Volume 8 , Issue 5 - October 2013 Print | Email
NCA 100th Anniversary: Maud May Babcock, A Woman Before Her Time

/uploadedImages/CommunicationCurrents_Articles/Volume_8/nca_cent_primary_web.jpgMaud May Babcock was a woman with many characteristics that distinguished her from women of her generation. She was a beloved teacher, actress, author, world-traveler and guide.  Maud May Babcock was responsible for a number of “firsts” during her career, including being the first female faculty member at The University of Utah, establishing the first Speech and Drama Department there, and being one of the first female presidents of National Communication Association (NCA). She was the first female faculty member at Utah University, where she established their first Speech and Drama Department.

Maud was born May 2nd, 1867 in East Worchester, New York. She had a younger brother, William Wayne Babcock, Jr., who was a renowned surgeon. Maud would read articles her brother wrote, and she would observe her brother while he operated on patients. This gave her an understanding of the anatomy of the human voice.

Her formal education came from many places. She received her B.A. from Wells College in New York, and in 1886 received a Bachelor of Education from the National School of Oratory in Philadelphia. Maud began to develop skills in public speaking and in elocution. She studied how to clearly convey messages and how to use speech expressively. Maud attended the Lyceum School of Acting in 1890, and she studied at The University of Chicago, as well. Maud studied in London and Paris for two years.

The University of Utah added Maud May Babcock to their faculty in 1892. She founded the first college drama club and originated the University Theatre. During her 46 years of teaching, she directed over 800 plays. She retired from the university in 1928 after being head of the Drama Department for 12 years. She received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Utah upon her retirement from the university.

The basis of Maud’s teaching came from a definition of elocution borrowed from her mentor, Alfred Ayres: “Elocution is the art of speaking language so as to make the thought it expressed clean and impressive.” This definition helped her teach courses such as principles in Readings, Dialects, and Platform Reading. Precision and preparation were at the top of her priority list.

Preparation was not just something Maud requested. She demanded preparation from her students. After a week of classes, her students prepared for class not simply out of fear but because it made them feel satisfied and accomplished. Miss B., as her students called her, required detailed precision within the classroom. As an educator, she inspired students to exceed their own expectations for themselves. Maud was likely to point out specifically where and how work could be improved. Her praise was recorded in her grade book. “B” meant very good work, and “A” meant unusually excellent work. In a classroom setting, a student would know by her ‘silent feedback’ whether their work met her approval.

Miss B. often used the phrase, “Without the book.” She did not use the word memorize. She made the point students learn many things every day. If students were to practice the excellence of reading regularly, they would know the words without the book. Maud did not want the students to memorize without oral practice, and it was very apparent to her when a student did not practice. Her technique of teaching was comparable to the techniques of directing a play. Both require diligent preparation. However critical she may have been to her students, her criticism came from her dedication as a teacher. She believed that her profession was a blessing, and she was grateful for it.

Maud became the second female president of what would become the National Communication Association in 1936 when she was 69 years old. This was not the beginning of her career in the NCA. Maud joined the National Communication Association in 1917 when the association’s name was the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking. She served as the second vice president under Howard S. Woodward, the only president of the NCA to serve two consecutive terms. When Maud was president in 1936, the organization’s name was the National Association of Teachers of Speech. She continued educating others through her presidency by directing plays while she was involved with the NCA.

Maud May Babcock taught communication through theatre for most of her adult life. By using theatre she was able to teach students oratory and elocution. She displayed leadership through her education, her career, and through her presidency of what would become the NCA. Maud valued discipline and precision above all. She taught her students that through discipline and hard work, success would be the only outcome. Maud May Babcock exhibited qualities of leadership that truly put her ahead of her time.

 /uploadedImages/CommunicationCurrents_Articles/Volume_8/Jodie.JPGJodie Grace McKaughan is a Communication major with a minor in French at Radford University in Radford, VA, USA. Her experience in communication began through the performing arts and she has been in many operas, musicals, and plays. She hopes to use her degree in Communication towards working internationally in the performing arts field. This original essay appeared in the October 2013 issue of Communication CurrentsCommunication Currents is a publication of the National Communication Association.
  Communication Currents is a publication of the National Communication Association
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