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.