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Debate has a long history at William & Mary, with many student organizations participating in debates within the school as well as attending intercollegiate competitions.

Early History, Literary Societies

One of the earliest forms of a debate team at William & Mary, the Philomathean Literary Society, was already raising funds to furnish a hall in 1896. Though certainly fulfilling many functions as a group, such as maintaining a library for the use of its members, the literary society also fulfilled a debating function; the 1901 Colonial Echo shows two orators and two debaters among its officers 1, and a 1911 Flat Hat describes a debate at one of the meetings of the literary society: "In the debate: Resolved, That the Right of Suffrage Should not be Granted to Women. Mr. J. L. Tucker upheld the affirmative, while Mr. W. W. Somers defended the negative side. Much interest was displayed by the suffragists and anti-suffragists of the audience, and smiles were frequently seen as one of the debaters scored a telling point"2. The Philomathean society, which was also founded on or before 1889 apparently either died out or changed its name by 1935. However, one of the rooms in the Wren Building continued to be called Philomathean hall (no doubt because sales of the aforementioned song books were large enough to furnish it) at least during the 1940's, and debate events continued to take place within it 3.

Another literary society, the Phoenix Literary Society, existed concurrently with the Philomathean Literary Society and also held debates among their activities, as disused in the 1907 announcements bulletin "There are two Literary Societies of long standing, the Phoenix and Philomathean. They meet weekly in their halls for the purpose of cultivating debate, composition, and declamation" 4 The Phoenix society, which was founded in or before 1889, appears to have lasted until the mid 1960's.

Both the Phoenix Literary Society and Philomathean Society were attending intercollegiate debate competitions by 1911. At a rally held because "of the increasing disinterestedness of literary society members and non-society men in enlisting in this all-important branch of college activity.... Prof. Ferguson... discussed inter-collegiate debates. He offered a very novel and commendable suggestion that instead of having only the debate between two college as heretofore, a three-cornered debate should be instituted. In this each college would be represented by two teams, and more practice in the art of speaking, more enthusiasm and a better contest in every respect would be the result" 5. This was a clear step towards modern debate tournament format, where teams from many schools compete against each other in the same event 6.

Phi Beta Kappa also included debate among their club activities. "The objects [of the organization] were partly social and partly literary, as was evidenced by the banquets which occasionally called its members together in social mirth and festivity, and by the literary compositions and debates which constituted the central features of their monthly meetings" 7.

William, and Mary Women's Debating Council

The William & Mary Women's Debating Council, or Debate Council was founded by 1939 and was active until at least 1945. In 1940 they had a full debate tour and hosted the University of South Carolina's debate team on April 24th 8.

Inter-Collegiate Debate Council

The Inter-Collegiate Debate Council, which existed at least from 19459 - 195610. In the 1948-1949 school year, the Council participated in over 150 debates.

Delta Sigma Rho

Delta Sigma Rho is a national forensics honor society, which had a chapter at the college of William & Mary at least during the 1967-1968 school year.

William & Mary Patrick Henry Debate Society

According to a 2005 news article "The William & Mary debate society was established in 1950, fashioned in the mold of the many great orators who grace the College's alumni rolls, including George Wythe, John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson" 11. They are a debate team, and "[compete] in the parliamentary style of debate in the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA)" 12. They are supported by members of the faculty of the Speech department.



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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.