In 1969, the Atlanta Speech School Guild was founded as the volunteer and fundraising arm for the Buckhead school that helps children reach their potential through language and literacy.
While the organization may have started slowly under its first president, Betty Mitchell Bowring, who served for two years, it sped up considerably in its second year, said Bettye Maddox, one of its founding members.
“The first year, I know when Betty called me, we were just fitting together pieces of what would work and how it would be set up,” Maddox said. “But the second year she was president, she said, ‘You’re going to have to work. I want to get 100 members to get this organization off the ground.’ And we did.”
Bowring was succeeded by Londa Ivey before Maddox became the guild’s third president, with both Ivey and Maddox and all future presidents serving one year each.
The guild’s 50th anniversary and its lifetime members (those who pay a one-time fee to commit to volunteering for the guild for life) will be honored at the school’s annual Language and Literacy Gala Nov. 17 at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.
The school was founded in 1938 by Katherine “Kitty” Hamm, whose son Benjamin had hearing loss, as a way to help metro Atlanta children who were deaf, hard of hearing or having speech disorders learn to speak at a time when no other such local schools existed.
Its campus was located in downtown Atlanta, then moved to Peachtree Road in Buckhead before relocating in 1967 to property on Northside Parkway in Buckhead, where it remains, according to the school’s website. The school is next to the office of the Junior League of Atlanta, which Hamm partnered with the year she opened the school.
In fact, while some of the guild’s members were mothers of children attending the school, Maddox joined the organization through being a league member. However, her brother, Jim Carmichael, and her two grandchildren attended the school. Both then and today, members could pay the lifetime fee or a much smaller annual fee to join.
Maddox said the guild was started partly because the school’s new, larger campus would lead to higher enrollment and meant it would need to raise more money for its financial aid program. Hamm promised to never turn a child away even if his family couldn’t pay for the tuition, and that legacy remains intact today.
“(The guild) was founded by the school’s board to formalize the volunteer efforts of the school,” said Catherine Jaxon, this year’s guild president. “The school has always had such a strong volunteer community.”
Jaxon, who got involved with the guild because her three children have attended the school, said it has nearly 300 members, with about 170 lifetime ones.
“It’s been really inspiring for me to see how the mission of the guild today is exactly the same as it was when it was founded 50 years ago,” she said. “… Our mission is to foster community building and to provide fundraising for the school’s financial aid program.”
Over the years the guild has been involved with different fundraisers, from an Easter egg hunt to the Atlanta Steeplechase to the gala, which started as a potluck dinner and fashion show at Neiman Marcus at Lenox Square mall in Buckhead and is marking its 46th anniversary this year.
“They would open the store on … the Sunday night before Thanksgiving and we would cook, and they would have the store decorated for Christmas,” Maddox said of the gala’s early years. “It was quite a festive event.”
The guild also hosts the biannual Language and Literacy Luncheon, a fashion show and fundraiser scheduled for Feb. 25, at Neiman Marcus. Like Jaxon, Maddox said the guild’s anniversary shows it “has remained true” to the school’s mission.
“I think it’s a huge tribute to lovely Kitty Hamm, who I knew so well,” she said. “… I think the guild will continue right along with the school. I think this dedication to helping children find their voice and their literacy is just an amazing goal.”