Evelyn Wood (teacher)

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Evelyn Wood

Evelyn Nielsen Wood (January 8, 1909 – August 26, 1995) was an American educator and businessperson, widely known for coining the phrase speed reading and for creating a system to increase a reader's speed (over the average reading rate of 250 to 300 words a minute) by a factor of two to five times, while increasing retention.[1] The system was taught in seminars as Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics, a business Wood co-founded with her husband, Doug Wood, which ultimately had over 150 outlets in the United States.[2]


Evelyn Nielsen, the daughter of Elias and Rose (Stirland) Nielsen,[3] was born in Logan, Utah in 1909 and grew up in Ogden, Utah. She received a B.A. in English from the University of Utah in 1929 — later pursuing a master's degree in speech.[1] On June 12, 1929, she married Myron Douglas (Doug) Wood (1903–1987), son of William Wood, Jr. and Ellen Sutton (Goddard) Wood – and student body president at the University of Utah.[3] Doug Wood grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and earned a B.A. in business from the University of Utah in 1929. The couple had one daughter, Carol Davis Wood Evans of Tucson, AZ.[3]

Wood first began to study reading while she was a teacher and girls' counselor at Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah south of Salt Lake City.[1] Evelyn and Doug Wood created a speed reading business in 1959, Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics.

In 1967, the Woods sold the business, Doug Wood continuing to serve as President until he retired in 1974.[4] American Learning Corporation, a subsidiary of Encyclopædia Britannica, bought Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics in May 1986,[5] and it was later sold in September 1993 to Pryor Resources, a business seminar training company in Kansas City, Kansas.[1] The business is currently owned by PARK University Enterprises, Inc.

After two strokes, Wood died 26 August 1995 in Tucson, Arizona at age 86.[1] Her papers are archived at the Utah State Historical Society.[3]

Speed reading[edit]

In her studies, Wood was capable of reading 2,700 words a minute, often sharing the traits of reading down the page rather than left to right, reading groups of words or complete thoughts rather than single words, avoiding involuntary rereading of material and applying their efficiency to varied material.[1] After discovering that faster readers were also more effective readers,[1] she began developing her programs, ultimately establishing the methodology of using a finger or pointer to trace lines of text while eliminating sub-vocalizing (reading under one's breath or aloud in one's head).[1][6]

Her book Reading Skills was published in 1959 and she and her husband subsequently started the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics business. Classes were heavily advertised on television in the 1960s and '70s; Steve Allen was one of the highest-profile celebrity endorsers. Until the late 1990s her classes were taught on college campuses in the United States.

Among those whose reading habits Wood studied was US President John F. Kennedy, an avid reader.[citation needed] Subsequently White House staff members in the Kennedy, Ford, and Carter administrations took the course.[1]

One of Wood's speed reading students appeared on the CBS television program I've Got a Secret, claiming she could read the 689-page novel Gone With the Wind in less than one hour.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Van Gelder, Lawrence (1995-08-30). "Evelyn Wood, Who Promoted Speed Reading, Is Dead at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  2. ^ Oliver, Myrna (1995-08-31). "Evelyn Wood; Pioneer in Speed Reading". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Evelyn Nielsen Wood Papers, ca. 1925-1979". Utah State Historical Society. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  4. ^ "Obituary, M. Doug Wood". The New York Times. 1987-05-07. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  5. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (1986-08-14). "A Quick Read Through the Life of Evelyn Wood". The LA Times. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  6. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (1995-12-31). "The Lives They Lived: Evelyn Wood;Finger Reading". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-03-11.

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