Courses in elocution and speech have been taught at Oregon State University since its founding in the 1860s. During the 1890s, these were taught by the Department of Elocution and later by the Department of Public Speaking. The Department of Public Speaking and Dramatics was established in 1920, as the first Speech Department in Oregon, and grew quickly during the 1920s. Courses in "speech correction" were added in the mid-1920s. When higher education in Oregon was re-organized in the early 1930s, responsibility for speech degrees was transferred to the University of Oregon and several faculty moved to establish the program. However, the service department at Oregon State continued to offer courses in debating, extempore speaking, oratory, voice and diction, and radio speech and coordinated an extensive program of forensics and dramatic activities for students.
In 1965-1966, the Speech Department was one of the first departments to offer an undergraduate degree in the new School of Humanities and Social Sciences. In 1970, the department name was changed to Speech Communication.
C.B. (Charles Buren) Mitchell joined the faculty of Oregon Agricultural College in 1920 to head the new Department of Public Speaking and Dramatics. Earl W. Wells joined the department at about the same time (1921); he was instrumental in developing the forensics and public speaking program and coached orators who gained national prominence. Wells served as Speech Department Chair from 1952 until his retirement in 1962.
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