(*Portrait and bio taken with permission from Michael Sullís Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship, Volume I.)
Taken with permission from Mike Sull's Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship Volume I (out of print)
AUSTIN NORMAN PALMER
To be sure, there were many other penmen whose noteworthy careers and energetic personalities provide interesting fare to be retold and once again brought to light. Although an entire volume would be required to accommodate an all-inclusive list, there is a single penman whose contributions to the American system of writing were of such significance that he must be mentioned. His name was Austin Norman Palmer.
A. N. Palmer was
born on a farm at
At Gaskell's business college, Palmer became a friend of William E. Dennis, who was a fellow pupil. Young Dennis possessed a natural talent for ornamental penmanship, and although Palmer was aware that he might never reach Dennis' expertise as a penman, he did attain a proficiency in ornamental writing, and upon his graduation, was awarded a flourished letter of recommendation from Gaskell himself.
education ended with a course at the Literary Institute in New Hampton, New
Hampshire, after which he set out to organize classes in penmanship. He
gradually worked his way west, teaching in
Up to this time
Palmer had not been forced to make any practical application of his handwriting
skill. In 1880, he was offered a position in
The discovery of
what he called "muscular movement" writing turned A. N. Palmer's
thoughts back to teaching, for he soon resigned his position at a business
office to work for the
states, this energetic owner/editor thus embarked
upon a career that was destined to have the most far-reaching effects upon the
teaching of penmanship in the
From the time of the establishment of The Western Penman until 1900, a period of 16 years, A. N. Palmer kept busy teaching in various cities in the middle west, but he never ceased publication of the magazine. In 1888, he published the first edition of Palmer's Guide to Muscular Movement Writing, in which we find the first definition of ,'muscular movement" It is, as Mr.† Palmer said in his introduction.
... the movement of the muscles of the arm from the shoulder to the wrist, while keeping the fleshy portion of the arm just forward of the elbow [held] stationery on the desk. This movement should be used in all capitals and in all small letters, except the extended stem and loop, where a slight extension and contraction of the fingers holding the pen is permissible."
This definition shows that as early as 1888 the teaching principles of the new method were pretty well formulated. The actual copies presented for practice, however, still showed the strong influence of the Spencerian forms. Letters are narrow, and loops are elongated, while moderate flourishes and slight shades characterize the capital forms.† Quoting from Writing, Past and Present:
Mr. Palmer's success with large classes of students in business colleges had by this time convinced him of the fact that anyone could learn to write a free, tireless hand with his new method. In his desire to spread this knowledge and also to provide a self-teaching course he conceived the notion of preparing a course of lessons for publication in the Penman that would carry as instructions a stenographic report of his remarks before his class in the Cedar Rapids Business College The idea was carried out and over a period of six months he was given a daily transcribed report of every lesson. The course was published in the Penman beginning in the September, 1899 issue. "Not the least important thing the author has had in mind," said Mr. Palmer in his opening paragraph, "is that in hundreds of schools The Western Penman has been adopted as a textbook in writing, while in others it is used as an auxiliary, work being assigned for outside practice from its pages from time to time."
*Writing Past and
Present by Carroll Gard, 1937; A. N. Palmer Company
This published course of lessons did a great deal to impress school people with the practical nature of the handwriting instruction Mr.† Palmer was advocating, and it led directly to classes will again convene in the afternoon atone o'clock and will continue with the four divisions until . Under this plan you will teach all the Sisters in divisions of fifty, two lessons a day, and they will spend all of their spare time between lessons practicing the drills you assign.
That program was carried out, and Mr. Palmer explains that he put every drop of his mental and physical vitality into the work, and the Sisters worked just as hard as he did.
At the close of
Mr. Palmer's lessons, the Mother Superior asked for a conference and explained
to him that while she could not adopt a monthly publication as a textbook in
her schools, she would be glad to give an immediate order for enough copies of
the lessons that had been printed in The Western Penman for all her schools, if
such lessons were put into book form. Thus it happened that the first edition
of the Palmer Method of Business Writing was printed for the Sisters of I.H.M.,
whose Mother House is at
With such encouragement by the Sisters and with The Palmer Method of Business Writing now in the form of a textbook, the adoption of his instructions and advocated style grew at an astonishing rate beginning in 1900. In the course of a few weeks, 30,000 copies were printed and sold; in 1901, 90,000 copies; and in 1912, 1,000,000 copies were sold throughout the country.
In 1904 A. N.
Palmer conducted a penmanship exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in
It was quite
difficult to get a foot hold in the public schools. The big publishers seemed
to control the situation and were selling copy-books everywhere. Results were
not considered above preconceived notions and the influence of the agents of
copy-book publishers was sufficient to keep me out of the public schools. I
did, however, obtain adoptions in several small places and some good results
followed, but there was not the enthusiasm among public school teachers that I
found among the Catholic teachers. Some public school teachers were not willing
to study, practice and master the progressive steps in advance of teaching them
to their pupils But the work continued to spread.
During the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, in
Superintendent of the City of
In the above
quotation, Mr. Palmer refers to one principle that was responsible for a large
part of the success of his plan for teaching handwriting. He absolutely refused
to be responsible for the writing in any school unless the teachers were first
qualified as experts in the style of writing they were required to teach. He
frequently said: "Teachers cannot teach what they do not know," and
this was the key to his whole philosophy of the teaching of handwriting. His
own enthusiasm, which was so evident in his own writing and teaching, was an
energetic characteristic he sought to develop in his students. He tried to
contact educational institutions in every direction of
From the time of
the adoption of the Palmer Method in
business interests throughout the years, A. N. Palmer remained essentially a
teacher, never losing his touch with the classroom. He was an educator and
publisher of uncommon energy. On