The following article about Wendell Johnson and Charles Van Riper was written by Dave Williams for the National Council on Stuttering newsletter. It is reproduced below with permission. JAK


A Remembrance of Them and Their Era

By Dave Williams

Quite likely stuttering has plagued mankind since the development of spoken language. Certainly there are references to it since the development of written language. By the late nineteenth century there had been any number of articles, books, and other writings dealing with the nature and treatment of stuttering, but nearly all these were based on armchair speculation and casual observation. There was no systematic effort to deal with the problem in a scientific manner through controlled, quantitative research until well into the twentieth century. Then, in the mid-1920's, a research and therapy program in stuttering and other speech disorders began to be developed at the State University of Iowa under the guidance of Lee Edward Travis. Travis was a clinical and experimental psychologist with a particular interest in the neurophysiology of the brain, and he had a strong hunch that the origin of stuttering lies in a disorder of cerebral dominance, sometimes called the 'handedness theory'. But as to what could be done about stuttering, its treatment, apart from some abortive attempts to change the handedness of stutterers, began to focus on the reduction of fear and avoidance and searching for ways that stutterers could speak without reinforcing their anxieties.

Travis can be viewed as the 'Adam' of scientific speech pathology, and his book, Speech Pathology, (published in 1931) was the first text in this field based on controlled research rather than on wishful thinking. The dynamic Travis gathered about him a corps of graduate students who became, as it was, second generation speech pathologists, earning their doctorates through the 1930's. Of this group, the two who would become world renowned for their work in the field of stuttering were Wendell Johnson and Charles Van Riper.

My own experience was chiefly with Johnson, under whose guidance I received my M.A. in speech pathology at Iowa in 1948 and my Ph.D. in 1954. With few glitches, I had excellent rapport with him for the twenty years I knew him, from the time I met him as an undergraduate in 1945 to his untimely death at age 59 in 1965.

My personal experience with Van Riper was confined to several conversations at conventions, a few phone calls and letters back and forth over the years, a not-so-pleasant first meeting in 1953 and an immensely pleasurable weekend my wife and I spent with him at his home in 1986. Of course I read much about him, I used his textbooks countless times in my undergraduate and graduate courses in stuttering, and I had innumerable conversations with people who had studied under him and/or had taken therapy at his clinic.

Wendell Johnson was born in 1906 on a stock and wheat farm near the village of Roxbury in central Kansas. Despite his stuttering, he was president of his high school class, captain of the football, baseball, and basketball teams, and valedictorian. After two years at nearby MacPherson college, he entered the State University of Iowa in 1926, won honors in English and journalism, and received his B.A. in 1928. He loved to write, and was very good at it. Additionally, he became involved in Travis' program of stuttering research, receiving therapy while serving as an experimental subject.

On the graduate level he specialized in clinical psychology, with minors in physiology and the emerging field of speech pathology. Combining his penchant for writing, his stuttering, and his training under Travis, he conducted an in-depth psychological and physiological analysis of himself as a stutterer. This was his M.A. thesis, and the following year (1930) it was expanded and published as his first book, Because I Stutter. It was followed up by his doctoral dissertation, a lengthy study of the effects of stuttering on the personality (1931), which remained unpublished.

In Because I Stutter, as expected, Johnson's neurophysiological comments about his stuttering were heavily influenced by Travis' ideas and research. Psychologically he was more independent. The book depicts realistically the effects that stuttering had on his self-image and his social behavior as he grew up, and the ways in which he learned to compensate for his stuttering by capitalizing on certain natural assets in which he was already showing promise. These included excellence in scholarship, in athletics, in writing, and perhaps most basic of all, the cultivation of a genial, cooperative personality with an active sense of humor.

Johnson's home life as a child appears to have been happy and comfortable, with loving parents who did everything they could for him. Occasionally he was teased in school because of his stuttering, but with all of his assets, this was never a major problem. The asset he especially prized was his writing ability: "Writing has been to me a compensation for stuttering." Throughout his adult life, Johnson wrote prolifically. In addition to experimental research articles on stuttering ("Studies in the Psychology of Stuttering," ET AL.) he turned out countless magazine articles on stuttering and its effects, nature, and causes. Late in the 1930's, when he became fascinated with Korzybski's discipline of General Semantics, he began to writing more generally on problems of human adjustment and how these problems are influenced by the ways in which people use language. To Johnson, the problem of prime interest was of course stuttering. To my knowledge, Johnson never wrote any imaginative prose, any fiction. He was simply too literal and clinical for that. Once or twice he mentioned -- rather wistfully -- that he would like to take a whack at some fiction, but as far as I know it remained a wish.

From childhood, Johnson had been a friendly, happy, active, outgoing boy even with the socially inhibiting affects of his stuttering. Quite early he learned that the more he showed people that he liked them, the more helpful he was and the more he laughed at their jokes, while maintaining his own independence and self-respect, the more they liked him and ignored his stuttering. He learned to be an excellent listener: attentive, patient, sympathetic, offering constructive advice when asked. This reduced his communicative burden and increased his popularity.

He became admired as "quite a clown," supplementing his reputation as a really intelligent athlete. He was always welcome company. He found that humorous conversation and behavior made his stuttering much less painful for him as well as for others. He commented: "It was advantageous, therefore, to encourage humor all around me." It was a discovery made by countless stutterers before him. He was formulating many of the principles of how to win friends and influence people. He admits that he might seem to have gone about it in a rather calculating way, but I think that anyone who knew Johnson would agree that his congeniality, his love of a good time and a good joke, was genuine. He really liked people and had a zest for living, with an unfailing optimistic outlook of life. It seems almost inevitable that for a later period of his life he was president of the Iowa city chapter of Optimists International.

By the time Johnson received his Ph.D. in 1931, the Depression was wrecking the economy and jobs of all types were becoming scarce. For this reason and also because of his commitment to the stuttering research and therapy program at Iowa, Johnson remained there. He was appointed Research Associate in the Psychology and Speech Clinic in 1931, and put in charge of all clinical work with stutterers. In 1937, he became an assistant professor with joint appointment in the departments of Psychology, Speech and Child Welfare. He continued to work closely with Lee Travis until 1938, when Travis left the University of Iowa and went to California. Interestingly, it was around this time that Travis gave up his research interest in the neurophysiological aspects of stuttering and turned to a psychoanalytical approach.

Travis' departure gave Johnson more freedom to pursue his own theoretical and research interests. Promoted to associate professor in 1939, he became director of the Speech Clinic in 1943, and full professor in 1945, the year I entered Iowa as a junior. For a year or two before I went to Iowa, I 'boned up' on Johnson by reading some of his articles and his book, Because I Stutter. I gathered that he believed stuttering to be totally learned behavior with nothing organic about it. Apparently he felt that it was usually caused by well-meaning parents who misevaluated their child's normal disfluencies (hesitations and repetitions) as being indicative of disorder and who then -- by word, look and attitude -- taught the child that he or she should not try to talk 'that way'. In so doing, said Johnson, the child got more and more self-conscious and more and more tensed as he anticipated and tried to avoid the 'normal' disfluencies -- and these anxiety-motivated tensings and avoidances constituted the beginnings of real stuttering, which became self-reinforcing.

Intuitively, I found it difficult to believe that my stuttering was nothing but learned behavior, and I had no memory of anyone trying to 'correct ' me in any way before the age of nine, the age at which I began to stutter. But intuition is not proof.

So I went to Iowa as a junior that fall of 1945, having had two years of college at Marshall College in my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. I took Johnson's two-semester Introduction to Speech Pathology, Stuttering, and other courses in preparation for graduate work in speech pathology, for I had decided to try for an M.A. in that field.

I was intrigued by the fact that what Johnson had written in Because I Stutter (1930) in part corroborated his present (1945) thinking on stuttering, and in part was diametrically opposed to it. It was a very curious mixture. For example, he says (page 10):

When I met Johnson, 15 years after this was published, his opinion was that stuttering occurs chiefly because the speaker does not want to stutter: the more he fears and fights it, the more he stutters. Johnson believed that if a person really did not care whether he stuttered or not, he would stutter little if at all. When I showed Johnson this passage from his book and said, "Hey, how do you explain this?", he grinned and replied, "Boy, you sure have to be careful what you write, don't you?"

By 1945, Johnson had formulated what he considered an explanatory description of stuttering. Stuttering, he said, is an "anticipatory, apprehensive, hypertonic, avoidance response." That is, stuttering is something you do (not just something that happens to you) that you expect to do (anticipate), something that you are fearful about doing (apprehensive), something you are tense about (hypertonic), and something that you try to keep from happening (avoidance). And it is a learned response to environmental stimuli, a conditioned behavior. So, this behavior can be reduced by reducing any or all of the factors that produce it, especially the anxiety and the effort to avoid it.

By 1945, Johnson was approaching his professional peak. He was the kingpin of the Iowa program of stuttering research and therapy, turning out M.A.s and Ph.D.s and extending the Iowa reputation though in a direction unlike that of the Travis years. Travis and his students had never proven the neurophysiological basis of stuttering (the 'cerebral dominance theory'), and following Travis' departure, there was a period of several years of theoretical uncertainty while Johnson was establishing himself as Travis' successor. Then, in 1938 (so the story goes), Johnson read a book by a man named Alfred Korzybski titled Science and Sanity, and this gave him the theoretical underpinning for his future work, especially his approach to stuttering.

Korzybski said, in brief, that most people learn to use words in ways that create or maintain interpersonal problems rather than solve those problems. We learn to use words as absolutes, as things rather than as symbols that are man-made and therefore relative and changeable in meaning. The term 'semantics' refers to the meaning of words, but Korzybski coined the term 'General Semantics' to mean his study of the ways in which people use words (to themselves as well as to others) in their everyday lives, in their efforts to solve problems. Korzybski observed that scientists, when behaving as scientists, solved problems by cooperation, by comparing notes, by being aware of the way they used words. They did not try to solve problems by becoming emotional, by shouting and fighting or even by killing one another, as humans have so often done in trying to settle disputes over politics or religion, when they use words as labels or weapons rather than as tools for mutual understanding.

So Johnson tied all this in with his 'semantic theory' of stuttering that was so predominant at Iowa in the forties and fifties. Johnson extended his interest in General Semantics to include interpersonal problems, and when I arrived in 1945, he was working on a manuscript of his most creative book -- I'm sure the one always closest to his heart -- which was published in 1946 by Harper & Bros. as People in Quandaries: the Semantics of Personal Adjustment. "P.Q.," as we call it, joined other books that popularized General Semantics, such as S.I. Hayakawa's Language in Action and Irving J. Lee's Language Habits in Human Affairs. In the spring of 1946 I took Johnson's course in General Semantics, and it was the most exciting, stimulating course I've ever had.

So far as we could see, Johnson pretty well exemplified the principles of General Semantics in his everyday life. As an example, he encouraged graduate students to call him by his nickname "Jack." By doing so, he felt they reacted to him more as a fellow human with whom they could communicate more easily, less defensively than if they had to react to the label "Dr. Johnson." He felt that reacting to labels of authority rather than to the actual, experiential person or thing, interfered with communication and could lead to problems and even to warfare in the extreme case.

Jack abhorred absolutes of any kind, insisting that everything is relative. And because the results of science are always tentative and subject to revision, he disliked dogmatic statements. One semester two Catholic nuns took his Introduction to Speech Pathology course, and during a lecture Johnson got going on his anti-absolutes idea. As could have been predicted, the nuns weren't going to take that kind of nonsense quietly, and a lively discussion ensued, which got rather heated. At one point Johnson said, "Could you show me an absolute? Bring one to class and let's see what it looks like." I don't recall whether the nuns dropped the course or not.

In his General Semantics class, Johnson would tell his students never to be afraid to question the 'voice of authority.' He would say, whenever you hear a dogmatic, absolutistic statement from any kind of 'expert', never be afraid to ask, "What do you mean and how do you know?" Ask the authority to reveal how he came to his conclusion? What are his data, his evidence?

Then, at a party one night, I saw a graduate student in psychology get into a heated argument over some question or other. The student literally had Johnson backed against a wall, and was challenging something Jack had said in class. Suddenly the student, probably fortified with a few drinks, let Johnson have it. "About that statement you made in your lecture yesterday, what did you mean and how do you know?"

Johnson stared at the student, bug-eyed, and almost spluttered, "What do you mean, 'What did I mean and how did I know'? I almost giggled. It was beginning to sound like an Abbott and Costello "Who's on First?" routine. Johnson taught us to question authority . . . as long as he was not the authority.

Those were exciting days at Iowa, a sort of Brave New World atmosphere. The war had recently ended with a victory for the democracies. Fascism was ended, we thought. The Nazi leaders were on trial in Nuremberg. We were still friends with the Soviet Union; the Cold War had not yet begun. The atomic bomb, despite its horror, had helped the war. G.I.'s were flocking back to campus. Temporary housing went up all over campus; some did not come down again for many years. The Depression had ended, and America was wealthy again. There was much talk of Science, with a capital S, that had produced atomic energy and would lead to many new wonders.

Johnson was convinced that, due to science and its applications, people would learn to cooperate and be happier. He was riding the crest of a wave of optimism. He felt that General Semantics was a way to teach people how to deal effectively with interpersonal problems by applying a scientific way of thinking to their usage of language. These desirable language habits included stating a problem in clearly defined terms, asking meaningful, verifiable questions, making appropriate observations to answer those questions, then trying first one change then another to see what gave the best solution to the problem.

One day I rode with him to the Iowa Psychopathic Hospital across campus to observe a weekly staffing of patients. Some schizophrenic patients were brought in one by one and interrogated by the hospital staff. The bizarre statements made by the patients indicated how far out of contact they were with reality. On the way back to the Speech Clinic, Johnson commented, "If only those patients had been taught how to ask meaningful, verifiable questions when they were young, they wouldn't be in a 'mental hospital' now." I thought Jack's remark was rather simplistic and naive, but I said nothing. I certainly was not an expert on mental illness.

Despite the prevailing air of optimism, there were occasional signs of problems to come. Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech would soon be given, and in that spring of 1946 no Iowa City barbershop would give a haircut to a black person. The situation changed when posters appeared all over town and vet's organizations joined battle, but Science was not going to have a free ride in changing society.

When I took Johnson's course, Introduction to Speech Pathology, in 1945-46, the text we used was the first edition of Charles Van Riper's Speech Correction: Principles and Methods (1939). Jack told us that Van Riper was a friend of his who had been at Iowa in the early 1930's, and had gone to Western Michigan Teacher's College to set up a speech clinic after he got his Ph.D. around 1934.

Jack talked about the progress made in scientific knowledge because of the way scientists cooperated. What one scientist discovered (and this included speech pathologists) was soon published in scientific journals and then put to use by other scientists. So we got the idea that all scientists were eagerly cooperating and unselfishly helping one another to advance the frontiers of knowledge.

Then one day I read something Van Riper had written about stuttering. It may have been a paragraph from his Speech Correction book. I took it to Jack's office to show him and get his reaction, because I thought it was very good. I expected Jack to react to it in a positive way, as I had.

Instead, to my amazement, Johnson almost sneered at it. As best I can recall, he said that Van Riper was way off base, and added something like, "See, that's what happens when someone leaves the source of knowledge" (meaning Iowa) "and goes off to the backwoods of Michigan and cuts himself off from research data." Well, I thought, so much for the grand unity of science and mutual respect and cooperation among workers in the field. Maybe professional jealousy just can't help popping up now and then. But despite such occasional glitches, I know Johnson and Van Riper did have a basic liking and respect for one another. During the late forties I heard a lot about Van Riper, and read many things he wrote. The second edition of his Speech Correction text came out in 1947. I saw and heard him a few times at conventions of the American Speech Correction Association (which became the American Speech and Hearing Association, with 'language' being added in 1963), though we spoke briefly if at all. My chief source of information about him was Joe Sheehan, who came from Battle Creek, Michigan, and had attended Van Riper's clinic at Western Michigan before the war.

I met Joe at Iowa in 1946, when he came as a doctoral candidate in speech pathology. He was my stuttering group leader in 1946-47, and I attended his therapy group once or twice a week though I also had my individual clinician that I met twice a week. Joe and I became good friends and spent time together, talking about stuttering and many other topics. He had a good sense of humor and was musically inclined, but he wasted no time in our group meetings where he ran a tight ship. He was an excellent clinician.

He told me of his days with Van Riper. At some point he locked horns with Van Riper, refusing to do what Van asked him to do in therapy, and as penalty got kicked out of the clinic for a couple of weeks. Joe said Van Riper could be a warm, sympathetic clinician, but also could be tough on adult stutterers who refused to work and cooperate with him. No one expected stutterers to be able to stop stuttering through 'will power', but they were expected to be able and willing to practice behaviors and attitudes that would minimize their stuttering and make them happier, better adjusted people.

Charles Gage Van Riper was born in 1905 in Champion, a forest village near the center of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His father was a physician who maintained stern discipline. He began to stutter at two years, and though this plagued him all through school, he did very well academically. He read voraciously, and showed great talent for writing. After high school, he spent two years at Northern Michigan Normal School, then attended the University of Michigan where he won honors for creative writing. He got his M.A. in English, then taught high school English in his hometown in Saline, a town south of Ann Arbor. He also attended the Bogue Institute of Stammerers in Indianapolis and the Millard School in Milwaukee, but these interludes of stuttering therapy did him little good. He developed many techniques for dealing with his stuttering while teaching, and he was regarded as a proficient and innovative teacher. Still, the stress of his stuttering, his fear of speaking in many situations, made him unhappy at teaching.

In August 1929 he went to see Bryng Bryngelson at the University of Minnesota. Bryngelson was developing a speech clinic there, and was especially interested in stuttering. He put Van Riper through a battery of tests and concluded that a change of handedness was called for. He also told Van Riper about the stuttering program at Iowa under Travis, and recommended that he go there for therapy -- Bryngelson himself was going to Iowa the following year to work on his Ph. D. in speech pathology.

Fired up about the cerebral dominance theory of stuttering and the logicality of the Iowa approach to therapy, Van Riper entered the graduate program in speech pathology at Iowa. His stuttering at this time was severe, and he hoped Iowa would help him find answers to the mystery.

At Iowa he met Wendell Johnson and the other members of the Travis group, and he and Johnson soon became friends and co-workers. It became immediately apparent that Travis was a researcher, not a therapist. He was primarily interested in discovering the basic nature of stuttering, and it was left to the graduate students -- the stutterers themselves -- to develop the practical techniques of treatment. It was generally agreed that the main goals were to reduce the fear of stuttering and to modify stuttering behavior in such a way as to bring it under voluntary control as much as possible. The total elimination of all stuttering was regarded as impossible, but hopefully anyone could learn to eliminate much of the tension and perform his stuttering in a relatively easy, slow, fluent manner.

By the time Van Riper joined the Iowa Program, Johnson was already an old hand, receiving his Ph.D. in 1931. Travis, as their mentor, taught them the basic Iowa theme, the cerebral dominance theory. Together with another Iowan, Samuel Orton, Travis had developed this theory, which postulated that stuttering begins when neither hemisphere of the brain is dominant for speech and language, (in most people, the left-hemisphere is dominant, and the person is right-handed) so that neither side takes the lead in coordinating the movements of the speech musculature. This lack of dominance, said the theory, results in a momentary neuromuscular 'block' or incoordination which is the basic nature of stuttering, Everything else that the stutterer does is simply the result of the fear, tension, struggle and panic that are his reactions to the experience of the neuromuscular 'block'. It was assumed that the lack of cerebral dominance was inborn, though efforts were made to develop dominance by keeping the presumed non-dominant hand unused for a time -- even to the extent of keeping that arm in a sling or cast.

Once it was realized that the cerebral dominance theory per se was pretty much of a blind alley, emphasis shifted to determining what the stutterer could do to minimize his reactions to the expectation of stuttering or to the actual experience of stuttering. This search proved fruitful, resulting in really practical, helpful therapy techniques, and was the main target of Johnson's and Van Riper's work with themselves and with other stutterers. Johnson developed his technique of voluntary disfluency known as 'bounce' and later incorporating the principles of General Semantics, while Van Riper developed his more eclectic therapy involving intense self-confrontation and self-analysis, 'pullouts', 'cancellations', etc.

After several productive years at Iowa -- during which he met and fell in love with a speech pathology major named Catherine Jane Hull -- he received his Ph.D. in speech pathology (but earned in the Department of Psychology, since in those days there was no autonomous speech pathology department). In 1936 he was hired at Western Michigan State Normal School in Kalamazoo (later Western Michigan University) to teach speech pathology and develop a speech clinic. He remained there until his retirement in 1976 and his death in 1994. He wrote prodigiously -- an amazing output of articles and books -- and was a master clinician and teacher until he and his clinic were world famous. Simultaneously with his getting the job at Kalamazoo, he and Katy were married, and were inseparable until her death in 1984. She was always 'milove' or 'milady Katy', and was his right hand in everything. She was a native Iowan, and always remained a part of his Iowa experience. In his autobiography he says:

My first encounter with Van Riper that I recall was in the summer of 1953 in Iowa City, the year before I got my Ph.D. For several years, Van had been trying various therapy approaches with stutterers, seeking to improve his procedures. Johnson had invited him to Iowa to give a lecture on these efforts. All of us grad students attended, and Van gave a fascinating lecture. After the lecture, as we left the building, a small group of us buttonholed Van Riper and asked him if we could spend a little time with him talking about stuttering. He said, "Sure. Let's go up to the Fox Head Inn, if it's still there. I used to go there when I was a grad student." I told him it was still there, so we all traipsed up Linn Street, we students hanging on his every word, like eager puppies.

As we walked along, I said, "Dr. Van Riper, if I were starting all over again, I would go to you first for therapy, and then come here for my graduate work." I meant this quite sincerely, as I had gotten the impression that at Van's clinic the stutterers received much more intensive work and guidance than I had experienced at Iowa. Van Riper was silent for a moment, then said abruptly, "I don't know if I would have let you in." I was too stunned and intimidated to pursue the thing farther, though I wanted to ask, "Why the hell not?" He said nothing more about it, either.

At the Fox Head, we sat around a table and ordered beers. During the conversation I asked Van Riper a question, and while asking it I had a block, but I finished the question. He stared at me coldly, and without answering my question he said, "Look what you just did. You had the damnedest block and you didn't do a thing about it. You didn't even try to pull out of it or cancel anything. You just bulled your way through it. The trouble with you people here at Iowa is you're too damned intellectual about stuttering. You don't really come to grips with it." Again, I felt totally deflated, but I was also angry. I knew what he meant, and I felt there was truth in what he said, but he didn't need to be so brutal about it. I began to view him as an arrogant so-and-so.

Looking back, I think he may have been defensive. He was not on his home turf where he reigned supreme, and possibly Johnson or someone else had said something that Van Riper felt was an attack. Since the time Johnson had sneered at the Van Riper passage I showed him, I realized that Johnson had his own brand of arrogance, and could be defensive about his own theoretical and clinical approach to stuttering. I was getting the idea that the ideal, pure scientist does not exist -- the totally objective, dispassionate, completely unbiased seeker after truth. Everyone has feet of clay, and sooner or later one's own wishes and biases come into play and cloud one's perception of the available data.

Honestly written autobiographies reveal much about the person, not only from what is said but also from what is between the lines. So far as I know, the only autobiography Johnson ever wrote was Because I Stutter, written when he was about 24 years old and consisting chiefly of a technical or 'scientific' analysis of himself as a stutterer. Still, it seems forthright, and although his approach to stuttering changed drastically in the following years, his personality did not.

Throughout his life, Johnson seldom wrote anything that did not deal with stuttering except limericks, at which he excelled. For a few years in the mid-1940's he wrote occasional book reviews for the Chicago Sun Times, but even his major book, People in Quandaries, had one chapter on stuttering. Relative to Van Riper, Johnson's writing always seemed more controlled and objective, more detached, more coolly 'scientific'.

I wish that Johnson had written his autobiography much later in life, when he could have been more easily forthright and less defensive. Ideally, autobiographies should be written when one is approaching the end of life, when all the major questions have been answered one way or another, when one is willing to take a clear look at oneself and is not afraid to let everything hang out, warts and all -- and still has enough marbles left to do all this.

Van Riper succeeded in doing this at age 81 (1986), but Johnson, dying prematurely at age 59 (1965) of congestive heart failure, did not.

In his unpublished autobiography, Van Riper talks about himself in the way I wish Johnson had been able to do. Van Riper is rather surprisingly frank and detailed about his life from childhood onward: his home life, educational experiences, the effects of his stuttering, his jobs, his pre-marital sex experiences (I can't see Johnson doing this), his training at Iowa, his relationship with his beloved wife Katy, his professional life.

In a detailed comparison of himself with Katy, he feels that in most respects he came off second best. Of himself, he says he was a confirmed introvert. He preferred to be alone, or with one of his few friends. He loved the deep woods and hated cities and crowds with passion. He says he was erratic, impulsive, and socially awkward. He was sloppy; a student once told him he looked as though he had thrown on his clothes with a pitch fork. He 'kind of liked being dirty', and cherished his flaws and enjoyed them. He says he was not a congenital liar, but had been known to 'varnish the truth when it needed polishing.' But he never betrayed the trust of his clients or the trust that others had in him.

He tended to be indirect and suspicious; because of a thousand bad experiences he tended to expect the worst so that if it came to pass he wouldn't be traumatized. He says he had a 'cruel streak' that he thought he inherited or learned from his father, one that he battled all his life. He said he could lose with equanimity but was obnoxious when he won. He tended to be a republican rather than a democrat. He cared nothing for politics and sports, and in religion he was a doubter rather that a believer.

I think it not unreasonable to assume that Van Riper's 'cruel streak' played some part in his reaction to me when we met in the summer of 1953; I have no other explanation for his behavior toward me at the time. It was completely unlike his cordiality toward me and my wife when I saw him for the last time, 33 years later. Perhaps, like wine and cheese, he mellowed with age.

On reflection, however, another possible explanation does occur to me. Perhaps he was simply being defensive about his own brand of therapy. Both he and Johnson had been developing their own therapy techniques since they became independent of Travis, and here I was breaking some of Van's rules by not handling my stuttering in the way he would have liked, so he had to make an example of me in the presence of the other students.

In his autobiography, Van describes in detail his interaction with Johnson when they both were working under Travis. In 1931, after he had gotten his Ph.D., Johnson was put in general supervision of clinical work with stutterers in the Iowa clinic. However, Van Riper had been formulating his own kind of self-therapy and had achieved some notable success. As a result he was given a group of nine stutterers to supervise through his type of therapy. According to Van Riper:

They did so well that Wendell asked me to take him on as a client which sure threw me into a state of ambivalence but I accepted the challenge and for a few weeks began to work with him too but he just couldn't accept the relationship even though he improved rapidly.

Van Riper goes on to quote Johnson:

This expresses in a nutshell the basic difference between Van Riper's and Johnsons approaches to stuttering therapy. Both strongly advocated the reduction of fear and avoidance as a prerequisite to any real improvement in fluency. No question there. But how did you deal with the remaining stuttering that was bound to occur come hell or high water whether you expected it or not?

Van Riper said the stutterer should put his stuttering behavior under a microscope, becoming aware of every little thing he did that reflected anticipation of stuttering or how he coped with the tension and struggle once a block had actually begun, and what he should do about it following the completion of the block and the utterance of the word. The speech-language clinician (then called the 'speech correctionist') explained to his/her client (then known as the 'case') the nature of many attitudes and behaviors of stutterers, only a few of which were: laterality, breathing patterns, penalty, preparatory sets, behaviors that disguise, postpone, or avoid the block, reactions to frustration and struggle, retrials, cancellations of blocks, characteristics of primary versus secondary stuttering, and so and on. As Johnson presumably said, it was indeed hard work, demanding constant monitoring of your speech so that you felt the right way and did the right thing before, during, and after having a stuttering block. Johnson said he preferred not to be so nit-picky, to just let go and talk as well as he could, to just "bounce along " the rest of his life and not always be fretting about every little bit of stuttering.

By 'bouncing', Johnson meant a deliberate, relatively slow and easy repetition of the initial sound or syllable of a word until you felt your tension drain away before uttering the rest of the word. It was a matter of getting the jump on your anxiety-tensions, of doing deliberately and under control what you feared doing out of control. It was an ancient recipe for fear reduction, and it was based on the idea that the more you feared stuttering the more you stuttered. So, if you let yourself be deliberately disfluent, even on nonfluent words, your real out of control stuttering will decrease proportionally. Mechanically it was a much simpler procedure than Van Riper's complex system of rules and procedures, but it demanded emotional control, a willingness to tolerate and to perform the very thing you feared doing. The more you were willing to stutter, the less you stuttered. Fluency came about as a by-product of being willing to be disfluent all the time, but generally the harder they try, the more they stutter. Theoretically, if you were completely willing to stutter, especially if you really wanted to stutter, you couldn't stutter at all. Johnson always put more emphasis on change of attitude rather than any change in speaking behaviors. Many stutterers could not accept this philosophy, so they continued to try to master Van Riper's rules and regulations. And Johnson continued to bumble along in his optimistic, good-humored, non-avoidant way, letting it all hang out, becoming testy and defensive only when anyone challenged his ideas.

Just as there is an inevitable interaction between an artist's work and his personality, I think there was an interaction between Johnson's teddybearish personality and the therapy he advocated, and between Van Riper's guarded, defensive personality and his rigorous therapy. It is as impossible to conceive of Johnson being a Van Riperian in therapy as it is to imagine Van Riper preaching the Johnsonian approach to life and stuttering.

I have never felt comfortable talking with a confirmed devotee of the Van Riper type of therapy. I have had many such encounters, and they always leave me feeling guilty and inadequate, not able to measure up to their standards. They seem to be listening to the way I talk, not what I am saying. It can be unnerving. Their eyes are fastened on my mouth, ready to detect the slightest heresy, the least deviation from orthodoxy. I recall speaking with a stuttering friend, who had done a pretty good job on himself ala Van Riper. Quite likely he was his clinician's delight. I finished a sentence, and instead of responding to what I had said, he commented, "I notice you didn't cancel that block you just had. Any particular reason?" ('Canceling' referred to a Van Riper technique of repeating a word you had just stuttered, but saying it with a controlled, deliberated disfluency, the way you should have said it in the first place.) Instantly I felt a twinge of guilt and shame, but what I wanted to say was, "No, damn it, I didn't cancel, and would you like to make a federal case out of it?"

More and more, as time went on, I was identifying with Johnson's approach to stuttering rather that to Van Riper's. Willy-nilly, it seemed to work better for me, and maybe it was because I was more like Johnson than Van Riper. Very gradually, over the years, I became more tolerant of myself. I realized that even with all my insecurities and anxieties, I was more like other people than different from them; I learned that a great many people had worse problems than I did. My self-confidence increased, along with my sense of humor. I could laugh at myself, but not in a bitter, self-deprecating way as I had when I was young. And so I became more fluent. It happened with almost no conscious effort on my part, and it was very gradual. Every now and then it would simply occur to me that I stuttered less than I used to, and I didn't worry about it like I used to. I found that I could make phone calls to anyone and not think twice about it, or do other speaking situations that used to terrify me, but there were never any sharp, dramatic spurts of improvement nor any demoralizing backslidings. To be sure, I still stuttered, but to a much lesser degree, and it felt wonderful not to be terrified about it. At worst it became just a nuisance now and then, but even that diminished. For a good many years now, my attitude toward stuttering can best be summarized by Rhett Butler's words to Scarlett O'hara: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Much of my relative indifference to stuttering has been due to a change in perspective. Age brings new and different problems, while many of the concerns of youth diminish or disappear. Stuttering is but one of many problems of life. It can be devastatingly important when you are young, but fade into relative insignificance with advancing age. I have seen this happen with many stutterers I have known down the years.

It was certainly true with Johnson. When I first met him in 1945, he stuttered frequently but with little of the tension and struggle that he described himself as having had in his early years. He was doing what he had told Van Riper he would do, back in 1931. He was "bouncing along" through life, talking a great deal, enjoying it, trying to stutter as easily as he could but not trying to stutter unnoticeably, not trying to monitor every word he spoke. I recall a noticeable increase in his fluency around 1949-1950 together with an increase in self-confidence and assertiveness. He also 'bounced' less and less, though he never gave it up as his preferred way of handling his stuttering when it occurred. The last few times I saw him before his death from congestive heart failure in 1965, he seemed to be normally fluent (or normally disfluent if you prefer). His recipe for self therapy seemed to work very well for him.

In August 1986, I retired from the Department of Communicative Disorders at Northern Illinois University, where I had taught and worked with stutterers since 1959. My wife Dorothy Jane ("D.J.") had retired from the DeKalb Public Schools the year before, as a speech-language clinician. In July of 1986 we decided to pay a visit to Van Riper at his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I called him, and he invited us up for a weekend. We arrived in late July at his beautiful old pre-Civil War restored farmhouse on Milham Road just west of Kalamazoo, with its spacious front lawn sweeping down to the road.

We arrived after he had his early afternoon nap, and we sat in the living room and talked for a long time. We talked of Jack Johnson, and Van told anecdotes about the old days at Iowa, about Travis and Bryngelson and others, and what had happened there in the early thirties, long before I got there in 1945.

At one point Van asked me, "Why are you so damned fluent?" I couldn't very well say it was because I had worked long and hard on my speech, using his therapy. So I mumbled something about losing much of my fear of stuttering and of other people. It was as good a guess as any.

I had noticed that he had quite a number of hard blocks as we talked, with obvious facial grimaces. He commented on this himself. He said that since he had retired from teaching, with constant talking to an audience, his stuttering worsened. Much more devastating had been the death of his wife Katy in 1984. Now, he said, about the only person he talked with was the young man who came out and helped him around the place, about once or twice a week.

In early evening we sat down to a nice dinner that Van had prepared himself. After we returned to the living room, Van asked if we would like something to drink, then hauled out a bottle of champagne and a fifth of bourbon. He and D.J. did some damage to the champagne, while I put a small dent in the bourbon. Van complimented D.J. on her nice legs, and I was proud of him. At age 81 he still had a spark.

He talked of the four semi-fictional books he had written that had nothing to do with speech pathology. Instead, they drew upon his early life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the people, chiefly Finns, with whom he grew up. He gave me a copy of Tales of the Old U.P. (1981) and a copy of The Last Northwoods Reader (1984) to D.J. He surprised us by saying that he had received many times more fan letters in response to his four Northwoods books than he ever had for all of his many books on speech pathology. His semi-fiction was written under the pen name of "Cully Gage." "Cully" was his nickname when he was a boy, and "Gage" was his actual middle name. Many of the stories in these books are set in a town called "Tioga," which in reality was his hometown of Champion, Michigan. D.J. and I asked him to autograph the copies he had given us, but he refused, saying "One of the benefits of being retired is that you can say no to anybody." But he did draw a smiley-face in D.J.'s copy and a frowny-face in mine.

He also showed us his study, where he had written all his books, and took us on a tour of the back yard, where we admired his flowers, his blueberry enclosure, and the secluded stand of trees and vines and small artificial pond that he called his Secret Garden. There, on a bench, he had spent many hours in solitary contemplation.

Van assigned us a guest bedroom on a second floor, and next morning at breakfast he made coddled eggs. He gave us one of his two Staffordshire egg coddlers from England, and told us to take some of the blueberries out back. Before we left, Van talked more about his home life, how he and Katy would have student get-togethers at their home, and occasionally would put up a student or stutterer overnight.

He spoke again about how Katy's death almost wrecked him, and how much of his old stuttering had come back after she died; his grief made it much more difficult for him to use all the control techniques that he had practiced so successfully for decades.

Though physically frail, Van still had an amazingly sharp mind. All in all, it was a memorable visit. It was the last time we ever saw him, though he lived eight more years, dying at age 88 on September 25, 1994.

Both Wendell Johnson and Charles Van Riper left a legacy that, broadly speaking, has not been equaled in the field of stuttering. Johnson became the champion of the view that stuttering is purely learned behavior, performed by a 'normal' individual as a result of environmental variable, chiefly conditioning by parents or other adults. In this sense, Johnson helped set the scene for the flood of operant and classical conditioning therapies that emerged in the sixties and seventies. Johnson believed that what has been learned can be unlearned. He was a true behaviorist, but I have always felt that he did not come to grips with a great many questions about stuttering. His semantic approach to stuttering was fascinating but too narrow.

Be that as it may, Johnson stimulated a great deal of clinical, experimental, and theoretical research in stuttering over the years, and Iowa turned out any number of M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in speech pathology and audiology. Many of today's stuttering specialists were trained under Johnson or students of Johnson, and the 'Iowa approach' to stuttering continues to be pervasive, though this approach has gone far beyond Johnson's rather simplistic, optimistic view of stuttering as a totally learned, 'semantic' problem. But at least Johnson was a theory-builder, self-consciously 'scientific' in his outlook and methodology. He thought he had developed an original, reliable, and verifiable theory of stuttering, and that the available data supported his hypotheses. Some of it did, but often in an ambiguous way.

In contrast to Johnson, Van Riper was the eternal clinician, always seeking to develop better therapy. He was not particularly interested in theory construction. He was an eclectic and a pragmatist. He tried everything he could think of in his therapy, anything that showed promise. But he was not naive. Like Johnson, he knew the history of stuttering treatment, and was all too familiar with the instant-fluency techniques of the quack 'stuttering schools', fluency that almost never lasted. For many years after his move to Western Michigan, Van kept his speech pathology program at the undergraduate level, convinced that people trained at the bachelor's level were adequate for the available jobs in the public schools, where nearly all 'speech correction' was conducted in those days. But when the American Speech and Hearing Association mandated that the master's degree was necessary for clinical certification, around 1963, with state after state making the master's prerequisite for speech therapy jobs in the public schools, Van Riper developed an excellent graduate program at Western Michigan, which has continued to expand.

Always a prolific writer, he revised and enlarged his basic textbook, Speech Correction: Principles and Methods (First edition 1939) seven times over the years. This book, together with his monumental The Nature of Stuttering (1971) and The Treatment of Stuttering (1973) did much to reinforce his worldwide reputation as a leading authority on stuttering. It is interesting but fruitless to speculate on what additional writing on stuttering Johnson would have done, had he lived as long as Van Riper.

It is also fruitless to speculate, in the absence of hard data, on which of these two pioneers did the most good for stutterers, or which came nearer the 'truth' about stuttering. In my estimation, it would be Van Riper, if for no other reason than that he was more eclectic, more comprehensive in his approach, admitting the likelihood that stuttering has a neurophysiological substrate that somehow interferes with the precise synchronization of all the processes that are involved in normal speech. Johnson was more narrowly theoretical, insisting to the end that a person who stutters is a completely normal person in any measurable way, who has learned to stutter chiefly or totally because of environmental factors. Research in the past thirty years would tend to support Van Riper's position more than Johnson's.

The fact that Johnson became extremely fluent during his final years while Van Riper, after many years of well-controlled stuttering, relapsed into occasional rather severe stuttering during his last few years cannot be taken as evidence that one or the other knew more about stuttering or practiced better therapy. It's never that simple. Stuttering and its long-term modification or elimination involves far too many known and unknown variables. And the measurement of such behavior change is tricky and complex, involving great possibilities for self-delusion, as Oliver Bloodstein points out so well in his Handbook on Stuttering (1981).

It is possible that Johnson and Van Riper were the last two universally acclaimed 'authorities' on stuttering. Both had strong egos and were well aware that they were authorities, but it was an authoritarianism that was well and honestly earned. Both were consistently hard-working scholars and clinicians whose honorable goals were the gaining of valid, verifiable and reliable knowledge of stuttering and its treatment. They were light-years apart from the quackery that has always plagued the treatment of stuttering and will continue to do so. It is difficult to conceive of any useful, realistic treatment of stuttering, now or in the future, that does not borrow from, or is not influenced by, the thinking of Wendell Johnson and Charles Van Riper.

added with permission of the author
February 22, 1999