Special needs advocate Martha Hanes Ziegler dies aged 84.

RIPCambridge,MA – Martha Hanes Ziegler, 84, most known for her tireless advocacy for people with special needs, and for her 2010 published memoir “My Daughter, My Teacher,” passed away on September 13 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge due to complications from a recent fall.

Martha Hanes Ziegler born in Fort Wayne, Indiana to Simon and Lenora who worked at a local General Electric plant. She graduated Franklin College in 1952 and earned a masters degree from the University of Rochester. She met her husband Gorge while working on her doctorate at Indiana University and they married and moved to Rochester N.Y. in 1955.

Martha’s daughter Mary Ann was diagnosed with autism in 1966. She knew little about the learning difference and had wondered if the impact of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination during pregnancy caused it, or whether it was due to her husband Gorge’s visit to Hiroshima after the bomb hit in World War II.

But she didn’t entertain these thoughts for long. Instead she focused on raising her daughter the best she could, embracing all the magic Mary Ann had within her: her love of fabric textures, and quoting words from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.”

Martha didn’t even try to suppress these obsessions in public, believing that it was better to teach Mary Ann to be comfortable with all facets of her personalty then to shun them.

When Mary Ann’s younger brother Fred started public school in Long Island, N.Y . Martha wondered why Mary Ann couldn’t attend, hating that they had to pay for a substandard private school that did little for her daughter’s education. Well versed in civil rights advocacy, Martha knew inequality when she saw it.

This was why when the family moved to Massachusetts in the early 1970’s she formed and ran the Federation for Children with Special Needs for 20 years. Current executive director of the Federation Richard J. Robison was interviewed by the Boston Globe and he had this to say about Martha:

“She had a vision and she wasn’t willing to take no for an answer. She had this laser-like focus: This is what’s right for kids.”

Martha new that every student, regardless of learning difference, should get the chance to attend state funded public schools.
When State Representative Michael Daly and House Speaker David Bartley proposed chapter 766, legislation that would enforce Martha’s vision, she urged other parents to support it.

With this statewide law, and national laws that she helped pass in 1975, her daughter Mary Ann was able to graduate high school, enter the workforce, and move into a group home.

One mother who was raising a son with spina bifida told the Boston Globe that:

“Martha was far and away the most articulate leader who helped galvanize us all.”

Her son agrees, adding that his mother was a social person who gave emotional support to whomever needed it.
A memorial service for the beloved advocator was held Church of Our Redeemer in Lexington.

The original article by J. M. Lawrence on The Boston Globe website can be read here

Contributed by Audrey L. Hollingsead