The Van Ripers Remember Bryngelson

John Van Riper (son of Charles Van Riper) recalls, "I knew Bryng - but not well. I was very young but remember him visiting the old farmhouse a couple of times alone, and once with his wife. My mother used to be in complete awe of him and often said "He was the most complete charmer she ever met. My mother worked for Bryng after college graduation while my father was going to graduate school in Minnesota. In fact he drove up there one weekend to see her and that's where he proposed marriage." (personal correspondence, April 29, 1999)

The autobiography which Charles Van Riper wrote in his eighties contains some accounts of Bryng Bryngelson. Excerpts are printed below with the permission of John Van Riper.

Was it chance or fate or luck? It happened like this. Floride Lackey who had taught me in kindergarten and corresponded with my mother thereafter wrote her about a professor at the University of Minnesota who had just formed a new speech clinic there, one of the first in the country. Moreover, he had been very successful in treating stuttering. She knew of one young man who had been completely cured. Mother had evidently written her about some of my troubles. Anyway she provided his name and address, and encouraged me to make some contact.

I wasn't interested. I remembered too well that graduate of Millard who'd been cured. The thought of having to undergo another of those treatments with their trick ways of providing some temporary fluency did not appeal to me at all. No, I was doomed to suffer from a tangled tongue and soul all my life. Mother understood my feelings but she wrote Dr. Bryng Bryngelson describing my stuttering and the experiences I'd had at the stuttering schools and asking if there was any hope. His answer was long and detailed. Yes, there was hope for me. His treatment was based on research; it attacked the cause of stuttering; it demanded that the stutterer learn to control the symptoms, to make the stuttering voluntary. There would be no breathing exercises, no abnormal ways of talking, no trick movements to time the moment of speech attempt. There were no fees but I might have to be a research subject as they tried to learn more about the disorder.

That letter impressed me and also my father. "Sounds like an honest man," he said. "He's no quack like the others were." So I wrote for an appointment and on the first of August, 1929, I was in Bryngelson's office being examined. Studying and analyzing my stuttering behaviors, he provided a running commentary that showed me he knew a lot about the disorder. It certainly didn't bother him a bit though I had a lot of very severe blockings. He explored my case history with skill and gave me various tests, including one in which I had to write words simultaneously with both hands on a blackboard. To my amazement 'my right hand, which I had always preferred, wrote the mirror image of the word while the left had wrote it correctly. I was left eyed, not right eyed. I could trace a pattern of dots better with my left hand. "Well, Van Riper," Bryngelson said. "The cause of your stuttering is that the dominant half of your brain which controls speech is on the right side but you've trained a competing language center on the left side to govern speech, and they fight each other."

Van Riper also related other interesting information about Bryngelson. In "An Early History of ASHA" printed in the ASHA magazine, November 1981, Van Riper recalls:

With Bryng Bryngelson I attended my first annual convention of the ASSDS (American Academy of Speech Correction) in 1930. I had met him the summer before at the University of Minnesota Speech Clinic seeking help for my own severe stuttering. After a brief examination, Bryngelson diagnosed my problem as being due to a shift of handedness early in life and explained the theory of cerebral dominance. Bryngelson had been a student of Lee Edward Travis at Iowa and although he was not a charter member of the former Academy of Speech Correction he became one of its early members, and created one of the first university speech clinics. He had been a preacher, speech teacher and friend of Smiley Blanton and Robert West, but he wnt to Iowa Seeking a more scientific background than he felt he could obtain at Wisconsin.

Compared to the quacks I had known at the commercials schools for stutterers I had attended, Bryngelson seemed honest and his explanation of why I stuttered and what I had to do to overcome it made sense. At least it was the first scientific explanation I had known. . . . .

Bryngelson earlier had been the first to explore nonavoidance therapy for stuttering and the use of voluntary repetitions as a substitute for the real blockings, procdures that the Iowa Clinic had adopted by the time I arrived. He was a free soul with a gay spirit. Leter, when he became president of ASHA, he once came to a council meeting or main session with one shoe painted red and the other yellow." (p. 856)