Our Ancestor: Dr. Andrew Foster

Bust commissioned by NBDA – Image from http://www.nbda.org/programs/AndrewFosterBust.html


June 27, 1925 – December 3, 1987

I want to do a major shout out for Andrew Foster.

(Name sign – “A” handshape on side of the neck)

I was hoping to get this up on December 3 to memorialize his departure from this plane but I got my dates jumbled so im a couple of days late.  Sorry Andrew.

I’m constantly looking for heroes and Andrew has peaked my interest in the last couple of years.  I confess originally I was a bit weary of his work because of its religious affiliations and missionary nature and because i worried about ASL being a killer language for other countries indigenous sign languages.  However, something kept calling me back to him. And when various artists would ask me for suggestions of which notable Deaf person to do a portrait of – George W. Veditz and Andrew Foster have always been my top choices.

Andrew Foster by Nancy Rourke (c)

I also confess i know little to nothing about Andrew Foster except:

1. he was the FIRST African-American Deaf person to graduate from Gallaudet University (1954).  It’s appalling to think it took until the 1950s for Gallaudet to graduate it’s first African-American Deaf student as many had attended Gally before him but they didnt make it to graduation.  Im glad he did and Im glad they gave him an honorary doctorate degree later.

2. he set up over 30 schools for the Deaf – mostly in west Africa.  If we can regard Thomas Hopkin Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc with such fanfare we should be able to muster up a mighty big hand wave for Andrew Foster!

3. On December 3, 1987 he died at the age of 62 in a tragic plane crash on route to Kenya from Rwanda.  He is survived by his Deaf wife, Berta, and 5 children, whom were not on the plane.

Portrait and frame by Uzi Buzgalo (c)

I’d like to know more about him.  recently i found a Deaf Mosaic (click link for video with Andrew Foster starts at about 1:00) program honoring him and i was so thrilled to see him moving.  There is something about seeing folks in motion on film after they have departed – it just makes things so much more real and informative – how they walked, how they stood, how they signed, how they smiled.  makes me love him all the more.

So i hope someone will stumble upon this entry some day and tell me more about Andrew.  Vlogging it would be AWESOME. i think its a HUGE shame that we dont honor him every year – we totally should.  NO other DEAF or Hearing person that i know of has founded as many schools as he did and NO other DEAF person that i know of has in turn influenced so many other Deaf people’s lives – empowering them through:

1. education

2. language

3. example

4. hope, faith, and love

That is what i would call a hero!

Thank you Andrew.

go ahead and google him as there are many nice write ups about Andrew Foster.



3 thoughts on “Our Ancestor: Dr. Andrew Foster

  1. Hi Patti,

    Andrew Foster left a lasting impression on my husband’s family. He and his wife, Berta, were the first signing Deaf role models my husband met when he was a teenager (raised oral). He made a real impression on my husband’s parents who then encouraged him to start signing. It wasn’t until years later when my husband finally used ASL and then later went on to become an ASL-using educator of Deaf children. If not for Andrew Foster, his life would have been on a very different (and lonelier) path.

    It’s great to read an article about him. I understand your concerns about language imperialism (ASL over indigenous sign languages) which are quite valid, given the history of language extinction of many languages, spoken and/or signed, in many areas of the world.

    Food for thought, Patti:

    When one comes to think of it, his goals for getting African Deaf children educated was quite similar to that of Abbe L’Epee…so they would be exposed to the word of God and experience salvation.

    Without that goal, we wouldn’t have had Massieu, or Clerc or any other Deaf educators since that time. It’s amazing what impact one simple goal could have on people centuries later (since L’Epee’s era). I imagine Andrew Foster’s legacy will continue for centuries despite issues with language imperialism (and I’m aware that there are those who are upset with the effects on indigenous signed languages and cultures as a result of A. F.’s founding of the many Deaf schools in Africa).

  2. Oh Shel – Hello and Thank you!

    Hope you and your family are all well. Thank you for everything you shared. Would love to see your husband vlog about meeting Andrew. Im trying to guess where they met but maybe he or you can fill in those details later. For now i will be very grateful instead of my tendency of being greedy (feed me more feed me more ; )

    i love the good stuff

    and what you shared is what others have told me – how inspiratational Andrew was and his schools still are etc. Some of his alumni made it very clear to me that without Andrew they would not have gotten an education and they would not have gotten any Natural sign Language into their hands so ASL in their region was not a kiiller language because there hadnt been any school there before (schools being one of the chief places for language growth and this is why audist systems always go for the schools folks). So Andrew brought them schools and a natural sign language and without him they wouldnt have had either.

    Re: the parallels with L’Epee – true. Even Gallaudet University has a bit of a religious origin as the Gallaudet family was pretty religious and in general the country was too. The Gallaudet seal has the word “Ephphatha” which means “to be open” and is from the gospel of Mark and its pretty clear to me they were see “to be open” as in MINDED and in LEARNING – not as in h ear of all things.

    Abbe L’Epee taught and trained Abbe Sicard who taught and trained Massieu and later Clerc. So yep our ancestors are mighty important.

    And make a lasting impression. Andrew Foster’s work it seems to me was and is very very very important and when June 27 rolls around i hope i remember to bake a cake in his honor because i think he was a very noble man and his intentions and aims and even the results were not language imperialism and religious fevor but rather knowledge, language, love and justice. One of my all time favorite people leaned on his religious foundation and traditions to guide his steps for ALL folks equalities and it seems this is true with Andrew. I type of Martin Luther King., Jr. and recently have been reading a bit about a major influence on MLK Jr actions and teachings – Walter Rauschenbush a Deaf theologian who promoted Social Gospel. Walter is one of our ancestors I’d like to learn more about.

    Shel, thank you so so much again for sharing about Andrew’s impact on your husband and in turn on you and your family.


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