Unique in origin and international in membership, the Capital Speakers Club, Inc. was founded in the era of the emerging woman. With growing power and recognition in public life, women were beginning to assume positions of leadership requiring creative and effective communication.
While living in London in the 1940's, Mrs. Hugh Butler, a speech teacher and wife of an American diplomat, became fascinated with the public speaking skills of English women. She studied under a famous English Parliamentary coach. Upon returning to Washington DC, Mrs. Butler started classes to teach "Practical Platform Speaking" skills to members of Congress, foreign diplomats, professional women and women active in civic, social, and cultural affairs.
The First Lady, Mrs. Harry S. Truman hosted the Capital Speakers Classes at the White House. Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at an opening class, "Public speaking is an art that, I think, has to be studied... We must not neglect to train young people and old in the ability to speak well in public."
Mrs. Hester Provensen, LL.B., MA, a distinguished Professor in the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art at the University of Maryland, acquired Mrs. Butler's Public Speaking Classes in 1949 when the Butlers moved to California. Mrs. Provensen adopted the name "Capital Public Speaking Class." Instruction was scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, first at the Wardman Park Hotel, then at the Westchester, followed by the Kennedy Warren, and eventually at Columbia Country Club.
Founding of the Club
One of the graduates, Lonore Kiefer-Van Swearingen, suggested to Mrs. Provensen on Graduation Day of the Spring Class of 1951 that a club be organized "so that graduates could continue to improve their speaking ability gained in class." Such a club, she thought, would make an audience of trained speakers singularly able to judge a speech with skill and sympathy because all its members had struggled "through butterfly forests together."
"The skill to do comes from the doing," said Hester, and thus with 25 CSC Class graduates responding, the Capital Speakers Club was born on April 19, 1951.
Enthusiastic over the idea, Mrs. Provensen invited her former students and those of Mrs. Butler's classes to a meeting to plan "a thoroughly practical and dynamic Speakers Club." Twenty-five graduates responded and on April 19, 1951, the Capital Speakers Club was organized at a luncheon held at the Wardman Park Hotel. Following the April 19 founding luncheon, a number of planning meetings were held at the Netherlands Embassy, which prompted Madame Herman van Roijen, wife of the Netherlands Ambassador and the first CSC President, to remark that "the Club was born on Dutch soil."
Initially, all members were required to speak and critique each others' speeches but, as the Club grew, Mrs. Povensen was engaged in 1952 to give professional evaluations at the monthly luncheon meeting and to act as Club Adviser. In 1967 she became the Club's first Honorary Member.
Organization of the Club
With increasing membership, the Club was divided in February 1959 into Chapter I and Chapter II. On June 9, 1960, Chapter III was added. Each Chapter schedules six luncheons and other events during the Club year. The entire membership comes together for Joint Luncheons in January and June and for special workshops and social meetings (Fall Assembly Tea and Annual Ball). At the Club and Chapter luncheons, it is traditional to have Honored Guests who are distinguished in professional, cultural, civic, diplomatic, or social activities of Washington.