Historical inspiration and inspirational historians

Historical inspiration and inspirational historians

Resident RCSLT historian Jois Stansfield reflects on some of the figures who inspired her passion for speech and language therapy history

Denyse Rockey, a life member of the RCSLT, published the onlyfull-length book on the speech therapy of 19th-century Britain (Rockey, 1980). The book focuses on stuttering, at the time seen as closely related to natural speaking and oratory, while being an exemplar of other disabling speech difficulties. Rockey considers the people who stuttered, the professional responses to the condition, and the many and various approaches attempting to cure or alleviate the condition. Her comment that stuttering was “open to numerous interpretations and antidotes yet strangely
elusive to all” (1980: 253) could still be said to be the case in the 21st century. It is the first and, to date—despite being 40 years old—the only, comprehensive academic study of British speech therapy in the 19th century.

Margaret Eldridge, a founder member of both the UK and Australian professional bodies, gives an erudite overview of speech therapy history internationally, considering parallel developments in the UK, eastern and western Europe, Australia and the US (Eldridge, 1968). She traces the profession moving from trial and error, to increasing professionalism in the 1930s, becoming part of wider established health systems during and after the Second World War. What is striking from Eldridge’s book is the similarity in direction across almost all the countries considered (despite the interruptions of war).

Unfortunately Rockey’s and Eldridge’s books are out of print, but both can be found on the second-hand market.

In 1962 George Sykes produced a dissertation on the history of British speech therapy over the first half of the 20th century (featured in Bulletin in May 1971 and again in August 2015 when he was finally reunited with a copy). His work included interviews with the heads of every school of speech therapy then in existence and an index of the CST journals (logged, he said, on “an Olivetti Letera 32 typewriter, a double drawer of handwritten index cards, and a shoe box of Hollerith punched cards for the statistics”). The dissertation, part of the RCSLT archive, comes highly recommended as an in-depth view of the profession’s history by an outsider.

So why are these people inspirational? For me, their work opened the door to completely new perspectives on our profession. They demonstrated attention to detail, amazing tenacity in the days before easy access to data via the internet, and a passion that enables those of us interested in professional history today to locate obscure and often forgotten material that enriches our understanding of where we have come from.

Who inspires you?

Jois Stansfield