Lewis Baxter Monroe


As a young man, Lewis Baxter Monroe had poor health, a factor in his life that led him to become interested in physical training. This interest spread to vocal training and eventually to the field of elocution. Monroe was the first head and later Dean of the Boston University School of Oratory, a school that began in 1872. Because of Monroe's influence, this school became a very important elocutionary center in America. It included Alexander Graham Bell among its teaching staff. A number of Monroe's students were later start or direct their own private elocution schools

Charles Wesley Emerson: Founder of the Emerson College of Oratory

Samuel Silas Curry, and Anna Baright Curry, Founders of the School of Expression in Boston

Franklin Sargent, Director of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts

Leland Powers, School of the Spoken Word

Other of Monroe's students became leaders in speech education in American universities: Robert I Fulton at Ohio Wesleyan; Thomas C. Trueblood at the University of Michigan; S. S. Hammill at Wesleyan University; and John R. Scott of the University of Missouri.

When he joined Boston University, Monroe was at the height of his career as an educator. He had been supervisor of reading in the city of Boston and was author of a set of readers, which were clearly in the vein of interpretive reading. In addition he was a platform reader of note throughout New England. Monroe studied with Steele Mackaye (the American teacher of Delsarte methods) he was familiar with Swedenborg's philosophy and of transcendentalism. He has been credited with changing the emphasis in oratory and declamation from the display of technique to the communication of ideas.

Monroe expressed his endebtedness to James Rush, and to the adaptation of Rush's work by William Russell. In his book Vocal and Physical Training, he advocated a system of vocal and physical exercises for the public schools that would train the "mind, body and soul" (Renshaw, 1954, p. 212).

Writings by Lewis Baxter Monroe, arranged chronologically

Monroe, Lewis B., (1871) The fifth reader. Cowperthwait & Co.

Monroe, Lewis B., (1872). The sixth reader. Cowperthwait & Co., c1872.

Monroe, Lewis B. (1873) The third reader. Cowperthwait & Co.

Monroe, Lewis B., (Eds.) (1873), Public and parlor readings: for the use of dramatic and reading clubs, and for public, social, and school entertainment. Dialogues and dramas. Lee and Shepard.

Monroe, Lewis B., (Ed.). (1899).Public and parlor readings; prose and poetry, for the use of reading clubs and for public and social entertainment. Humorous. Lee and Shepard.

Monroe, Lewis B. (1904) Young folks' readings, for social and public entertainment.

Writings about Lewis Baxter Monroe

Renshaw, E. (1954). Five private schools of speech. In K. Wallace (Ed.). History of speech education in America. NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Thompson, Mary (1892) Reminiscence of Lewis Baxter Monroe. Werner's Voice Magazine, 14, 38-39.

Monroe had his elocution class of 100 or so students go through a set of activities at each meeting:

  1. Delsarte exercises
  2. Vocal exercises
  3. Drill (reading in unison)
  4. Students reported on an assigned reading (question and answer and discussion.

Then Monroe acted out pieces of a text.

He was able to draw from his knowledge of Spanish and Italian and of these cultures.

Among Monroe's elocution students were: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, Robert R. Raymond, Henry Hudson, and Bronson Alcott.

Venezky, Richard L. The American Reading Script and Its Nineteenth Century Origins. Book Research Quarterly 62 (1990): 16-28.

Describes the history of readers through the work of: Samuel Wood, Willam Perry, McGuffey, Noah Webster, and Lewis Baxter Monroe.