The Julie Atwood Speech, Language and Literacy Center has been named in honor of the visionary speech-language pathologist and professor emerita who not only launched the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders but also played a major role in

It was the early 1970s when Julie Atwood first learned Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to launch what was being called at the time as MGH University.

The director of the hospital’s speech-language pathology department whose staff regularly mentored students, she immediately was drawn to the idea of developing an educational program that would increase the number of practitioners to treat patients with communications and learning disorders.

More than 50 years after hospital leaders tapped her to lead the creation of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at what eventually became MGH Institute of Health Professions, her passion, drive, and determination will be forever linked at the newly named Julie Atwood Speech, Language and Literacy Center.

three people pose for the camera
Julie Atwood with CSD Faculty Charles Haynes and Susan Smith

“As the founding leader of the CSD program at the IHP, I feel enormous pride and gratitude to have my name associated with this center,” Atwood told an audience of family, friends, colleagues, and faculty during the June 15 ceremony in which the center, where students treat patients under faculty supervision, was named in her honor. “What a privilege it has been to have had the opportunity to build from scratch a highly successful speech-language pathology program. This crowning achievement was an endeavor of teamwork, leadership, and love.”

MGH Institute President Paula Milone-Nuzzo noted how Atwood’s contributions to the Institute went well beyond speech-language pathology. “She was a visionary in those conversations about what the goals of the Institute were and how the Institute should be organized,” the president said. “So many of us are here today because you were there to conceptualize the Institute.”

Atwood was quick to mention the assistance she received from hospital visionaries such as Dr. John Hilton Knowles, who was the originator of creating the Institute, Dr. Charles Sanders, who fulfilled Knowles’ quest to create the Institute, and Dr. Henry Mankin, a long-time champion of the school. She also cited the program’s first director, Dr. John Locke, along with some of the first faculty members such as Dr. Charles Haynes and Dr. Leslie Maxwell, both of whom are still teaching.

This is not the first time Atwood’s contributions have been recognized by the Institute. In 1997, Dr. Robert Hillman, a renowned speech-language pathologist who was director of the Institute’s program at that time, led the establishment of the Julie Atwood Award for Excellence in Speech Language Pathology. The award is given each year to a graduating student who demonstrates both academic and clinical excellence. “Julie’s commitment to educating and mentoring students is unwavering,” Hillman told the audience in a pre-recorded message. “Her passion for these students and the CSD program at the IHP has been realized in this center.”

Hillman also acknowledged Atwood for being at the vanguard of broadening the definition of speech-language pathologists. During her 33-year career at the hospital, he described how she added cutting-edge programs such as swallowing disorders and transgender voice transitions, developed SLP outpatient programs at three of its community health centers, and established diversity among staff as a major goal to better meet patient needs. For her efforts, Atwood has been named a Fellow of the American Speech-Language Association and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Massachusetts Speech-Language Hearing Association, among other accolades. 

Ellen Zane, a long-time friend who is an Honorary Trustee of the Institute, talked of Atwood’s commitment to education and community involvement outside of her professional career. Zane, a fellow SLP who would become the first female president of Tufts Medical Center, noted that Atwood has volunteered with the Big Sister Association of Boston since 1996. After being paired at that time with 8-year-old Naquana, who is now an adult and whom was in attendance at the event, Atwood’s decades-long mentorship and support of her little sister resulted in her receiving the organization’s Big Sister Award six years ago. 

Zane also mentioned Atwood’s work in volunteering at the MSPCA and her role in reading the Sunday Cape Cod Times to the visually challenged for an hour each week on a radio broadcast. “Julie’s involvement and service to her community is absolutely inspiring,” Zane said.

While Atwood was named Professor Emerita upon retiring from the Institute faculty in 2012, she never really has left. She has continued to meet and mentor students, regularly attends big events at the school, and supports a student scholarship fund she founded years ago. As she said after the event concluded, while the close to 100 people in attendance waited to give her hugs and pose for pictures, “Being part of the IHP all these years has been a love affair for me.”