20. The History of School Speech Pathology

Organizational Changes

In 1910 and even before school speech correction was beginning to thrive in the American Midwest.  Normal schools (teacher colleges) were growing and there was a surge of immigrant children to educate.  Soon compulsory education would be established bringing needy children to school.  Cities like Detroit and Chicago were hiring speech correction teachers and state-wide supervision was being established. Into the 1920s an active economy supported growth.  School leaders like Pauline Camp and Clara Beatrice Stoddard stepped forward to advocate for the emerging field. Normal schools were organizing courses of study of speech correction. Qualifications were in place. The National Education Associated or NEA sponsored an interest group for speech correction teachers.  It was a period of dynamic growth and enthusiasm. 

An independent professional group was formulated:

“Early in the profession’s history, several different interest groups formed to promote education and understanding of speech difficulties. One group of speech correctionists, who were originally schoolteachers, called itself the National Society for the Study and Correction of Speech Disorders, began around 1918” (http://depts.washington. edu/lend/seminars/modules/pdfs/splprint.pdf).

The National Society for the Study and Correction of Speech Disorders was in existence as late as 1931.  Walter Babcock Swift was a founder and president of the Society. “He was widely known as an advisor to public school programs throughout the United States providing suggestions for how to set up speech therapy services”  (J. Duchan, http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/).

Academy Surfaces

The American Academy of Speech Correction, composed of a corp of self-appointed specialists who subscribed to a medical approach to speech defects, was organized in 1925 to promote scientific aspects of the field. A special interest group, they had found a niche in speech and drama departments on colleges campuses but the fit was poor and they were small.  By 1930 growth of the Academy was disappointing and the Great Crash of 1929 put the national economy in peril.  Something had to be done to sustain the group.

At the 1930 Academy meeting a consensus developed to take in the school correction teachers so as to increase the growth of the Academy and create independent speech correction departments. School speech correction teachers were not highly respected but they represented public support and they had numbers. With them, academic administrators would more likely accept independent speech correction departments and invest funds in faculty and facilities. The alternative was to stay under the umbrella of speech and drama or education departments and starve.

It did not take long for movement to occur to take control of the situation.  In 1934 The Academy changed its name to The American Speech Correction Association.  It reworked the concept of “academy” and brought in speech correction teachers as associates. 

Money flowed again after World War II and there was public interest in the welfare of wounded servicemen to spark the growth of speech therapy programs.  In a remarkably short time, the Association had absorbed the speech correction teachers while preserving the prestige and roles of Academy founding members. 


In 1947, The American Speech Correction Association published its last annual directory listing members and officials.  There were four Association membership categories. The highest was for those with advanced degrees and publications.  It seems they did not have to present records of successful clinical experience because they were the experts who were designing clinical procedures. No speech correction teacher with an education background could hope to attain this level though they possessed enviable practice experiences with speech-defective school children.

The three highest levels of membership required arts and science degrees (B.A, M.A., Ph.D.), excluding normal-school degrees, de facto. Speech correction teachers would have to transfer to another academic department, or away from their normal school campuses.

The lowest level of membership appears to have been reserved for speech correction teachers trained in normal schools who could claim having adequate qualifications derived from education courses and experiences.  They had to be ethical persons and they were not allowed to practice under Association standards. Practicing under Association standards entailed a high-level membership. Speech correction teachers could be a part of the “Association” as associates.


Eleven out of 12 chief officers were men.  Nine held doctoral degrees.  In the nine committees, 35 members were men and 5 were women, a time when most speech correction teachers were women. 

Most committee members held doctoral degrees. All were well known in the field with strong backgrounds in speech science and applied medical diagnosis. Many had published. However as a group, they did not have backgrounds in education to guide speech correction teachers.

Two woman educators were Honorary Life Fellows: Pauline Camp and Clara Beatrice Stoddard. Both had made reputations as outstanding supervisors of school speech correction but neither woman was eligible to belong to the Association. Ironically, Camp in 1930 was the educator who passionately advocated for including speech correction teachers in the early Academy. 



By 1910, school speech-language pathology was developing widely and successfully in terms of numbers of practitioners, recognition, expertise, supervisory structures and organizational leadership. A professional organization had been established. With the capture of school speech correction by The American Academy of Speech Correction, there was a significant loss of capacity and opportunity to serve school children.  It took two generations for women to return to leadership roles in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and respect for school speech pathology never regained the prominence it once held. School practice took a back seat to the clinical side of the profession. Capacity to support the greater growth of school practice was lost, as was the capacity to face reform challenges in education affecting caseload management and workloads. The loss of funding to directly support school practice was enormous.

In 1975 with the enactment of Public Law 94-142 public school speech-language pathologists lacked the capacity to respond wisely. Long before it had disconnected from the National Education Association which went on to install collective bargaining, a procedure which might have helped SLPs with load protections.

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