School Speech Pathology Social History

The profession of school speech therapy (speech correction) is 100  years old.  It was established at the beginning of the 20th Century during a time when the social climate for clinical practice was  much different.   

Compulsory school education was established recently throughout the states.  All handicapped pupils were entitled to regular classroom instruction, the antecedent to “free appropriate public education.” 


In 1910 speech correct teachers gave articulation therapy to  white children.   Racial segregation exited, immigrants did not go to school, and poor children worked in coal mines.   Black children were kept out of schools until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced integration.  Children were taken from their classrooms and treated for the mispronunciation of letters like  ‘l’, “r” and “s.”  As late as 1950 therapists joked they were “s and r therapists.”  Speech therapists were white females,  reflecting the social makeup of public schools.


In 1920, the National Conference on Charities and Corrections promoted the view that the handicapped were dangerous and should be segregated. “By 1920, every state in the country adopted statutes which by force of law in every state excluded handicapped children from the schools; provided for their segregation into lifelong custodial institutions, and provided for their involuntary sterilization” (Nappe).  Speech therapists, continuing to treat articulation errors, were insulated from handicapped, minority and poor children.

Parent advocacy brought medically involved clients into the SLP domain placing pressure on scope of practice.  The walls of exclusion were breaking down. 

1947. “The history of special education in the U.S. began after World War II, when a number of parent-organized advocacy groups surfaced. One of the first organizations was the American Association on Mental Deficiency, which held its first convention in 1947. By the early 1950s, fueled by the Civil Rights Movement, a number of other parent organizations were formed, including the United Cerebral Palsy Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and John F. Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation” (History Special Education).

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