What Women Speech Correctionists Lost to the Men!

In a prior post we gave a snapshot of the success of early speech correction teachers in laying the foundations for modern American school speech-language pathology. In 1931 they merged with the American Academy of Speech Correction.    A secure service niche in the profession was ensured but what did the school correctionists lose in the bargain? Here is our assessment.

Recognition:  After the merger the speech correction group disappeared. Current historical commentary dates the beginning of the    field as 1925 as though nothing had transpired before 1925.


Independence:    Speech correction teachers were organized and set their own agenda.    With the merger, their independence was lost. They were subsumed into an organization with an altogether different vision of what the future should hold.


Respect:  Some academic founders objected to having speech correction teachers mixed in with the”high minded’ academicians. Correctionists were viewed as second-rate professionals and that position was maintained for decades.


NEA Affiliation:    Speech correction teachers lost their primary affiliation with the National Education Association, whose mission was more closely tied to their own.


Organizational Roles:    By 1947, men occupied all the important executive and committee assignments, virtually shutting out the school correctionists.    In fact, membership rules effectively closed them out.


Clinical Models:  For 20 years (1905-1925) a growing speech correctionist group developed successful and widely practiced school methods and techniques which were absorbed by the Academy upon merger without credit and honor. 


Scholarship:  Academy men created journals publishing papers on their special interests and viewpoints (e.g. stuttering). Speech correction teachers lost opportunities to write scholarly ideas about school practice (e.g., play therapy).


Academic Positions:    Men dominated the college positions and women took lesser positions as clinical supervisors. Men had the doctorates, women the master’s degrees. 


Curriculum Development:  Academy men strictly imposed medical model coursework on school SLP students. Education content was not included.


Certification:  The correctionists lost any hope of influencing certification programs.    Corrrectionists graduated with speech therapy backgrounds when they needed an education backgrounds.


Accreditation:  No meaningful channel for speech correctionists to promote school-related standards.


Revenue:  Correctionists lost control of  the revenues their participation generated. Tuition fees funded departments, and membership fees funded ASHA, but the speech correctionists had no voice.


Doctoral Education:  After the merger, doctoral programs later gradually went down hill, and clinical doctorates were shut out entirely. School SLPs did not acquire the doctoral degrees in the numbers they needed to improve school practice and to take leadership roles in education. In the 1970s, some traditionalists argued against the master’s degree for speech correctionists.


Executive Director Position:    Speech correctionists were excluded a priori from the position of Executive Director of ASHA. A direct chain  from the male founders to the present day promulgated medical model thinking: Wendell Johnson (1931-1941, Iowa, de facto;  D. W. Morris, 1941-1948, Ohio State;  George A. Kopp, 1948-1957, Wayne State; Kenneth O. Johnson, 1958-1980, Stanford Medical;  Frederick T. Spahr, 1980-2003, Pennsylvania State). The last in the chain is a woman but no language specialist has ever  been selected, nor a doctoral-level professional with extensive school background.


Men and Women


Professor Duchan introduced into the history of the field a gender factor. One who reads the history is struck by the fact that women were the early speech correctionists and men were the early academics. When the merger took place, men became the dominant force of organization whereas women became service providers. As one reads into the 1970s it is clear the men ran the show, controlled everything, and didn’t show any signs of letting go. Only a few women who fit the mold the men provided played minor parts, but did not receive the grand awards the men did. Accordingly, Professor Duchan developed her list of “founding mothers” as an historical counter-balance to show women deserved more credit than the men gave them. Professor Duchan referred to “good old boys” holding sway over ASHA, passing on the opportunities to one and another.  Executive Director Spahr upon retirement reflected about it this way:


“The association wasn’t intentionally being discriminatory, but some of our practices had a disparate effect,” Spahr remembers, recalling a volunteer leadership and staff that consisted predominately of white males. “The established leaders chose who they knew, so we were perpetuating the status quo. We made conscious efforts to increase the number of females and racial and ethnic minorities involved in the leadership of our organization.” http://www.asaecenter.org/ Resources/EUArticle.cfm?ItemNumber=11817


Sexism is explanation of the large imbalance of opportunity for women who preferred education. What is important is the function of educational speech pathology was held back, along with the women, and not allowed flourish and develop along the natural path. Eventually in 1970s, some staff support was devised in first efforts to get suggestions from school personnel but it was less than too-little-too-late. It was tokenism with deleterious effects, as we saw when 1975 arrived. The dominant position was strict medical model thinking and that was impractical in 1975.

Old house in small town


What is missed by the Duchan analysis is the men didn’t do all that well either, in the long run.


The men of the American Academy of Speech Correction gained a source of revenue from training female speech correctionists but they lost out on their wish to establish a male-oriented high level research field. Doctoral education eventually faded, and speech centers became training centers rather than places for research.  At some universities the campus clinic became a financial liability. Master’s students were not asked to do thesis research and the students could not see beyond completing degrees and getting jobs. Academic departments had to compete with the national association for authority in clinical education. To be the president of the association no longer represented the dominance of academic values. The president was that of a non-profit organization, a far cry from the founder’s reserved place as academic leaders.  The mentoring role once played and loved was eliminated. In the 1970s their advice to retain the B.A. degree for certification was ignored. In the end founding fathers lost their leadership roles to the point where numbers of men entering the field declined steadily. Signs indicated men were no longer attracted to the field. The great granddaughters of the “founding mothers” took over once and for all. Whether they represented any better their grandmothers’ zeal for quality in American schools is an open question. 


So it was a marriage of convenience and that is how it turned out. 

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