Memorized Speech

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, April 23, 1912: What an extraordinary thing for a dummy like I am. I know all of my piece from beginning to end. I learned the larger part of it this evening. There are almost a thousand words in all.

I can picture Grandma sitting in this house a hundred years ago trying to memorize a presentation.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma was memorizing a speech that she needed to present on the last day of school. The previous day she indicated that she’d completed writing it.

Assuming that Grandma spoke at about 150 words per minute, a 1,000 speech would take a little less than 7 minutes to present.

Today students don’t generally memorize speeches. Instead it is considered better to use notes to provide reminders about what to say.  I wonder if students were encouraged to write and memorize speeches back then, or if it just was something that Grandma decided to do on her own in an attempt to make sure that she said what she wanted to say.

6 Responses

  1. Memorizing a thousand words does seem like an extraordinary feat. Different things are easier than others for different people. I think I’d do better memorizing a speech than speaking extemporaneously for seven minutes!

    • A hundred years ago people had to memorize much more than they do today, so they probably were better at it. Grandma mentioned in previous diary entries that she was memorizing Bible verses for Sunday School and memorizing things for recitations at school.

  2. Rhetoric was different back then. Speech-making was almost an art form, the more elaborate, the better. Grandma probably had the talent for it. Can’t wait to hear how she does. Good luck, Grandma!

  3. [...] She wrote the speech on April 16, 17 and 18; and finalized and memorized it on April 22 and 23. I suppose that she practiced it in class a few times after those entries  in  preparation for [...]

  4. I used to memorise speeches that long for school. When I had prepaired essays (when we were given the topic before hand but had to write them in an exam) I’d write and polish my essay then memorise them, and they were up to 3000 words. It sounds hard but it wasn’t, you’d just spend a few nights comitting it to memory, get to class and write it or say it and forget the entire thing and everything to do with it. I don’t think I learnt much from it!
    The speechs we were encouraged to have cards with notes on, but I’d loose my place with looking up to the class then back to my notes as my eyes were slow to change focus (I had glasses to fix it but I wouldn’t wear them!) and you got marked down for not maintaining eye contact so it was easier to memorise them.

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