SPELLING BEE. The spelling bee began as a teaching device traditionally employed in American schools. Initially, educators erroneously assumed that spelling proficiency indicated general intellectual capacity. During the nineteenth century, students frequently spelled out loud, competing for the honor of being the best speller in the class; candidates attempted to spell words submitted by an examiner. By the 1840s, communities in the Midwest held spelling matches as part of evening entertainment, and the widespread popularity of the game grew in the West. The term "spelling bee" was first used in Edward Eggleston's The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871). Like the quilting bee, spinning bee, or husking bee, the term "spelling bee" reflects the social nature of the event. Although the popularity of the game declined with the advent of the progressive education movement and the subsequent de-emphasis of spelling and rote learning in general, local communities still supported the enterprise. In 1925 the Louisville Courier-Journal sponsored the first national spelling bee. Since then, local communities sponsor individual students to send on to the national event, although no event was held during the war years of 1943, 1944, and 1945.
Monaghan, E. Jennifer. A Common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Back Speller. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1983.
Nietz, John A. Old Textbooks: Spelling, Grammar, Reading, Arithmetic, Geography, American History, Civil Government, Physiology, Penmanship, Art, Music, As Taught in the Common Schools from Colonial Days to 1900. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1961.
Harry R.Warfel/h. s.