Lincoln woman honored for pioneering work in touch communications

March 29, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Sophia Alcorn is remembered by her family as a good pony catcher and apple picker who seldom discussed her work, but for thousands of deaf-blind students, she was the teacher that opened the world for them with her innovative method of touch communication.

Now, 37 years after her death, Alcorn has become a pioneer once more, receiving the first of 16 historical markers commemorating women in Kentucky history. Markers for such women as Susan B. Anthony and Rosemary Clooney will be distributed throughout the state this year.

On Saturday, Alcorn family members gathered by the sweeping porch of the old homestead on Danville Street, now owned by the Hill family, to unveil a historic marker memorializing Sophia's priceless contributions to the deaf community.

"Miss Sophia found a need for her fellow man. What she did will not be lost to history," spoke Irene Jaggars, president of the Lincoln County Historical Society.


"This truly is an honor that's overdue for one of our own citizens," said Stanford mayor Eddie Carter. March 27 was later declared Sophia Alcorn day by Judge-executive R.W. "Buckwheat" Gilbert.

Her method of communicating is still used today

Alcorn's method of communicating for deaf and blind students, called the Tadoma method, is still used today. She developed the method after a young girl was brought to her at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in the early 1900s. The deaf-blind Oma Simpson was thought to be mentally handicap, but Alcorn was driven to unlock a way to communicate with the young girl.

After nights of prayer and though, Alcorn woke from a dream with the answer, say relatives. Named after Simpson and deaf-blind student Tad Chapman, the Tadoma method has since became a vital teaching tool for impaired students world wide.

Alcorn also pioneered a system of visual symbols used to develop speech in deaf children, called "Alcorn Symbols."

"For Aunt O (Sophia), adversity was always a problem to be solved. The greater the adversity, the harder she worked on it," said her niece, Sophie A. Ames White.

The marker was the result of the determined efforts of a Murray State University graduate, Pam Simmons. While researching a writing assignment on Kentucky women, Simmons uncovered the story of Alcorn and felt she deserved recognition.

"Today is a very surreal day for me. In the fall of 2002, I was assigned this project, and had no idea where to begin," said Simmons. At the end of the semester, she had an A in the class and had taken great strides on her own in getting Alcorn a marker.

Through this journey, Alcorn's story taught her to see a need in the world, and fill it, said Simmons.

"She also said that through her doing, through the Tadoma Method, that children where no longer had a disability. They became part of the world. They became part of the whole, and that's the way each of us should feel," said Simmons.

Kentucky takes initiative to recognize women

The Alcorn tribute "kicks off a special initiative to recognize Kentucky women," said James Wallace, assistant director of the Kentucky Historical Society. "There are more than 1,800 historical markers throughout the state, and only roughly 50 are for women."

This and subsequent markers are a culmination of cooperative efforts between the Historical Society, League of Kentucky Women Voters and the Kentucky Commission on Women, said Wallace. The markers are maintained by the Transportation Cabinet.

Socialites of the county gathered after the marker's unveiling at a reception inside the Hill residence, which has retained it's historic integrity from Alcorn's generation. On the sunny front porch, people clustered to reminisce where the Alcorn family had gathered on warm summer nights after chores were done.

"In my mind's eye, the Alcorns are sitting on the porch today," said White, "And Aunt O (Sophie), well, she's really kind of surprised- because it was never about her, it was about the children- but, very very touched that we would honor her for her work."

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