Sally B. Childs

Sally B. Childs, Bulletin of the Orton Society, 1974

I love to read. My spare time is spent with books from cozy mystery series to the latest thrillers and biographies. Fortunately I found a career that enables me to read and learn new things every day. Unfortunately reading does not come easy to everyone. Many people are dealing with learning disabilities that impair their abilities to read and write. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), up to 15-20% of the population as a whole show some symptoms of dyslexia.

While in the DeGolyer stacks I came across the papers of a woman who dedicated her life to helping others overcome their dyslexia, and learn to read. A specialist in language training, Sally Burwell Childs was born June 10, 1905, in New York City. She attended school at the Ethical Culture School in New York, and at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  When one of her children began to stutter, she contacted a former teacher from the Ethical Culture School, Anna Gillingham.  After understanding the patterns of language disability in her own children, she noticed some cases in her classroom.  In 1941 she began training under Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman.  She also researched Dr. Samuel T. Orton’s case records, classifying the relationship between stuttering and reading. Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948) was a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist who focused attention on reading failure and related language processing difficulties.

When Dr. Orton died in 1948, colleagues founded the Orton Society, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of children with specific language disabilities.  During the first year, 1959, Mrs. Childs served as the vice president and then held the position as president until 1965.  During her presidency, she established the Anna Gillingham Fund to acknowledge Ms. Gillingham’s contributions to education upon her retirement.  Mrs. Childs later initiated the Dallas Branch of the Orton Dyslexia Society.

Sound Spelling, 1971

Sally Childs substituted for Anna Gillingham in established training programs and later developed private training programs in the United States as well as in England.  One of these substitutions brought Childs to Texas. She trained teachers in the area of dyslexia from 1962 until 1967 at the Hockaday School and Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. Childs spoke about language disabilities, improving reading skills, and Anna Gillingham’s remedial training method.  Sally Childs assisted in the refinement of the Gillingham Manuals and published Sound Phonics, Sound Spelling, The Childs Spelling Rules, Magic Squares, and The Childs Phonics Proficiency Scales.


Phonics book

Phonics Proficiency Scales for the Measurement of Phonics Skills, 1971


Mrs. Childs was recipient of the Samuel T. Orton Award in 1973 for her “outstanding work in the field of specific language disabilities.”  In 1987, the Aylett Royall Cox Institute established The Sally B. Childs Fund to enable teachers who could not afford training to learn the system to teach dyslexics. Sally B. Childs passed away in January 1988.


The Sally B. Childs papers in the Archives of Women of the Southwest are comprised of Childs’ teacher training materials, her published books, papers concerning the Orton Society, speeches, and programs concerning specific language disabilities. Researchers interested in the history of dyslexic education, learning disabilities, or women educators are encouraged to Contact Samantha Dodd, curator of the Archives of Women of the Southwest for additional information, or assistance with accessing the collection.



“RITES SET FOR SALLY CHILDS, TEACHER OF DYSLEXICS.” The Dallas Morning News, January 4, 1988: 8D. NewsBank. of the Orton Society.

Saunders, Roger E., and Childs, Sally B. “The 1973 Samuel T. Orton Award Presented by the Orton Society to Sally B. Childs.” Bulletin of the Orton Society 24 (1974): 1–4. Print.