Werner’s Dictionary of Elocutionists, 1887, images

This post includes many biographies and advertisements for public speakers and experts in “elocution,” which, in the 19th century United States, was synonymous with the rhetorical arts of delivery: the use of the body and voice in communication. The images, text fonts, and language were rich and entertaining enough to be excerpted in this post as screenshots from the book itself.


Wilbor, E. M. (Ed.). (1887). Werner’s Directory of Elocutionists, Readers, Lecturers and Other Public Instructors and Entertainers. New York, NY: E.S. Werner.  Google-Books-ID: TF49AAAAYAAJ

Emma Dunning Banks, p. 272

This is the first of many images I’ve selected from this book. I found it worth emphasizing that the book included many female elocutionists. This woman looks very serious.

Here’s her biography on the next page.

The ending of the bio mentions some of the ways people ridiculed the study of elocution.

Here’s one of the many male elocutionists featured:

J.M. Harrison, p. 278

Among the profiles of men, this man’s mustache is amazing and must have been an asset to his expression as it accentuated the movement of his face!

After detailing his noble service as a soldier, the bio discusses his professional teaching as an elocutionist. His vocal range has four octaves, and can imitate “bell tones,” and he is an expert at reading the “weird poem” by Poe called “The Raven.”

Wow, he went as far west as Kansas!  Most of the book focuses on New York and states on the eastern half of the US map.

Genevieve Lee Stebbins, p. 288

Compared to Emma Dunning Banks’ image, above, the veil and flowers add romantic charm to this image, making Ms. Stebbins very feminine. In accordance with her biography, she looks more like an actress than an image of a professional speaker on serious topics:

Her biography begins by focusing on her lineage from professors.

It includes her early formation as a young girl.

Her biography then goes into a digression on the Delsarte method (see an ad for her book on the subject, below). It explains how she got involved with it around the same time that Steele Mackaye brought its teachings back from Europe. She became Mackaye’s pupil and then his business partner in a theatre.

The paragraph continues to provide reviews of Stebbins’ excellent portrayal of dramatic roles.

Then her biography ends by transitioning into a theme of the struggle between “labor and capital,” ending her theatrical partnership, which somehow led to her residence in Paris. It lists her competitors and opponents, and it ends with Regnier’s praise for her recital in French.

What a life!

Moving on to a later section of the book: its advertisements.

Martyn’s College of Elocution, p. 355

Advertisements for institutions show how they portrayed their teaching of Elocution in relation to theatrical entertainment.

In the final paragraph above, I’m not sure I understand how the hall seats 400 people and the stage seats 100 people. Will 100 people sit on the stage?

This page is worth attention! Read it.  p. 363

Most of the ads in the volume are for books. Is this page really worth attention? The title got my attention for being so declamatory of that fact. You be the judge.

One thing is for sure, these ads are written as if they are meant to be read aloud with enthusiasm. They “talk” directly to the reader’s intellect and reason with it.

Wordless poems, p. 367

UM … how can a poem not have words? — Oh, if it’s a pantomime. With music to replace the human voice. This must be a book, so they will use some words as well as images to describe wordless poems, I assume.

Delsarte System of Dramatic Expression by Genevieve Stebbins, p. 368

Wow, even the sculptor can learn from this. I love how they use the word “gymnastics.”

Soprano voice-training exercises, p. 372

Yes, this is in a book on elocution.  So, elocution involves voice training of this sort, not just for speech but singing too! It’s another sign that elocution was not just for men. Note that they called a “shake” what we now call a vibrato. I don’t think they mean vocal trills.

Prof. W. H. Meeke, Dramatic Reader and Impersonator, p. 374

Wow, he is not just a professor but an entertainer. Not so Meeke, after all. Contact his agent to get his eight-page announcement, with more delicious adjective-noun combos!

Grand Conservatory of Music – Department of Elocution and Dramatic Art, p. 376

Elocution is so interdisciplinary. Here it is as a department within a conservatory of music, conjoined with “dramatic art.”  They can afford to go full-page.

Note that you get a Lecturer in “Rhetoric and English Literature” here, and another lecturer in “Elocution, Rhetoric, and History of Eng. Literature.” Within a conservatory of music.

Women and Canadian Elocutionists, p. 379

Many small ads included some for individual women and men elocutionists, some ads for books, and some for schools. This page below includes ads for the “Toronto School of Elocution” and a Toronto-based female author of a book called “Canadian Elocutionist.”


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