Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Dennis, Ralph B. (Ralph Brownell), 1876-1942



  • Existence: 1876-1942

Ralph Brownell Dennis was a student of Northwestern's School of Oratory himself before becoming a member of the faculty. Eventually Dennis became the Associate Director, the Director and later the Dean of the School. Dennis worked to expand and modernize the School of Oratory (later the School of Speech) during his tenure.

Dennis was born September 21, 1876, in Tama, Iowa, the son of Jabez and Alice Reynolds Dennis. He attended grade school and high school in Traer, Iowa, graduating from the latter in 1894. He spent his freshman year at Cornell College in Iowa then transferred to Northwestern University in 1897. He received a diploma from Northwestern's School of Oratory in 1897 and a Bachelor of Letters degree from the University's College of Liberal Arts in 1901. In 1914 Northwestern also awarded Dennis an honorary Master of Arts degree. Wabash College presented him with an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1931.

Following his graduation from Northwestern, Dennis was appointed to the faculty of the university's School of Oratory. He resigned his position in 1909 to pursue a career in banking and social service. In 1913 Dennis returned to the School of Oratory, later the School of Speech, as its associate director. He became director of the School in 1916 and dean in 1919, serving until his retirement in 1942.

Dennis worked with the YMCA in Russia during World War I and for a short while served as an American vice-consul attached to the Moscow Consulate General. In 1921 he attended the League of Nations and World Peace Conference in Geneva and in 1939 he made an extensive overseas tour.

Known to faculty and students as “Skipper” and “Cy”, Dennis made his life's work the development, expansion, and modernization of Northwestern's School of Speech. During his tenure as dean, curricular innovations included the establishment of a children's theater program, a speech clinic, a radio department, and the National High School Institute. At the close of his career in 1942 Northwestern awarded Dennis its Alumni Medal.

Dennis was active in community affairs, as a member of numerous clubs, and served for twelve years on the Evanston Board of Education.

He married Myrta McKean in 1904. Mrs. Dennis died in 1937. In 1940 Dennis married Dorothy Critchfield. He had one adopted son, Daniel. Dennis died while vacationing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on August 23, 1942, at the age of 66.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Winifred Ward (1884-1975) Papers

Identifier: 20/8
Abstract Winifred Louise Ward began her studies as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University's Cumnock School of Oratory. After two years of directing plays and declamation contests, and teaching grade school she attended the University of Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in education in 1918. Soon after, Ward was asked to teach at Northwestern University's School of Oratory and that year began as an instructor and assistant professor, a career which was to last until her retirement in 1950....