950 and became staff audiologist and lip-reading specialist for the Arlington County public schools. Each week she visited all 52 elementary and secondary schools in the system, evaluated the students, and taught lip-reading. She also designed a televised series of lip-reading
lessons and wrote several workbooks of lip-reading exercises.

She was a well-known practitioner in the field. “At one time, I was president of everything,” she says. She keeps scrapbooks and clippings of the newspaper and magazine articles written about her and her contributions to the field of deaf education.

“I was a pioneer,” she says calmly. “Women didn’t do that in those days.”

“My wife,” says Ralph, “has had a more significant life that I have.”

—Judith Green

Though still a little shell-shocked from the transition in June from their big house to a one-bedroom apartment, Rose and Ralph Broberg proudly show off the amenities of Goodwin House.

Photo: Bertie Francis Knisely ’69