Dr. Delia Delight Rice, teacher and missionary, was pivotal in the development of educational facilities in the Philippines in the early twentieth century.
Born on July 3rd 1883, Delight was the second of four children. Her parents, Charles and Alice Rice both become deaf at young ages and attended the Ohio School for the Deaf. They were married in 1880. After attending Gallaudet University, Charles was employed as a plasterer and later as a clerk with the Ohio State Insurance Board (The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children, p. 6). Charles was also a member of the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (the Frat) (With the Silent Workers, 40 no 3, pg 98).
Delight attended Central High School in Columbus, Ohio and graduated in 1901. Upon graduation she attended the Columbus Normal School and graduated with a teacher’s certificate in 1903. Upon graduation she began working with the supervisor of speech at the Ohio School for the Deaf (OSD). In the fall of 1903 Delight was transferred to the Wisconsin School for the Deaf (WSD) where she worked with several deaf blind students, including John Porter Riley and Anna Johnson (“Miss Rice, the School She Founded in the Philippines and Some of Her Pupils” The Silent Worker, vol 21 no 8, pg 1-2, “Rare Wisconsin Product” Silent Worker vol 21 no 9, pg 159-161). Delight used a tactile approach to teaching. She would have her students feel the objects and then would fingerspell what the objects were into their hands. Her signing skills were well known and respected throughout the Deaf community. Ohio School for the Deaf Alumni Association (OSDAA) members considered Delight unsurpassed as an expert interpreter in sign language among her colleagues. “She was respected so much that she received honorary membership 1901 (The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children, p 16).
Delight left WSD in 1906, after three years of teaching, to return to OSD. While working in Ohio she came across an issue of the Ohio Chronicle which advertised a position as a teacher of the deaf in the Philippine Islands from the U.S. Civil Service Commission. In order to be considered for the position, applicants had to pass an exam. Out of all the applicants she was the only one to pass and was given a three year contract. (The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children, p 22).
Delight left for the Philippines in 1907 (“St. Louis” Silent Worker vol 19 no 9, pg 139). She received criticism from other American teachers and the local newspaper, which wrote several articles stating that she had no business being there due to a lack of deaf children living in the Philippines (“With Our Exchanges” Silent Worker, vol 20 no 2). The Bureau of Health conducted a special census and reported that were no deaf children on the islands. It turned out the reason why deaf children were thought to be non-existant was due to perceptions of them. “They were called desgraciadas (unfortunates) and the common belief was that they were sent as a direct punishment from God to the parents for misconduct. For this reason deafness was concealed.” (The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children, p 30). The publicity from the articles along with Delight’s travel throughout islands helped her to identify several of her initial students (“With Our Exchanges” Silent Worker, vol 20 no 5 pg 97).
In 1907, Delight established the Manila Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, now called Philippine School for the Deaf. The school provided educational opportunities to both deaf and blind students, as well as religious instruction. The children were taught using a variety of techniques including reading, writing, fingerspelling, and speech to teach English. The school expanded in numbers and soon outgrew its location (“Exchanges” Silent Worker vol 23 no 5 pg 97). It moved to several different spots until finally settling in Pasay City, where it still resides. Many of the students that graduated from the school went on to pursue education at the California School for the Deaf, as well as Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) (The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children, p 68). Graduates were also employed at the school as instructors and assistants [The Philippine School for the Deaf and Blind Silent Worker vol 33 no 4, pg 120].
During this period, the American and Filipino deaf communities came to learn more about one another through the efforts of the Rice family. Delight’s letters to her parents were often reprinted in deaf newspapers like The Silent Worker, generating interest within the American deaf community about the school and its inhabitants (“With Our Exchanges” Silent Worker, vol 20 no 4). Delight noted that students of the school were excited to read copies of the Silent Worker, exposing them to the accomplishments and activities of the American deaf community (A Letter from the Philippine Islands” The Silent Worker, vol 32 no 2, pg 39).
Delight left the Philippines in 1923 to head back to America. She lived in California with her father and two former students, involved in the deaf community in a number of ways. For instance, Delight served as interpreter at the California Association of the Deaf convention in San Francisco in 1925 (“The Argonaut” Silent Worker vol 38 no 2, pg 84). In 1928 she was hired by Berkeley Public Schools to teach lipreading classes to hard of hearing children. She worked there for 21 years, retiring in 1949. In her retirement, Delight continued to be involved in the deaf community. She was a consultant at the Hearing Center of Metropolitan Los Angeles. She also kept busy as a manager of California Home for the Aged Deaf (The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children, p 107).
Her contributions to Deaf community did not go unnoticed. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1955 from Gallaudet University and, upon her return to the Philippines in 1961, she was honored with a historical marker and awarded a six week trip through Asia and Europe visiting all of their deaf schools. Delight passed away on October 9, 1964 at the age of 81 but will be remembered for her selfless contributions to the Deaf community.
For more information about the life of Delia “Delight” Rice read Ronald Hirano’s book “The Life Story of Mother Delight Rice and Her Children.” Learn more about the development of the Philippine School for the Deaf and Blind in “The Philippine School for the Deaf and Blind” Silent Worker vol 33 no 4, pg 119-120, 133 and “Miss Rice, the School She Founded in the Philippines and Some of Her Pupils” The Silent Worker, vol 21 no 8, pg 1-2