Samuel Otway Lewis Potter, M.A., M.D.


Samuel Potter's early book, entitled "Speech and its defects" was an outgrowth of his doctoral thesis (Dyslalia--a study of speech and its defects). He received a prize for that thesis at his graduation from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In it he focused primarily on the characteristics and treatment for dyslalia, by which he meant stuttering. Potter was a severe stutterer and had been subjected to many remedies in which the proponents claimed "cures." He describes those remedies for stuttering and his mistreatment in detail in his book (see below for a table of contents).

Potter also provides a taxonomy of all speech disorders and a definition and suggested treatments for each, offering the field of speech-pathology a model for this early period in its history. Authors such as Sara Stinchfield Hawk, Samuel Robbins, and Edward Lee Travis, while not citing Potter, all spent much of their career developing such taxonomies to be used in the diagnosis and classification of speech disorders.

Samuel Potter lived in Ireland until 1864 at which time he immigrated to America. He lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and attended Jefferson Medical College where he received a M.D. degree in 1882. He was a member of the Royal College of Physicians in London. (Rockey, 1980, p. 14).

Potter's Book and its Table of Contents

Potter, S. (1882). Speech and its defects. Considered physiologically, pathologically, historically and remedially. Philadelphia, PA: P. Blakiston, Son & Co.

Table of contents:

Potter's Diagnostic Categories and Definitions. Potter defined the following diagnostic categories for classifying and understanding speech problems:

Alalia: psychical--due to cerebral lesions or disorder of the ideational centre, producing aphasia, etc.,

Alalia: paralytic--due to lesions of the medulla oblongata or disordered motor cortex, producing glosso-labio-laryngeal paralysis.

Paralalia: Defective speech, vicious pronounciation; the so-called "stammering of many writers (Lalling, blaesites, gammacism, iotacism, nasalizing palatining, rhotacism, lambdicism, sigmatism, etc.

Dyslalia: Stuttering--difficult, interrupted speech (spasmodic hesitation, clonic spasm of articulation, tonoid spasm of articulation)

Potter's Treatment Recommendations:

Alalia (none mentioned)

Paralalia: The patient should be regularly exercised on the offending sounds by reading aloud, repeating the alphabet, or other exercises in pronunciation. (p 35-6)

The action of the various organs of articulation should be explained to him and he should be required to place them in their proper positions before enunciating the sounds.

The breathing should be regulated, the patient being required to take an inspiration when reading at every punctuation mar.

In cases due to morbid conditions of the palate, tongue, teeth or lips, these organs may require surgical measures appropriate to each case, such as staphylorraphy, the use of artificial palate-plates, excision of the uvula or tonsils, etc.

Rhotacism is best combated by the use of exercises on a word or words in which there is but one r, preceded by a t, replacing the r by d, and exercising the patient thereon, until by degrees the rapid combinations of the sounds t d produce the lingual r. Such a word as tremulous would thus be pronounced, at first, tremulous; but by rapid repetition of the t d sounds become so connected as to produce the motion of the tongue-tip necessary for the lingual r. (This method is due to the celebrated French actor, Talma.) (p. 36)

Dyslalia (stuttering)--see pp. 37-74 for lengthy history of specialists in America and Europe, their theories of causation and proposed treatments. Potter calls some methods quackery and calls some doctors quack-stutterers. See also pp. 75-87 for types, symptoms, etiology, demographic data, distinctions between dyslalia and paralalia, prognosis.

Specific stuttering therapies: p. 87

  1. Not surgery
  2. Not electricity or medicine. But can relieve special symptoms.
  3. Not tricks resorted to by charlatans
  4. "The only rational and efficacious method of treatment is disciplinary exercise of the respiratory, vocal, and articulating organs; conducted unremittingly and patiently, until a correct habit of speech is established, and aided by the use of the utmost degree of will-power of which the patient is capable." p.87, Potter.

Every effort should be made to draw the patient's attention from his difficulty sounds to the succeeding vowels.

Each case should be studied and treated individually.

Fixation of the attention and education of the will are common factors in all the methods of treatment used. The latter must be kept constantly in view as a firm will is a powerful regulator of the nervous system. These two, with re-education of the faculty of speech, comprise the whole of the rational treatment of dyslalia.

A stutterer may sometimes be advantageously placed before a mirror while speaking, in order to study his own defects, as well as the proper movements for the enunciation of sounds.

See details on prophylactic, hygienic, medicinal, electrical, use of tricks and disciplinary exercise of respiration, voice, articulation and volition (pp. 87-102).

A sampling of works written by Samuel Potter, arranged chronologically

Potter, S. (1879) Index of Comparative Therapeutics.

Potter, S. (1882) Speech and its defects. Speech and its defects

Potter, S. (1880) Analytical and Topical Index to Reports of Chief of Engineers, 1866 to 1879

Potter, S. (1887) Handbook of Materia Medica, Pharmacy and Therapeutics 10th ed., Including the Physiological Action of Drugs, the Special Therapeutics of Disease, Official and Extemporaneous Pharmacy, and Minute Directions for Prescription Writing.

Potter, S. (1905) Quiz Compends, the seventh edition being published in 1905;

Other Writings of Samuel Otway Lewis Potter: