Wood, Evelyn (1909–1995)

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Wood, Evelyn (1909–1995)

American developer of the speed-reading technique . Born Evelyn Nielsen on January 8, 1909, in Logan, Utah; died on August 26, 1995, in Tucson, Arizona; daughter of Elias Nielsen and Rose (Stirland) Nielsen; University of Utah, B.A., 1929, M.S. in speech, 1947; postgraduate work at Columbia University, 1957; married Myron Douglas Wood, on June 12, 1929 (died 1987); children: one daughter Carol Wood Evans .

Born in 1909 in Logan, Utah, Evelyn Wood attended public schools there as a child. She entered the University of Utah, finishing her bachelor's degree in English in 1929. In June of that year, she married Myron Wood, with whom she had one daughter. Wood worked for one year as a professor of biology and English at Weber College in Ogden, Utah, but left the college in 1932. Later she returned to the University of Utah, completing her M.S. degree in speech in 1947. That year, she also developed and presented numerous radio programs on reading skills which were broadcast around the state.

Wood remained at the University of Utah as a researcher from 1947 to 1950, working with C. Lowell Lees on speech and reading studies. In 1948, she also accepted a position as girls' counselor at Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah, where she would remain until 1957. Especially interested in developing her students' reading skills, Wood began a remedial reading program. She discovered that the girls who read the fastest retained the most information. Using this insight, Wood planned a large-scale study of naturally fast readers. As part of her research, she traveled across the United States contacting 1,500 people who could read over 1,500 words per minute. She then studied their reading techniques and tested their comprehension.

From this work Wood developed a speed-reading technique which she further refined by teaching it in elementary, high school, and adult education classes between 1948 and 1959. Between 1957 and 1959, she taught reading skills courses at the University of Utah. The key to her technique was to train the eyes to skim a page top to bottom, seeking key words and phrases, rather than reading each line one word at a time.

In 1959, she named her program Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, and opened an institute to teach speed-reading in Washington, D.C. That same year, she outlined her program in her book Reading Skills, which promised to increase the student's reading speed from the average 250 words per minute to 1,500 words per minute. The book's simple techniques brought her considerable popularity and led to the establishment of other Reading Dynamics Institutes in major U.S. cities. It was also translated into numerous European languages.

Three more books followed: A Breakthrough in Reading (1961), A New Approach to Speed-Reading (1962), and Speed Reading for Comprehension (1962). In 1961, Wood was appointed assistant professor at the University of Delaware. Two years later, the popularity of Wood's program was assured when John F. Kennedy, himself a speed-reader, asked her to teach Reading Dynamics to the joint chiefs of staff. Wood lectured across the United States, Canada, and in Europe, and was featured on many television and radio programs throughout the 1960s. She herself benefited from her program, and reportedly could read up to 15,000 words per minute.

The Woods sold the Institutes in 1966, but Evelyn Wood continued to teach courses until a stroke forced her to retire in 1977. At the peak of the program's popularity in the late 1970s, there were over 150 Reading Dynamics Institutes in the U.S. teaching thousands of Americans each year. In addition to her research and teaching on reading, Wood, a Mormon, was active in her church and in various civic organizations in Salt Lake City, where she made her home until the death of her husband in 1987. Wood then went to live with her daughter in Tucson, Arizona. She died there in 1995, at age 86.


The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Vol. 63. Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1984.

Obituary, in The Day [New London, CT]. August 30, 1995, p. B4.

Obituary, in Time. September 11, 1995, p. 35.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California