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Harry T. Leeper (1904-1998)

Fairmont, West Virginia

Harry Leeper was one of three co-founders of the National Thespian Society, the organization that has grown into the Educational Theatre Association. Along with Paul Opp and Earl Blank, Mr. Leeper, a speech and drama teacher at East Fairmont (West Virginia) High School, developed a framework for the organization and wrote the original constitution. The constitution and the first initiation ritual were conceived in the spring of 1929 on his front porch. In the society’s first year Mr. Leeper helped recruit seventy-one troupes, including Troupe 3 at his own school. He also designed the Thespian Society’s first official logo, the familiar T bordered by two masks that still appears on Thespian certificates and awards.

Mr. Leeper devoted his career to the development of educational theatre. From 1929 through 1934 he served as the first editor of The High School Thespian, the forerunner of Dramatics magazine; he remained an advisory editor until 1958. In the autumn 1934 issue of The High School Thespian, he defined his goals for educational theatre: “Considerable importance should be placed on training which leads to the intelligent production of dramatics as a cultural and time-absorbing activity. Community tastes must be developed for the study and the encouragement of local drama work and dramatic talent…. It is here that our tasks lie. It is here that we find the reasons which justify our existence as a society, our program, and the faith we have in our work.”

In 1978 Mr. Leeper and his co-founders were presented with the International Director’s Award, an annual award established in their honor.