1. History of School Speech-Language Pathology

An enormous amount of archival research must be done to chart the history of school speech-language pathology.    At best it must be reconstructive, inasmuch as founders have died or are continuing to die without leaving records.  Pragmatic decisions are understood as just that.   They do not seem to be pieces of history at the time.   The history of governance has to be reconstructed, particularly, how the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association came into existence and helped shape current views.

Professor Judy Duchan publishes an online history of the field of communication disorders and sciences and remarks:  

“There has been too little work in the field of speech-language pathology on the evolution and history of current practices. While nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers can go to a number of historical sources in their fields, speech-language pathologists have only a smattering of such studies. It is my hope that the information provided in this website will serve to redress this notable blind spot in historical understanding of speech-language pathologists, especially for those practicing in the United States. I aim to provide a growing body of historical information that clinicians in America can use to trace their evolution and understand the thinking of their ancestors.” 

Gray skies in Paris

Indeed, a check on the current published history of the American Speech-Language- Hearing Association shows it consists of  only six paragraphs (http://www. asha.org/about/history.htm, 2011). 

Professor Duchan has given us a remarkable accounting of essential clinical facts.    It is the history many older speech-language pathologists have heard in bits and pieces, or read about in older texts.  Much of the history is “oral history.”  Like native American peoples, when elders die so does their history.


The beginning of true “speech-language pathology” can be traced to Dr. Paul Broca who localized the “faculty of articulate language” in the brain of one of his patients in 1861.   Medical doctors helped define the field during this period extending into the 20th century.   School practice for decades was over-shadowed and for generations university training involved strong medical foundations. The term “speech therapy” was widely used and still is:

In order to improve communication people have studied speech and speech problems for more than 2,000 years. Between 1700′s and 1800′s little progress occurred. During the 1700′s, speech specialists worked mostly with the deaf. Stutterers were also given special attention and Speech therapy became a profession in the early 1900′s .It was closely associated with education, psychology, speech as well as the medical profession.”  http://library.thinkquest.org


School speech-language practice began at early the 20th century, around 1910, as an offshoot of classroom school teaching.  Exact information is impossible to establish but the origins appear to be in the State of Michigan. The University of Michigan and Wayne State University (Detroit Junior College in 1917) were the first academic institutions to prepare “speech correction teachers.” Something less than a baccalaureate degree was required at Detroit Junior College.

The Detroit Public Schools sponsored the earliest speech correction services.  Wayne State University is still located in the heart of Detroit where school speech correction started. In 1917 the public schools and Detroit Junior College were virtually the same.

Detroit was a boomtown with immigrants coming in to work in the Highland Park plant to build Henry Ford’s Model T.  The plant was just a few miles north of the flourishing city.  Money was flowing and a significant middle class was growing.

Professor Charles Van Riper of Western Michigan University has been widely recognized arguably as the father of the modern field.  His articulation therapy method was widely accepted by generations of school speech therapists.   His textbooks were less medical in content and contained information covering school concerns. Early writings gave emphasis to the importance of play in therapy.

Professor Van Riper reported on another early programs:  “It was [Smiley] Blanton who had opened the first speech clinic in 1914 at the University of Wisconsin and in 1923 helped develop a statewide program of speech correction under the direction of Pauline Camp” (ASHA Magazine, November 1981 (Volume 23:11, pp. 855-858).


The influence of medical thinking helped marginalize school speech-language pathology.  Though students going into school practice took education courses, the requirement was not part of the “core curriculum.”  The core curriculum required courses in anatomy, cleft palate and cerebral palsy. In clinical training students learned to use tongue depressors to examine oral structures and movements.  ”Clinicians” sometimes wore white coats and viewed themselves as “speech therapists” heading for medical placements.  School employment was less valued.

 (We are indebted to the good work of Wikipedia writers who volunteer to keep history before us.)

October 2014

Since beginning this series, we have covered a lot of ground to learn why school speech-language pathology is neglected in the field, and curriculum development in the academic centers is poor. We see here nobody owns the curriculum substance in the field. ASHA founders solved this problem by taking over accreditation and that remains the ASHA strategy.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: