R. Allen Gardner Who Taught Sign Language to a Washoe Dies at 91

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Courtesy of Jeff Sullivan (Flickr CC0)

Robert Allen Gardner who, with the help of his wife Beatrix “Trixie” Tugendhut, taught Washoe the chimpanzee sign language; has passed away. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, he passed away after battling a long illness in his home — “The Ranch” located south of Reno, Nevada — on Aug. 20, 2021. He was 91 years old.

Courtesy of @NYScience (Twitter)

Gardner was born on Feb. 21, 1930, in Brooklynn, New York. In 1954, he graduated from Northwestern University with a PhD. in psychology. Afterward, he toured with the United States Army for a year as a research psychologist in a visual perception laboratory.

Soon after he accepted a teaching job at Wellesley College. It was there he met his soon-to-be wife, an accomplished zoologist. He and Tugendhut married in 1961.

Gardner joined the University of Nevada faculty in 1963. His wife joined him there; first under a Career Development award, later on with a faculty appointment. They taught and actively pursued research programs throughout their careers.

In 1966, they began teaching Washoe American Sign Language (ASL). After their work was published in 1967; they became internationally recognized. Their publication in the journal Science and a presentation of their early results to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New York also provided the University of Nevada’s psychology department recognition.

Gardner and his wife later added four more chimpanzees to the ASL program. Their work brought them invitations to lecture in South America, South Africa, and Europe. They were also invited to lecture at several universities in the United States. The couple was even invited to visit Jane Goodall’s research station in Tanzania.

Tugendhut passed away in 1995. Three years later he published their book “The Structure of Learning: From Sign Stimuli to Sign Language.” Gardner’s brother, Herb — a prominent commercial artist, screenwriter, and cartoonist — died in 2003.

Written by Sheena Robertson


Nevada Today: Groundbreaking researcher Gardner dies at age 91

Reno Gazette-Journal: Robert Allen Gardner

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Jeff Sullivan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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