Are you following your Toastmasters dream or living it. Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, didn’t only follow his Toastmasters dream, he lived it. That dream was to build a better world through better communication and better leadership. His inspiration was drawn from the belief that communication is a gift to be used by everyone for the good of all. Many who knew Dr. Smedley often said if you ever asked the doctor of humane letters – how can I become a better communicator or a better leader – He didn’t point you to places of higher learning. He pointed to your chest. You see, Dr. Smedley strongly promoted the principle of learning by doing and improving through the power of evaluations.
In 1903 after graduating from the Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, Dr. Smedley started his journey as a YMCA director. There he quickly observed the young men who stayed at his facility could not communicate effectively. I am sure some of you ladies might be thinking, tell us something women don’t already know. Dr. Smedley decided to take action to make a difference. He invited the young men who stayed at his facility to remain after dinner to participate in toasting each other. The participants took turns evaluating each other’s toast. The person who delivered the best toast at every gathering was declared the Toastmaster. Soon the gatherings began to grow. The young men who took part in the toasting sessions after dinner became known as members of the – After Dinner Club. Now in case you are wondering, that was not the humble beginnings of the Toastmasters we know today. Between 1903 and 1924, Dr. Smedley was transferred and promoted many times within the YMCA organization. Wherever he was posted, he started a new – After Dinner Clubs. Sadly, each time he was transferred to another facility, the clubs fell apart.
Undaunted, he continued to not only follow his dream but to live it. He emphasized the power of simplicity, building a better society made up of individuals functioning in small groups to enhance their lives and the lives of others. In 1915, Dr. Smedley was the director at the YMCA in San Jose. There he started a club that again failed upon his departure. Finally, in 1924 he formed club number one in Santa Ana to officially start Toastmasters. In 1932 the federation was incorporated as Toastmasters International, following a club’s chartering in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. By 1941 Dr. Smedley realized Toastmasters needed full-time attention. He resigned from the YMCA that year to dedicate the rest of his life to make his dream of building a better world through better communication and better leadership a reality and continued to lead Toastmasters until his passing at age 87 in 1965.
Dr. Smedley’s home club was the Smedley Chapter number one club, which exists today as a testimony to the gift he left us all. The Toastmasters journey is a long and winding road for all who seek to share the gift of better communication and better leadership. If you were to visit club number one, you would see an empty chair at the front of the room. That chair serves as a reminder that the journey we all are on will have its peaks and valleys. Today, Toastmasters is known as a leader in the world of Communication and Leadership. The Toastmasters organization has grown to over sixteen thousand clubs in one hundred and forty-five countries. Membership is now over three hundred and sixty-four thousand and growing. The dream is now ours to continue. If we follow the dream and live the dream as Dr. Smedley did, that dream will become a reality one day.
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