Ralph C. Smedley

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Ralph C. Smedley (February 22, 1878 – September 11, 1965) was the founder of Toastmasters International, an international speaking organization with more than 292,000 members in 122 countries and more than individual 14,350 clubs.


Smedley was born in Waverly, Illinois, a city twenty miles southwest of Springfield. He remained in Illinois most of his youth. After high school, he taught schools in the countryside before enrolling at Illinois Wesleyan University at Bloomington, Illinois. After his graduation in 1903, he started working at the local YMCA.

The Beginnings of Toastmasters[edit]

As Educational Director of the "Y" he discovered there was a need for training in speech. He began to design a club and struggled for a name. The General Secretary of the "Y", George Sutton, suggested calling it a Toastmasters club. The boys liked the name and the club was a success. At each club meeting, there was a rotation of duties with members taking turns at presiding and speaking. Short speeches were evaluated by Ralph and the other older men, and the boys were invited to join in the evaluation to learn more. The club performed its intended purpose as leadership and speech improved in the other educational groups with which these young men were associated.

The club only lasted a year after Ralph Smedley moved to the YMCA at Rock Island, Illinois as General Secretary in 1910. He organized a Toastmasters Club at the Rock Island "Y" which soon reached a membership of 75. When Ralph Smedley left the Rock Island "Y", the Toastmasters Club there also soon perished.

After he spent over two years with an architect working on YMCA architecture he accepted the post of YMCA Secretary at San Jose, California in September 1919, and soon had a Toastmasters Club flourishing at his new YMCA. Again the club lasted only a short time after he moved to Santa Ana, California in 1922.

The Apex[edit]

A club was immediately organized and still exists as Club No. 1 of Toastmasters International. He introduced the Toastmasters Club idea and the first meeting was held at the YMCA Building on October 22, 1924. Until then, the Toastmasters Club was an educational arm of the YMCA. In the autumn of 1925, J. Clark Chamberlain of Anaheim, California visited the Toastmasters Club and the following winter, Ralph Smedley helped a group in Anaheim to form a Toastmasters Club. It is still labeled as Club Number 2 in Toastmasters International. The Toastmasters Club idea spread to Los Angeles, Long Beach, and other southern California cities. Representatives of these clubs met and organized an association.

Birth of Manuals[edit]

In order to save the time consumed in replying to many letters and inquiries, Ralph prepared a "Manual of Instructions" and "Ten Lessons In Public Speaking" which he mimeographed and bound in paper covers. On October 25, 1928, Ralph obtained copyrights on his publications and copyrighted the name Toastmasters Club all of which he later assigned to Toastmasters International.

The new association needed a name and because of one club in British Columbia, Canada, they chose to call it Toastmasters International. There were about 30 clubs when the association was formed in 1930, and in 1932 Toastmasters International was incorporated as a California Non-profit corporation.

In addition to his job as Secretary of the YMCA, Smedley was the Secretary and Bulletin Editor of the Santa Ana Rotary Club and undertook the dual role of Editor and Secretary of the new Toastmasters International. In 1936, he published his first article to give special recognition to General Henry Martyn Robert, the author of Robert's Rules of Order. His interest in General Robert continued for the rest of his life and culminated in the book The Great Peacemaker by Ralph C. Smedley published in 1955.

He resigned as YMCA Secretary in 1941 to devote more time to Toastmasters International. Through the war years he operated the organization out of a small office. When the war ended, a new Secretary, Ted Blanding, replaced Smedley, who remained active as Educational Director for the rest of his life and a permanent member of the Board of Directors. In 1950, Smedley wrote Beyond Basic Training. At the Toastmasters International Convention at Atlanta, Georgia, August 18–20, 1960, Ralph C. Smedley showed the model of the new Toastmasters International Headquarters, 2200 North Grand, Santa Ana, California, (which was so occupied until June 1990) to the District 19 delegation.

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1950, Illinois Wesleyan University recognized Smedley's service to mankind by conferring the honorary degree of L.H.D. -- Litter arum Humaniorum or Doctor of Humane Letters. Santa Ana named a junior high school after him in 1955.

In 1956, Toastmasters itself gave Smedley the title of honorary president and lifetime board member. The Santa Ana Toastmasters Club renamed itself the Smedley Number One Club in honor of its founder. A photograph of Ralph Smedley and the original club charter are placed in an empty chair near the lectern to represent his continuing inspiration. This started at Club Number One and several other clubs around the world also chose to honor Ralph Smedley in this way.

Declining years[edit]

In the summer of 1964, Smedley's health began to decline. He was confined to a medical facility and died on September 11, 1965.


  • The Amateur Chairman (1939, ?, ?, 1947)
  • Speech Evaluation: The Art of Constructive Criticism (1940)
  • The Voice of the Speaker (1949, ?, 1967)
  • Speech Engineering: 25 Ways to Build a Speech (1952)
  • The Great Peacemaker (1955)
  • Basic Training for Toastmasters (1956)
  • The Story of Toastmasters: Reminiscences of the Founder (1959)
  • Beyond Basic Training (1961)
  • The Advanced Speaker (1963)
  • Personally Speaking: Selections from the Writings of Ralph C. Smedley (1966)

External links[edit]