3. History of School Speech-Language Pathology


Roaring 20s


The roaring 20s brought great wealth to the U. S. from wall street speculators and short sellers. America was surfacing on the world stage as a power after World War I and industrialization was strong. Fashion was progressive and hemlines rising.  Women were starting to assert themselves to obtain their rights, including the right to vote (though black people still could not vote).


Most teachers were white women, as were speech correction teachers.   Children were taken from their classrooms and treated for the mispronunciation of letters like  ’l’, “r” and “s.” With unsavory children entering schools the need for proper grammar and speech was necessary for socialization.   Slovenly foreign speech was as bad as defective speech.   Colleges began courses in “voice and articulation” to instruct students on the ways educated people speak.   College speech teachers were instrumental in founding the national association for speech correction specialists.


Rise of Professional Organizations

Schools were growing fast and so was the need for services.  It was timely for professional organizations to form.  For example, school psychologists consulted on placements:

“The late 19th century marked the era of social reforms directed at children.[4] It was due to these social reforms that the need for school psychologists emerged. These social reforms included compulsory schooling, juvenile courts, child labor laws as well as a growth of institutions serving children. Society was starting to “change the ‘meaning of children’ from an economic source of labor to a psychological source of love and affection”.[4] Historian Thomas Fagan argues that the preeminent force behind the need for school psychology was compulsory schooling laws.[4] Prior to the compulsory schooling law, only 20% of school aged children completed elementary school and only 8% completed high school.[1] Due to the compulsory schooling laws, there was an influx of students with mental and physical defects who were required by law to be in school.[5] There needed to be an alternative method of teaching for these different children. Between 1910 and 1914, schools in both rural and urban areas created small special education classrooms for these children.[5] From the emergence of special education classrooms came the need for “experts” to help assist in the process of child selection for special education. Thus, school psychology was founded.[citation needed] ”   Wikipedia, School Psychology, 2011.

Speech Correction

The American Academy of Speech Correction (fore-runner to today’s American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) was established in 1925.   School speech correction had started and there was a need for college training. Sentiment did not emphasize humanitarian concerns.  Speech therapy was comparable to physical therapy — identify a defect and correct it.

The Academy was stated by general speech teachers to establish an academic niche for speech correction.  Suggested is that speech improvement goals were taught along with speech correction goals. For many years several academic speech pathology programs were units within speech and rhetoric departments. This position brought additional college students into the departments and shored up revenues and recognition.

Related Services

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) was established in 1917.   In 1921 in the United States physical therapists formed the first professional association called the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association. School psychology was founded between 1910 and 1914 when schools wanted help to select children for special education. Speech pathology was organized in 1925 to help children with speech problems.  The Council of Exceptional Children was organized in 1922 at Teachers College, Columbia University.

One thing these organizations have in common is their primary mission was never to advocate for the handicapped.  From the beginning their mission was to serve their memberships by promoting standards and practices.  They clearly represented the point of view of the government schools for which they worked. Parent advocacy for the handicapped did heavy lifting for the handicapped and their rights to go to school and receive a proper education. Civil rights groups fought for inclusion of all children, i.e., FAPE eventually.

Great Depression 

Schools closed and teachers were laid off or worked for script.  Children dropped out of school to work for their families.  They lacked food and shelter.  Speech correction teachers suffered with the rest.  Services were cut back in all aspects of school life. Money affected speech services and education in general.  



October, 2013: 3

It is clear here school speech pathology represented later by the American Speech Language Hearing Association was becoming organized in the 20th century. Clinical science was dominated by individual researchers in different fields. Naturally, professions like psychology and physical therapy were certified by education departments in normal schools. ASHA history is a organizational history essentially. Our findings indicate little interest in cultural contexts and the philosophy of special services.

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