Orphans Said Hurt By Stutter Tests in Iowa

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http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/EMIHC000/333/8895/323707.html (John Hopkins Medical Center)

MORAGA, Calif. (AP) - For four months during the Great Depression, Mary Tudor instructed a handful of children at an Iowa orphanage in a lesson they would never forget - she taught them to stutter.

The experiment eventually led to a theory that helped thousands of children overcome the speech impediment. But it also condemned some of the children in Tudor's class to lives as outcasts and misfits.

A lifetime later, the private story of 22 orphans who unwittingly submitted to the experiment has been examined through an investigation by the San Jose Mercury News, which reported on its findings Sunday and Monday.

Tudor, then an eager graduate student at the University of Iowa, is now 84-year-old Mary Tudor Jacobs, a retired speech therapist who lives in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Moraga. Her subjects, at least 13 of whom are still alive, learned of the experiment only this spring when the Mercury News contacted them.

Decades ago, the orphans saw Tudor as a benefactor, whose visits provided a break from the privation of the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Davenport.

Now, some call her ``The Monster.''

``It's affected me right now,'' says Mary Korlaske, now 74. ``I don't like to read out loud because I'm afraid of making a mistake. I don't like talking to people because of saying the wrong word.''

The experiment was designed by Tudor's professor, Dr. Wendell Johnson, who went on to become one of the nation's most prominent speech pathologists.

Johnson theorized that stuttering was not an inborn condition but something children learned from parents who seized on minor speech imperfections. As children became acutely aware of their speech, he believed, they could not help but stutter.

Results from the experiment Tudor conducted for Johnson from January into May 1939 seemed to prove his theory. The protocol was simple: the children were divided into two groups of 11, with one group labeled normal speakers and given positive speech therapy, and the other group induced to stutter.

Eight of the orphans Tudor badgered about their speech - even if it was nearly flawless at first - became chronic stutterers.

Johnson, himself a chronic stutterer, never disclosed the orphan experiments although he used evidence from them to reach his conclusions. As the world learned of Nazi medical experiments on living subjects, Johnson's peers warned him the research could destroy his career.

Still, until the 1970s Johnson's work was speech therapy orthodoxy and even today the orphan experiment underlies the popular view that positive reinforcement is the best therapy for children with speech problems.

Johnson died in 1965 at the age of 59. In 1968, the University of Iowa founded the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center, which remains one of the nation's leading institutes for speech pathology and audiology.

Tudor doesn't know how her professor regarded the treatment of the orphans, but she has strong feelings.

``I didn't like what I was doing to those children,'' Tudor told the Mercury News. ``It was a hard, terrible thing. Today, I probably would have challenged it. Back then you did what you were told.''

Tudor returned to the orphanage three times to try to reverse the stuttering therapy during the 1940s. Johnson apparently did nothing else to try to reverse the damage.

Stuttering, to the one in 100 who stutter, is disabling, drawing torment from children and doubt from adults. And it still baffles the experts who try to treat it.

Baffled - and angry - is how many of Tudor's subjects feel today.

``There but for the grace of God, I could have been placed in an experimental group,'' said Donna Lee Hughes Collings, who had been a normal speaker in a control group and therefore suffered no damage. ``It could have been my life that was destroyed.''

Three months ago, Tudor received a letter from Korlaske, now Mary Korlaske Nixon. The letter, full of misspelled words seemingly scratched in fits and bursts, called her ``monster'' and ``Nazi.''

``I remember your face, how kind you were and you looked like my mother,'' she wrote. ``But you were ther to destroy my life. ... I have nothing left. You stolen my life away from me.''

Korlaske told the Mercury News she eventually married a man who helped her piece together her self-confidence, but she resumed stuttering after he died in 1999. She moved into the Iowa Veterans' Home and placed a ``Do Not Disturb'' sign on her door, venturing out only on rare occasions.

Johnson's use of orphans was not unique. In the early 1900s, physicians in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio injected dozens of orphans with syphilis and tuberculosis. Researchers at the University of Iowa had already conducted other projects using orphans from the Davenport home, one a decades-long study to see if children who remained in the unstimulating orphanage had a greater chance of being developmentally retarded than children placed in a special preschool.

A few speech pathologists have been aware of Johnson's stuttering experiment. Most agree that it changed the way people regarded stutterers and opened the door to effective new therapies.

``Today we might disagree with what he did, but in those days it was fully within the norms of the time,'' said Duane Spriestersbach, a close colleague of Johnson who went on to become a professor of speech pathology at the University of Iowa.

Johnson ``was an extremely ethical and moral person, and if something happened to those children it was because of something he did not foresee,'' said another of Johnson's proteges, Bill Trotter, now a retired Marquette professor.

Tudor remains deeply ambivalent about the experiment.

``Look at the countless number of children it helped,'' she told the Mercury News.

And yet, she can't forget how the orphans greeted her, running to her car and helping her carry in materials for the experiment.

``That was the pitiful part,'' she said. ``That I got them to trust me and then I did this horrible thing to them.''

-- suzy (its suzy 2@aol.com), June 12, 2001

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