Austin, not Arnie, mastered strokes of a pen

Austin, not Arnie, mastered strokes of a pen by Bob Karolevitz I was autographing a book, and when I finished, my faith-fan (I had two or three at the time) said:

"Gee, I can read your writing!"

I was flattered, of course, and then I gushingly replied:

"I owe it all to ovals and push-pulls. I was trained by the Palmer Method eons ago, and I never went to medical school where I think they teach future doctors to write illegibly."

I can still remember the good Benedictine Sister telling me to sit straight and how to hold a pen. Then I filled pages of my tablet with those funny looking circles and up-and-down lines which you had to do before you started on the alphabet.

Little did I know back in the late 1920s that some 80 percent of American schools were teaching a system invented by an Iowa idea man who thought the ornate style of penmanship of the Victorian Age was too hard to master and too slow to use in business work.

But who was Palmer of the Palmer Method?

I didn't give it a thought until recently when somebody posed the question. That would be an easy one to answer, I thought, so I went to my research books to find what I presumed to be a simple quest.

I searched under every title I could think of. Handwriting, Penmanship, Chirography, Calligraphy and even Graphology failed to give me a clue. Palmer, it seemed, was a forgotten man.

There was no other choice but to go to the Internet. So swallowing my anti-computer pride, I went to the friendly gals at the local library and told them my dilemma.

Cheerfully they went to the keyboard and called up Yahoo and www.dogpile.com to find the information I was looking for. Unfortunately the only Palmer to show up first was one named Arnie, and there was a lot of data about golf.

Aha, I though. So much for all that talk about computers and the Information Age. With no trouble at all, I had found a subject to stump my willing standards.

But the never-say-die gals kept clicking away.

All of a sudden, from some web page somewhere, Austin N. Palmer showed up. He wasn't a figure of my imagination after all.

I don't think the librarians smirked, but they'd been teasing me for a long time about my dinosaur-ish attitude. At last they had real proof of the pudding!

Sheepishly I accepted a printout which told me that Austin Palmer of Cedar Rapids revolutionized the way handwriting was taught. In 1898 he published the first edition of his Palmer Method of Business Writing. The Western Penman, his magazine containing lessons and samples, soon had a circulation of 25,000.

Palmer's big break came at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 when he showed off his system there. School officials from New York City liked what they saw, but they wanted to know how it would work in practice.

They invited "Pushin' Palmer" � as he was called � to teach at a school in the rough Bowery district. And it wasn't long before the educators were greatly impressed with how the city's most underprivileged kids were writing. Palmer had proved his point.

He went on to become a millionaire, producing and selling penmanship manuals, magazines, pens and paper. He also established three business colleges.

Austin Palmer died of a stroke in 1907, but the A.N. Palmer Company continued to publish handwriting manuals until 1988 when it finally closed.

I learned all this on the Internet, I'm sorry to say. The ovals and push-pulls I penned all by myself without a "mouse."

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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