An (Exceedingly) Brief History of Toastmasters
By David T. Shaw, District 86 Historian
October is Toastmasters Month!
Why? Well, on October 22nd, 1924 there was the maiden Toastmasters meeting in Santa Ana, California. This was the first meeting of Club #1 – the "Smedley Chapter One Club". The Smedley Chapter One Club is not only the oldest club in Toastmasters International, it is also where men visited, and then took the idea elsewhere to create new clubs. It is the birthplace of Toastmasters International.
But the Toastmasters story actually started elsewhere and a couple of decades earlier.
After graduating from University in 1903, Ralph Smedley started working at the Bloomington, Illinois YMCA as its Educational Director. He saw a need for the Y's boys and young men to learn how to speak at meetings, and how to run them. He decided to call this club the Toastmasters Club. Although most (if not all) participants in the club would be too young to join a modern Toastmasters Club, the structure and intent (as well as the name) of the club was the same as the club formed in California, 21 years later.
Mr. Smedley (he hadn't received his Honorary Doctorate yet) was promoted to the position of YMCA General Secretary and transferred to Freeport, Illinois in May 1906. Here he raised the idea of starting a Toastmasters Club at the YMCA. The members decided that the training the club would provide was needed by the adult members of the Y, and thus the first Adult Toastmasters Club was created.
As Mr. Smedley went from YMCA to YMCA, he started Toastmasters Clubs – one in Rock Island, Illinois before WWI, another in San Jose, California in 1919. Whenever he moved however, the clubs quickly faltered, mainly due to lack of support from the YMCA hierarchy, and to the fact that there was no one with Mr. Smedley's vision and organizational skills to run the clubs.
We now return to October 22,1924 and Santa Ana. The idea spread, first in California, then north and east of the state. Conveniently, the first Canadian club was also chartered in October – on October 24, 1935, in Victoria, British Columbia. So in Canada, we have two reasons for celebrating October as Toastmasters Month. It is the anniversary of the first ever Toastmasters club to be formed, as well as the anniversary of the first club in Canada to be chartered.
The oldest clubs in District 86 (and the two oldest surviving clubs in Ontario), Garden City and Hamilton No. 1, both chartered in June 1952.* Now, 63 years later, District 86, which didn't even exist until 2008, has 233 clubs.
Although the manuals, educational programs, and even the sex of club members (Toastmasters was pretty much male only until 1973) has changed, the basic goals of the organization – leadership and public speaking in a fun, friendly environment – haven’t changed from Dr. Smedley's first vision of what such a club should be, and what it could achieve.
Addendum *Formation of District 86
Over the next four years more clubs formed in and around the golden horseshoe until finally in 1956 a group of Canadian Toastmasters from the then District 34, which included upper New York State, Ontario, and Quebec, decided to try for an
all-Canadian district. Their efforts paid off in 1957 when two groups of Canadian clubs were spun off from District 34 and granted Provisional District status with the numbers 60-P and 61-P. By July 1st, 1958 District 60 lost the 'P' and became a full-fledged District.
After almost half a century of growth and success, the Board of Directors approved a recommendation to reform (split) the district into two smaller districts effective July 1, 2008, fifty years after the birth of the District 60. The reformation would be effective July 1, 2008, with clubs in Toronto and points east retaining the designation of District 60, whilst the rest of the clubs would form a new district, District 86.