Alice Leone Mitchell teaches Marshall McLuhan a thing or two

14Mar12

October 4, 1913 Winnipeg Free Press

Wednesday, 14 March, 2012
Born in Nova Scotia, Alice Leone Mitchell graduated from the Emerson College of Oratory in Boston and was head of the oratory department at Mount Allison University for six years. In 1912 came to Winnipeg to establish a school.


October 26, 1917, The Voice

She first settled at 408 Warwick Apartments from where she also ran the Alice Leone Mitchell School of Expression engaged in “ … training students for public speaking and physical culture including diaphragmatic breathing are especially emphasized.” Her school moved with her to 6-275 Young Street, 6 Camden Court then 333 Broadway.


March 8 1924, Winnipeg Free Press

One of Mitchell’s pupils was Elsie McLuhan, mother of Marshall McLuhan. 

Mrs. McLuhan, for a time, sat on the school’s executive board and her home was the site for executive meetings and small recitals. In 1924 she began a public speaking career of her own and insisted that son Marshall take lessons from Mitchell as well. 


Source: U of M Library

In his book Extraordinary Canadians: Marshall McLuhan, Douglas Coupland writes:

“… Marshall was forced (by and large cheerfully) to remember vast swaths of English literature and poetry—and not merely remember it, but also recite it aloud with gusto: crisp enunciation and precise metre and tone, as was demanded by the Alice Leone Mitchell School of Expression. In his later life as an academic and teacher, this skill set would blow people away, especially his future Cambridge classmates, who had been expecting Marshall to be a hinterland yokel but found instead, if not a savant, certainly a classmate to avoid making citation errors in front of.”

Another McLuhan biography [Philip Marchand's] says that Mitchell’s school was considered one of the “foremost schools in North America for training in the principles of public reading” and created a fierce snobbery in Elsie McLuhan toward the McLuhans’ Irish Heritage, Ontario’s Protestant elite and Winnipeggers in general !


September 1939

Mitchell and her students regularly held oratory and dramatic recitals around town and she was also a stage actress in her own right.

In 1945 Mitchell returned to her native Nova Scotia after falling ill. She died at her home in Dartmouth on April 29, 1946.

Related: McLuhan the Manitoban – U of M Library
Newspaper sources:
News of Interest to Women – Winnipeg Free Press, Oct 4, 1913
Alice Mitchell, Voice Teacher, Dies – Winnipeg Free Press, May 9, 1946

Gladstone Elementary School, Winnipeg (attended by McLuhan)
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