Ralph C. Smedley

It is usual, for Presidents of Toastmasters Clubs, to begin the meeting, by telling, mostly for the guests because the club members heard it over and over again, that Toastmasters have been founded almost hundred year ago, by Ralph Smedley.

Sometimes, one adds to it, that he hold the first meeting in the basement of YMCA, for the young boys from the Christian Association, where he become Education Director after he finished college. But that happened more then 100 years ago, in 1905, also only later the first men's club was formed and even later Toastmasters, with some clubs also in Canada, incorported.

No mention is made of Smedley any more.

I am pHd even if not in Communication and i am curious, liking to go to the source, so I tried to buy a book written by him. The first one, a short collection of chapters shortened from a 400 pages book he in fact wrote, showed me a very interesting fellow.

A living, fighting, experimenting man I become fond of.

So I went to Amazon to find more books by him.

In England, where the firsts clubs where formed a lot later - first was in fact Glasgow, in Scottland - and then they stopped for a long time during the second world war, any book by Smedley is sold way to expensive. Then I did found from Amazon America some of his books, manuals, I could afford, publication dates from 1940 (I was 5 years old) to 1949.

The first, for me perhaps the most interesting, revealing his character and his intents, is called "Speech Evaluation: the art of constructive criticism" and published already by Toastmasters International Inc, Santa Ana, California. It is illustrated by funny cartoons by Edward Burns.

Smedley was told later that 'critic' and critisism, has negative connotations in many minds, and let the organisation name it 'evaluator' 'evaluating', but I liked his stubborn character: he sticks in his book to his own opinion, not being afraid to explain why and use whatever word he is believing in. The book explains very clearly how to give positive and helpful feedback, and many different ways it can be done in the club meetings.

Never the same!

Ralph Smedley suggest variation on the theme, so each time is different, each time something else can be learned from it, as well by the one who spoke, and also by the one or many who gives the feedback of the speech(es), and always also by all the members present.

One interesting example is, when the General Critic called also Master commentator, distributes to the others the speech: one will analyse all the beginnings, the second will analyse all the endings, or yet other one will give feedback on voice variety of all speeches, or will critic (evaluate) the body language or use the of words.

I will have to read again and again this small 36 page small book or manual, brown by age, so many ideas and suggestions, so much explications easy to understand are in it.

Even more, it shows so well the spirit of Ralph Smedley, of wich I become more and more fond.

When I will speak about him, it will be his living spirit not a dead founder of a club or corporation.

As also the millions of men, and later - a lot later- near the time, I first joined a Toastmasters club, also women passed by the clubs. They are not numbers to me but human beings that got for all the rest of their life more confidence in themselves and courage to stand up and speak their mind, knowledge to persuade, to make a speech in conversational style - not orathoric as was still usage in most places at the begining of the century.

The other books by Dr. Ralph Smedley I found are Basic Traning, 12 procects so well explained and so well written that even today what we use in not much different. The one I have was published in 1943. The basics of public speaking, today we call it Competent Communicator manual.

The amateur Chairman, one of his first books, explains how to chair a meeting, 'Toastmaster of the Evening" but also any other Committee meeing, in a more or less 'parlamentarian' way, this one was published in 1947.

Still another one, I found from 1947, is autographed by him, he sold it directly at the Toastmaster Convention : The Voice of the Speaker. "First of all, learn to speak in a friendly voice! He also put a lot of pratical exercises in it, how to improve on the voice one has got.

I have yet to find, that one directly from Toastmasters, the collection of his different articles. Someday, I will be able to give conferences, about his intentions, his spirit, his advices. If we really follow it, we will become better speakers, listeners, thinkers, and faster. And also his later book: Beyond the basic training.


  1. Hello Julie,
    our club will be celebrating our 4000th meeting next month and I have been doing a bit of research on Dr. Smedley for a mock interview and happily came across your blog.
    I am curious to know when the 1st female Toastmaster joined.
    Wishing you continued happiness, fulfillment and success and welcome any information you can provide. Carolyn

  2. Writing from Crystal City Arlington VA.

    There is a mystery on when the first female Toastmaster joined. There is one woman credited by TMI. She went on to become its president. BUT, there is another who makes the same claim of being the first.... there is more to the story, of course
    Carrie Devorah
    Area 13 Director, D27, Region 7
    Enroute to DTM
    Toastmasters International
    Potomac Coach
    Potomac Secretary

  3. PS
    I found you by looking for Smedley books. I am envious you found an autographed one

  4. veru informative about honoured Ralph C Smedely