Dr.Ralph C. Smedley (February 22, 1878 – September 11, 1965), the founder of Toastmasters International, a non profit organizartion, was born in Waverly, Illinois, a city twenty miles southwest of Springfield. He remained in Illinois most of his youth.
Toastmasters was the brainchild of Ralph C. Smedley. In 1903, after graduating from Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, Smedley took a job as director of education for the local Young Men's Christian Association. Realizing that the older boys who visited the YMCA needed training in communication, he began a public speaking club. Smedley called his group, "The Toastmasters Club" because the activities resembled a banquet with toasts and after-dinner speakers. The boys enjoyed taking turns making speeches and evaluating them, as well as presiding at the weekly meetings. Smedley's club blossomed, but soon he was promoted to general secretary of the YMCA and transferred to Freeport, Illinois. After his departure, the Bloomington club died. In the following years, Smedley organized other Toastmasters clubs wherever he was transferred. In Freeport, businessmen and other professionals who recognized the benefits of communications skills became members. Yet these older members did not save the organization either. The club operated successfully while Smedley was there but disappeared when its founder moved on to Rock Island, Illinois. Subsequent clubs in Rock Island and San Jose, California, suffered the same fate
Finally, the YMCA director arrived in
Santa Ana. Once more Smedley organized a Toastmasters club, holding the
first meeting in the Santa Ana YMCA basement on October 22, 1924. In
Southern California's optimistic climate, the concept caught on. Men
from neighboring communities sought out the group and liked what they
saw. Smedley was quick to help them organize their own Toastmasters
clubs. The new clubs were united in a federation designed to coordinate
their activities and ensure uniform methods. In 1932, the federation was
incorporated as Toastmasters International, following the establishment
of a club in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Districts were
created later, as the number of clubs increased. For many years, Smedley
held the position of general secretary of the Santa Ana YMCA, handling
finances, fund raising, program planning, membership matters and the
supervision of a number of YMCA employees. In addition, he served as
liaison for the local and national YMCA organizations. Somehow Smedley
managed to find time to spread the gospel about Toastmasters, serving as
its executive secretary and editor of The Toastmaster magazine, while
also maintaining his busy YMCA schedule. He corresponded regularly with
members and club officers, encouraging and guiding them in club matters.
International Growth By 1941, Smedley realized that Toastmasters needed his full-time attention. He resigned
from the YMCA and opened a 12-by-16-foot office in a downtown Santa Ana bank, with a desk, typewriter, telephone and second-hand address machine. He hired a secretary to handle the correspondence while he wrote materials for the club's use.
The organization began with two manuals -- Basic Training and Beyond Basic Training -- written by Smedley in the office after business hours. He also found time to write several tomes on public speaking and parliamentary procedure.
Toastmasters continued to grow. The single-room office expanded to four, and past international president Ted Blanding took over the position of executive secretary, while Smedley became educational director and concentrated on learning processes and materials.
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.
Smedley was involved in the educational program of Toastmasters International until shortly before his death in 1965 at the age of 87.