IDA Celebrates 70 Years: The Resolute and Exacting Anna Gillingham

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Volume 8, Issue 1
March 2019


This year, the International Dyslexia Association celebrates its 70th anniversary. Founded as the Orton Society in 1949, IDA is taking this year to look back in celebration of the organization’s long history in striving to help all those who struggle to read.
Over the course of this year, the Examiner Editorial Board wishes to reaffirm our continuous connection to pioneers in the field. For Issue 1, we are beginning at the beginning, remembering the resolute and exacting Anna Gillingham. We look forward to sharing more of IDA’s history in each issue through excepts from Dyslexia…Samuel T. Orton and His Legacy, published in 1999. We look to our strong foundation as we move into the future with the goal of carrying on this important work.

Excerpts From Jane McClelland’s Chapter,“Gillingham: Contemporary After 76 Years


“Gillingham and Stillman worked with the precision of engineers erecting a building, beginning with a firm foundation, block by block, testing and retesting their methodology. As surely as lives could be lost if a building were poorly constructed, the contribution of a mind could be lost if a child were unable to process his own language. As they worked with students, and later in the training of teachers, they revised the manual, which is the blueprint of the technology (p. 86).”


Bessie Stillman and Anna Gillingham in Hawaii during the two years they worked with Beth Slingerland at the Punahou School following her initial Gillingham training at Glacier National Park during the summer of 1935

Punahou released Beth Slingerland from teaching duties so that she could work with Bessie Stillman and Anna Gillingham to adapt instruction for classroom use with young children. The goal was to provide success for the children in the beginning stages of their learning to read and to reduce their need for remediation.

“Gillingham’s zealousness in training teachers who would ‘control the destinies of children’ was well-known. The head of one of the schools using her program wrote, ‘She regiments teachers to operate with the ruthless compassion of a surgeon, and she would no more permit any deviation in technique than a good surgeon would permit deviation in the operating room. The technique has to be established and used first before any kind of variation should be practiced.’ Although used ambiguously, perhaps, in that statement, compassion is a key to the appreciation of Gillingham. Despite her remarkable academic credentials and her dedication to precision in teaching, Gillingham was a warm, humorous person who challenged teachers and students alike (p. 87).”



Anna Gillingham:  

  • “It doesn’t really matter how a child got to be the way he is; it is our job as teachers to make him successful in school (p. 90).”
  • “The success of your students will depend upon your skill as a teacher (p. 90).”


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