Benson Hall is a nine-story building that offers you predominantly double rooms arranged along two U-shaped corridors. There are a few single rooms on each floor. Approximately 32 people live in each corridor. Rooms are equipped with beds, dressers, wardrobe closets, desks, chairs, carpeting, and Venetian blinds. Community bathrooms are located in each corridor. Public areas include a large lobby and TV and phone lounges. This building accommodates 248 freshmen students.
Erected: August 1972
Number of floors: 9 plus basement
History of the building: first residence hall designed for co-ed living
Date of dedication: March 30, 1973
Named for Elizabeth English Benson (1904-1972)
Nicknamed "Benny," Elizabeth E. Benson was quite a legend in her time. She was well-known as a skilled interpreter who signed beautifully. She interpreted for many prominent people, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson, President John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Cardinal Spellman, and many other senators, congressmen, and government officials.
A Maryland native, she was born in Frederick in 1904. Her deaf parents attended the Maryland School for the Deaf and stayed on to work there. Benson had a sister, Mary, who was also involved with deaf education. Mary taught for many years at the Maryland School for the Deaf.
Benson was Elizabeth Peet's successor. After teaching at Gallaudet for 15 years, she became the dean of women in 1950. Benson taught graduate students audiology and lipreading and is considered a pioneer in the field of hearing evaluation. Benson was a tough teacher and tolerated no non-sense. A firm believer of "a time and place for work and time and place for play," she was strict and practical, yet loving, understanding, and devoted. She had a delightful sense of humor. As a new dean, her generosity was displayed when after showing a colleague a new gown that she planned to wear to an upcoming prom that she had to chaperone, the friend saw her come to the dance in an old dress that he had seen her wear previously. He was puzzled and wondered what had happened to the new dress. His perplexity vanished as soon as he saw a co-ed wearing the new dress.
Benson left Gallaudet for three years (1943-46) during World War II to enlist in the Women's Army Corps (WACs). She had the unique responsibility of teaching lipreading to deafened soldiers. Benson was well liked and reliable. She was promoted from private to first lieutenant. Furthermore, she was the first WAC to ever receive an appointment under a War Department directive authorizing a direct commission for people having skills needed in the Army's rehabilitation program.
Advocacy was her calling in life. She had a deep and sincere interest in raising educational standards for black deaf children. For 10 years she spent her summer vacations in Virginia on the faculty at the Hampton Institute with the main responsibility of assisting black teachers of the deaf in studies on deaf education so that they would be able to satisfy certification requirements in order to teach. For the general "legal well being" of the deaf community, Benson went to law school and obtained a law degree. She was frustrated with the legal jargon and procedures when trying to interpret for deaf people in the courts, so she decided to go to law school and overcome that barrier.
A recapitulation of her awards can be overwhelming. Benson received awards for outstanding achievement from the Alumni Association of the State Teachers College in Towson (Maryland) and from the Women's Advertising Club of Washington, D.C.; an honorary doctor of letters degree from Gallaudet; Mother of the Year award from the Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity, and Woman of the Year awards from several organizations such as the Western District of the Maryland Federation of Business, the Professional Women's Club, and the Frederick Business and Professional Women's Club. The 1953 Tower Clock was dedicated to her. She became an honorary member of Phi Kappa Zeta in 1966. Two residence halls were named after her, the one at Gallaudet University and another at the U.S. Army Medical Training Center Dormitory Complex in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Upon her death, on December 13, 1972, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf established a "Elizabeth Benson Memorial Interpreter Fund" in her honor. Last, but not least, the Department of the Army presented Benson with a U.S. flag for her casket, and it was later donated to Gallaudet University by her sister, Mary.