Maud May Babcock was a tireless teacher, visionary, theatre maven, and a force of nature. She profoundly influenced countless students, actors, and leaders from across the state.
Maud May Babcock came to the Beehive State from upstate New York in 1892 and became a lasting force for improvement in Utah. Through her advocacy of “elocution” and “physical culture,” she profoundly influenced four generations of speech and drama teachers, professional actors, and civic and religious leaders.
As instructor of elocution at the University of Utah, ‘Miss B’ – as her students called her – worked hard to legitimize this curious discipline in the eyes of her academic colleagues. Toward this end, she lobbied to move the popular debate team from the English Department to her own. She got a little help from fate during the 1914 commencement ceremony during which a graduating senior blasted the university administration for being too influenced by the LDS Church. Enraged, the University President, Joseph Kingsbury, disciplined the debate coach who had helped the student with the speech. That incident led to the protest and resignation of seventeen faculty members and ultimately the president himself. Before resigning, however, Kingsbury moved the debate team to the Department of Elocution where he was certain his good friend, Maude May Babcock, a fierce Mormon convert, would keep her debaters in line with LDS authorities.
Maude May also advocated dramatic theatre in Utah, forming student and professional theatre companies, and producing over 300 plays. She was the first female department chair at the University of Utah, and founded the College of Physical Education, as well as two Departments – Communication and Theatre.
In 1930, Maude May got the theatre building she had championed for years. Fittingly named for the president who had rewarded her with the debate team, Kingsbury Hall is one of the first university theatres in the country. And downstairs at the University’s Pioneer Memorial Theatre, the student stage has been christened “The Babcock.”
Image: Maud May Babcock. Miss Babcock (leaning on a pole) and her physical culture class. Courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library.
See David G. Pace, “Maud May Babcock (1867-1950): Speak Clearly and Carry a Big Umbrella,” in Worth Their Salt: Notable but Often Unnoted Women of Utah (Colleen Whitley, ed.), Logan: UtahStateUniversity Press, 1996, pp 148-159.