Home movies of pioneer dyslexia researchers, Samuel T. Orton and his wife, June Lyday Orton, are now available for research by appointment at the Columbia University Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections reading room. The movies, taken between 1928 and 1948, depict the Ortons’ 1928 wedding in Detroit; their honeymoon to Niagara Falls and other points; vacations in New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the early 1930s; and the construction of their weekend cabin, called “Whimsy,” in 1930-1932.
Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) was among the first to correctly diagnose the learning disability now called dyslexia. June Lyday (1898-1977) was a member of Orton’s research team at the State University of Iowa medical school which gathered the data that helped him develop his findings. She later married Orton after the death of his first wife. Along with educator and psychologist Anna Gillingham, the Ortons developed a program for teaching reading to dyslexic children called “the Orton-Gillingham method” still widely employed today. June Orton continued their work until her death. The Orton Papers and their case files were donated to the Columbia University Health Sciences Library in 1980 & 1989 by the Orton Language Disability Trust.
Eight of the nine reels of film found in the papers were digitized. Of these, seven are 16mm and one is 8mm. All are silent and only one is in color. The films total about 105 minutes with individual reels running from as long as 17 minutes and to as short as 4. The majority of the films depict the construction of the Ortons’ weekend cabin outside Wappingers Falls, N.Y. It appears from the films that Samuel Orton did most of the work himself with help from a young man who may be his son, Samuel T. Orton, Jr. The vacation films show swimming and canoeing at Camp Boulder Point, a girls’ summer camp on Limekiln Lake, and on Rainbow Lake, both in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. One reel was too deteriorated to digitize but efforts are underway to see if it can be restored.
While the films are currently only available for viewing on-site, Archives & Special Collections hopes to make them accessible online sometime in the future. Digitization was made possible by the library’s Orton Fund.
Top: Samuel T. and June Lyday on their wedding day, July 16, 1928, in Detroit (Frame from film OR01, Orton Papers).
Right: Orton building his cabin, “Whimsy,” outside Wappingers Falls, N.Y., circa 1930 (Frame from film OR05, Orton Papers).