When George Gregor William Andree entered University Hall to receive his U-M diploma in 1908, he most likely saw the smiling faces of families, fellow graduates in caps and gowns, and proud faculty members.
What he did not experience were the sounds of the June ceremony.
At 29, Andree received a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, a first for a deaf man in the United States.
The severity of Andree’s hearing loss is unclear. He graduated from the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint, where most students had congenital deafness; others had hearing loss because of illness.
Andree did his undergraduate work at Gallaudet College (today Gallaudet University), the nation’s only school for deaf students. He was reported to be an excellent lip reader and learned to speak distinctly. As president of his 1902 graduating class, he delivered an oral speech advocating for English to be the world’s universal language.
After Gallaudet and before Michigan, Andree’s career took an interesting turn: He was named head football coach at Georgia Tech. It wasn’t a surprising hire, given his athleticism. At Gallaudet, Andree was the baseball team captain and starred on the football field (“heavy, yet quick and agile, having the ideal build of a halfback”).
An Atlanta newspaper said the new coach was not deaf, but “his hearing is not the best in the world.” Andree coached the Yellow Jackets for one unremarkable 0-6-2 season.
As a U-M student, Andree continued to play sports, joining the dental school’s football and baseball teams for inter-class competitions. His teammates called him “Baldy,” an homage to his receding hairline.
His degree from U-M thrilled the Gallaudet faithful. “We understand that George G.W. Andree, who, while our great halfback, could knock out teeth pretty effectively, has since graduation taken a course in dentistry in the University of Michigan, and can now yank ’em out with neatness and dispatch.”
Andree opened a practice on Main Street in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, and thrived professionally and personally. “Dr. Andree has imbibed the true philosophy of life. Whatever conditions prevail he still is cheerful. We like this,” the local paper reported. “The world is too good a place to be cumbered with pessimists.”
Andree went on to become president of the Oklahoma Dentists Association. He died in 1934 after a battle with stomach cancer. He was 54.