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.
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.
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.
was a pioneer,” she says calmly. “Women didn’t do that in those
“My wife,” says Ralph, “has had a more significant life
that I have.”