Samuel Torrey Orton and June Lyday Orton papers

Samuel Torrey Orton, 1879-1948 and June Lyday Orton, 1898-1977
Date [inclusive]
Physical Description
12 cubic feet (29 boxes, 6 card file boxes, 1 carton)

The Orton Papers contain references to individuals with learning disabilities throughout the entire collection. Researchers must guarantee not to publish the names or personally identifying information of those individuals with learning disabilities treated by the Ortons.

Digitized access copies of film are made available on-demand. Use of analog film is restricted.


Papers of Samuel T. Orton and his wife, June Lyday Orton, pioneers in the treatment of persons with language disabilities.  Included are correspondence with colleagues, patients, and Orton family members; early records of the Orton Society (now the International Dyslexia Association); student records; printed articles and unpublished speeches; index cards documenting payment of fees and patient visits; photographs; and motion picture film.

Correspondents include Lauretta Bender, Katrina De Hirsch, Paul Dozier, Anna Gillingham, David Gow, Peter Gow, Diana King, Marion Monroe, Margaret B. Rawson, Roger E. Saunders, Beth H. Slingerland, William Howard Taft, Lloyd J. Thompson, and Lee Edward Travis.

Cite as
Samuel Torrey and June Lyday Orton Papers, Archives & Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.
Historical/Biographical Note

The husband and wife team of Samuel Torrey Orton and June Lyday Orton were professional partners in the field of language disabilities. Together they conducted research, trained educators and therapists, and treated individuals with reading and writing difficulties. In the process, they became two of the most important individuals in the history of dyslexia.

Samuel Torrey Orton was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 15, 1879. His father, Edward Orton, was at various times the state geologist of Ohio, the President of Antioch College, and the first President of Ohio State University. Other distinguished family members included his cousin, President William Howard Taft, and his uncle, educator Horace Taft of the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, where young Sam completed high school in 1897.

Orton attended Ohio State University (B.S., 1901), the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (M.D., 1905), and Harvard University (M.A., 1906). He was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha and Sigma Xi. He began his medical career by training in pathology under Frank B. Mallory at Boston City Hospital in 1905-06. He then spent a year at the Columbus (Ohio) State Hospital, and two years at St. Ann's Hospital in Anaconda, Montana.

On October 13, 1908, he married Mary Follett in Columbus, Ohio. They had three children: Samuel Torrey Orton Jr., Sarah Patterson Orton, and Mary Follett Orton.

Orton returned East to become pathologist of the Worcester State Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, from 1910 to 1913. During this time, he also taught at Harvard Medical School and at Clark University. In 1913, Orton traveled to Germany to study with Alois Alzheimer. Upon his return, he was appointed pathologist and clinical director of the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental Diseases in Philadelphia, where he served from 1914 to 1919.

In 1919, he accepted the opportunity to become the founding director of the State Psychopathic Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. Among his achievements in Iowa was the creation in 1925 of the "Mobile Mental Hygiene Clinic," a field unit providing psychiatric services to the people of Iowa in their own communities. The Field Organizer of the mobile clinic, who was also Chief of the Psychiatric Social Service in the Department of Psychiatry, was June Lyday, who would become Samuel Orton's second wife.

June Frances Lyday was born on August 3, 1898, in Newton, Iowa, and was raised in Michigan. In 1918, she graduated summa cum laude from Vassar College at the age of 19 and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a master's degree in social work at the Smith College School of Psychiatric Social Work in 1919. She did field work at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital and at prisons in the Detroit area before returning to Iowa.

Through the Mobile Clinic, Samuel Orton met M. P., a 16-year-old who "seemed bright but couldn't learn to read." After this case, the study of language and learning disabilities became Orton's life's work. Orton published his study of M. P. in a 1925 article, "'Word Blindness' in School Children." He rejected earlier theories about what had been termed "congenital word-blindness" and diagnosed the problem as physiological. He coined the term "strephosymbolia" (twisted symbols) to describe the condition now known as dyslexia, although he also used the phrase "specific reading disability." With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, he and Iowa colleagues Lee Edward Travis, Marion Monroe, and Lauretta Bender further investigated reading disabilities. Orton's last years in Iowa were difficult: his wife died in 1926, and he resigned during a complicated faculty controversy in 1927.

In 1928, Orton married June Lyday and came to New York City to open his own office in psychiatry. He also became a neuropathologist at the Neurological Institute of New York and a part-time professor in neurology and neuropathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Between 1932 and his departure from Columbia in 1936, Orton directed the Language Research Project of the Neurological Institute of New York. His associates included Paul Dozier, Edwin Cole, and Anna Gillingham. Gillingham knew of Dr. Orton's work in Iowa, and collaborated with him at the Neurological Institute from 1931 to 1933. With Bessie Stillman, Gillingham organized Orton's principles into a successful remedial reading training system based on visual-auditory-kinesthetic linkages, a multisensory approach to alphabetic phonics that came to be known as "Orton-Gillingham."

Samuel Orton was active in professional circles. He was on the editorial boards of the Archives of Neurology & Psychiatry from 1920 to 1930, and the Bulletin of the Neurological Institute of New York from 1930 to 1936. He was President of the American Psychiatric Association in 1928, and President of the American Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Diseases in 1932. He delivered the Thomas W. Salmon Lectures at the New York Academy of Medicine in 1936, and his lectures developed into his book, Reading, Writing, and Speech Problems in Children.

Throughout their years in New York, the Ortons maintained a busy private practice at their apartment in the Croydon Hotel. With June's training in social work and Sam's medical background, the Ortons evolved a rigorous approach to the diagnosis and treatment of reading disabilities. Due to Sam's frequent bouts of ill health, June shouldered much of the workload, and responded to much of his correspondence. Between 1928 and 1948, the Ortons saw over 2000 patients.

Samuel Orton also supervised a research program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and carried out by David Wright between 1939 and 1941 at the Forman School, a boys' school in Litchfield, Connecticut. A similar project continued at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital from 1942 to 1944. In 1945, Orton's alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, awarded him an honorary doctorate.

On October 1, 1948, Samuel Orton announced his retirement from active practice. He intended to spend more time at "Hwimsy," the country retreat he himself had largely built in Wappingers Falls, New York, but then he broke his hip. He died of complications on November 17, 1948, at the age of 69, and was buried in Columbus, Ohio.

June Orton was determined to preserve and extend her husband's legacy. Almost a year after his death, on October 28, 1949, in her apartment at the Croydon Hotel, June Orton held a memorial dinner for invited friends and colleagues. From this small gathering grew the Orton Society, now known as the International Dyslexia Association. June Orton served as the Orton Society's President from 1950 to 1960, and advised later Orton Society officers such as Sally Childs, John Dorsey, Margaret Rawson, and Roger Saunders. She edited the first 14 issues of the Bulletin of the Orton Society as well as the Society's edition of the collected papers of her late husband.

In 1950, Lloyd J. Thompson, head of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology, persuaded June Orton to start a language clinic at the Bowman-Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The clinic, named Graylyn, was disbanded in 1957, but June stayed in North Carolina for the rest of her life. She continued her private practice by founding the Orton Reading Center of Winston-Salem in 1957, which later integrated into Salem College in 1972. At the Center, she diagnosed and treated individuals with language disabilities, and trained remedial reading teachers. She codified her approach in her 1963 book, A Guide to Teaching Phonics. She also conducted numerous workshops for educators around the country, and lectured extensively for a wide audience of scientists, educators, and parents. For her devotion to the field of reading disabilities, she received the Orton Society's Samuel T. Orton Award in 1969. June Orton continued to treat students and train teachers until her death on March 12, 1977.


Organized in eleven series:

I. Family and Personal Papers
II. Correspondence
III. Organizational Records
IV. Writings and Speeches
V. Subject Files
VI. Illustrations
VII. Pupil Records
VIII. Photographs
IX. Index Card Files
X. Films
XI. Oversize

Scope and Content

The Orton Papers document Samuel and June Orton's pioneering efforts to diagnose and assist individuals with language disabilities, and the spread of their ideas over fifty years through a network of parents, educators, physicians, social workers, and therapists. This collection is arranged into eleven series, and materials related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of dyslexia and other language disabilities are found throughout most series.

The first series, Family and Personal Papers, consists of biographical and genealogical materials, correspondence, academic records, and miscellaneous items relating to Samuel and June Orton and members of their families, and is arranged alphabetically by name. Correspondence and biographical materials document Samuel Orton's distinguished relatives, including his father, Edward Orton Sr.; his brother, Edward Orton Jr.; and his Taft relatives, including his uncle, educator Horace Taft, and his cousin, President William Howard Taft. However, most of the Orton family materials relate to practical matters such as estate settlements. This series also features useful biographical accounts of both Samuel and June Orton, as well as their academic records. Little material exists regarding Samuel Orton's children or first wife, and the collection holds only two letters between Sam and June.

The second series, Correspondence, consists of correspondence to and from Samuel or June Orton, and is divided into two subseries. The first subseries features notable or frequent correspondents, and is arranged alphabetically by name. The second subseries consists of general correspondence sorted first by year, then alphabetically by name.

In the first subseries, Samuel Orton's correspondence with professional colleagues Lauretta Bender, Katrina de Hirsch, Paul Dozier, Anna Gillingham, Marion Monroe, Lee Edward Travis, and David Wright illuminates the growth of his ideas about reading disabilities. Both Ortons actively corresponded with educators Peter and David Gow, Diana King, and Page and Laura Sharp, among others. June Orton frequently corresponded with Orton Society officers John Bigelow, Sally Childs, John Dorsey, Margaret Rawson, Roger Saunders, and Beth Slingerland. Her other significant correspondents include Edwin Cole, Helene Durbrow, Lucia Karnes, and Lloyd J. Thompson. Other notable correspondents include New Yorker profile writer Calvin Tompkins, and a roster of eminent neurologists, including Alois Alzheimer, H. G. Creutzfeldt, G. Stanley Hall, J. Ramsey Hunt, and Wilder Penfield. One anomaly in this subseries concerns the correspondence of Paul Lewis. In addition to letters between Lewis and Samuel Orton, Orton seems to have acquired Lewis's correspondence with others, including William Welch and Simon Flexner.

The second subseries demonstrates the typical correspondence received by the Ortons during various stages of their lives. The vast majority is professionally related. This correspondence with dyslexics, parents, teachers, reading specialists, and doctors illuminates the nature of the Ortons' practice and their ideas. In the 1930s and 1940s, many letters written to Samuel Orton were answered by June.

The third series, Organizational Records, consists of a diverse range of materials related to the institutions and organizations the Ortons were involved with in a professional capacity, and is arranged chronologically. The contents of this series are best used in combination with the Correspondence series. For example, the correspondence between Beth Slingerland and June Orton further illuminates the activities of the Orton Reading Center.

There are few early records for either Samuel or June Orton's professional careers prior to their Iowa years. Substantial administrative correspondence, committee minutes, financial records, legislative records, and various reports document the Ortons' work in Iowa. Various materials, including many newspaper accounts, explain the faculty controversy of 1927 that led Samuel Orton to resign. The Mobile Clinic records include correspondence with the Rockefeller Foundation, the project's funding agency, and with June Lyday, at that time the Clinic's coordinator. All her correspondence is patient-related, and other records of the Mobile Clinic also contain specific information about M. P., who was Samuel Orton's first case study of dyslexia, and other patients. Though various materials document Samuel Orton's work at the Neurological Institute of New York, these are not especially substantive with respect to his work on language disabilities. Samuel Orton's private practice is documented in the later series of index cards, and in the related collection of Orton Case Files. Correspondence with hospital administrators documents Samuel Orton's work at the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital between 1942 and 1944, and the correspondence of David Wright in the second series also documents this period.

June Orton's Orton Society records document the group's founding in 1949, and programs and other materials provide information about the Society's early meetings in the 1950s. Her work in North Carolina is documented in records related to the Graylyn Language Clinic and the Orton Reading Center. In addition to providing an administrative overview of each center, these records feature various tests and diagnostic materials, and the composition books that display both the student's performance and the teacher's planning and evaluation. June Orton's efforts to train teachers and promote understanding of language disabilities are seen in the workshops she conducted, and the Penland workshops are particularly well documented.

The fourth series, Writings and Speeches, consists of bibliographies, manuscripts, typescripts, reprints, notes, and miscellaneous printed matter related to the publications and presentations of both Ortons, as well as books and reprints sent to the Ortons by others. Samuel Orton's writings are documented by bibliographies, reprints of his published papers, including the 1966 Collected Papers edited by June Orton and published by the Orton Society, and a substantial number of unpublished papers, some in fragmentary form. Samuel Orton's speeches to students, educators, neurologists, and civic groups are mostly written in an abbreviated, note-like form. June Orton wrote several articles regarding the Mobile Clinic in the 1920s, but published little in later years with the exception of her 1963 guide to teaching phonics. The books and articles written by the Ortons' colleagues are generally related to learning disabilities, and are frequently inscribed by their authors to Samuel or June Orton. Most of these individuals are also represented in the Correspondence series.

The fifth series, Subject Files, consists of notes, drawings, printed matter, and miscellaneous materials organized alphabetically by general subject heading. This series was created to group a diverse range of materials lacking an identifiable original order. These files cover the Ortons' major topics of interest, including dyslexia, phonics, and testing and diagnostic materials, primarily from the years of their private practice.

The sixth series, Illustrations, consists of images presumably used in publications and presentations by Samuel Orton, and is arranged alphabetically by subject heading. Many of the images appear to have been produced by Samuel Orton himself. In addition, Orton was fascinated by left-handedness (which appears more frequently in individuals with reading disabilities), and collected newspaper and magazine clippings showing left-handed people.

The seventh series, Pupil Records, consists of correspondence, charts, notes, and other materials related to students the Ortons examined, diagnosed, and taught. The Pupil Records are divided into individual and group subseries. Individual pupil records are arranged alphabetically, and in general, more substantive records about these pupils may be found in the related collection of Orton Case Files. Most of the group records date from June Orton's work in North Carolina in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The eighth series, Photographs, consists of a small number of photographs gathered from throughout the Orton papers. The only image of Samuel Orton is a printed image from a reprint. June Orton is represented by photographs from the Smith School of Social Work, and several photographs from the 1950s.

The ninth series, Index Card Files, consists of card files documenting patient visits and financial obligations, as well as note cards related to medical literature. This series was created to segregate materials in this format. The patient records, which are in alphabetical order, cover the Ortons' private practice in New York, which is more fully documented in the Orton Case Files. The notes on medical literature and bibliography appear to be from Samuel Orton's student days and early professional years in pathology.

The tenth series, Films, consists of nine films from the 1930s and 1940s. Due to preservation concerns and a lack of equipment, the films have yet to be viewed, but they appear to be home movies relating to the Orton's country retreat, Hwimsy. Descriptions were taken directly from notations on the film canisters or reels themselves. The Archives anticipates the transfer of the films to another form of media.

The eleventh and final series, Oversize, consists of items from other series too large to be stored within document boxes. Of note are some elaborate charts of pupil records.


June Orton's will established the Orton Language Disability Trust Committee, which in 1980 signed an agreement to donate the Orton Papers to Columbia University. The case files were microfilmed in North Carolina in 1980-81, and arrived in the Archives and Special Collections Division of the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library in 1981. The Ortons' personal papers arrived in 1989.

Processing Notes

Prior to the Orton Papers' arrival at Columbia University in 1989, Dr. Dianne Mitchell examined the collection. Mitchell was June Orton's student and the compiler of June Lyday and Samuel T. Orton: Pioneers in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Dyslexia. Her annotations (such as "O.K.," "open," "closed," or "historical") are found on many documents in the collection, usually in the upper right-hand corner. In 1996, archives volunteer Betty Moore rehoused the collection, which included some shifting of content. In 1997, archivist Bob Vietrogoski began preliminary processing of the collection, particularly the correspondence series, but halted work that same year. In July 2001, Vietrogoski began to reprocess the entire collection and produce a finding aid. During processing, approximately one cubic foot of duplicate material was removed. This work was completed in May 2002.

Digital preservation copies were created by George Blood, Inc. in 2020 for eight of the nine films. One reel of film, originally labeled “Farm #4 Late summer, Fairfields, Steam shovel pool, Fairfields cabin,” was too fragile to be digitized.

Finding aid revised by Stephen Novak, 2021.