Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Part 1 - History of The Center for Hearing & Speech

The Center for Hearing & Speech was founded in 1920 and originally operated as The St. Louis League For The Hard of Hearing, Inc. (SLLHH).  It was endorsed by the St. Louis Medical Society, the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce and the St. Louis Community Council.

The St. Louis organization was patterned after a group put together in New York several years prior to World War I by Edward B. Nitchie. The graduate of Amherst College experienced significant hearing loss in his teens. Nitchie took lip reading classes after graduation and in 1903 opened a school for lip reading. He also tried to help hearing impaired men find work, a task he was many times unable to tackle.

The teachers and students at his school organized fundraisers for scholarships and social groups for the hearing impaired. He reached out to employers. In 1913, he founded the New York League for The Hard of Hearing. The American Society for The Hard of Hearing was founded in 1919. By 1940, almost every major city and many smaller communities in the United States had organizations dedicated to providing quality of life for the hearing and speech impaired.

The mission of SLLHH was clear from the beginning:  focus on helping individuals with communication disorders.

In May 1926 SLLHH observed “Watch Your Hearing” week. The first event of its kind in the nation, it quickly spread and next year was observed throughout the United States. Among other things, the week was dedicated to conferences, educating the public and news media about conservation of hearing, especially in children, and publicizing the need to test the hearing of all school-age children. In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt was the first American president to endorse Hearing Week.

SLLHH pioneer members established lip reading classes in Roosevelt; Sumner; Beaumont; Soldan; and Vashon high schools in St. Louis. The classes met for two hours, two days per week and cost $1 per semester. Summer lip reading classes were available as well.

SLLHH sponsored weekly open houses; a Bridge Club; a Voice Class; and a Bible Class at its facilities on Westminster Place. In 1940 members started an Outing Club for 20-something’s to get together, tour area attractions and socialize.

In the 1950’s, SLLHH was renamed the Center for Hearing & Speech.  Up until this time the agency only provided services to the hearing impaired. It now added speech and language services to community members who needed them.
The Center for Hearing & Speech started the first speech/language preschool in St. Louis for the hard of hearing.  The school was closed when public schools took on the task of providing services to children with hearing and speech deficits.

In 1968 the Junior League of St. Louis, (JLSL) the United Fund and private donors gave $43,000 to the St. Louis Hearing & Speech Center to purchase a large white van that traveled to schools throughout the area testing student’s hearing.   “We put that handsome piece of equipment in the same class with yachts and Rolls Royces,” JLSL member Judith Engelsmann said in a February 1969 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. JLSL so strongly believed hearing impaired children needed diagnosis and treatment that its members, along with a professional audiologist, staffed the van five days per week.

Part 2 of The History of the Center for Hearing & Speech will post on Thursday, September 25.  

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