Utah History Encyclopedia


Maud May Babcock (1867-1954) was Utahs first lady of the theater and of physical education. She founded the University of Utah Departments of Speech and of Physical Education, and during her lifetime she personally produced more than 300 plays.

Babcock was born in East Worchester, New York. She received a B.A. degree from Wells College and a Bachelor of Elocution degree from the National School of Oratory of Philadelphia. She also studied at the Lyceum School of Acting (now the American Academy of Dramatic Arts) in New York, at the University of Chicago, and also for two years in London and Paris. After beginning her career teaching at Ingleside School for Girls in Connecticut, she moved on to Rutgers College and New York public schools before coming to Utah in 1892 at the invitation of Susa Young Gates. Gates had attended one of Babcock's summer classes at Harvard and the persuaded her to come to Utah as a professor of oratory and speech at the Social Hall.

"Miss B," as her students affectionately called her, taught at the Social Hall in the mornings and at Brigham Young Academy in the afternoons. She soon became an instructor in elocution and physical culture at the University of Utah, the first woman on the faculty. She formed the University Dramatic Club, whose first production was "Eleusinia." Under her direction the University of Utah thus became the first university in the country to produce a stage play. By 1938, when Babcock retired, the club had the longest unbroken record of annual performances of any university drama club in North America.

Babcock worked her way up from instructor to full professor by 1904; she became chair of the Department of Speech in 1927. From 1918 to 1922 she also was the impetus behind the first university-subsidized professional theater in the United States at the Social Hall.

Babcock authored numerous books relating to the fields of speech and elocution, and she served as president of the National Association of Teachers of Speech. She served for twenty years (twelve years as President) on the board of the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind. She also was active in planning and building the Deseret Gym. For twelve years she served as Chaplain of the Utah Senate, the first woman in the country to hold such a position. She died 31 December 1954 after a long illness.