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Intercollegiate debate: reflecting American culture, 1900-1930.


If debaters ever were conquering heroes, this would be the moment. On April 3, 1927, Emory University student David A. Lockmiller wrote in his diary: "Work on debates again. Make progress on war debts and prohibition" (Lockmiller, 1927 April 3). Now, sixteen days later, he and his partner, Reginald McDuffee, were back in Atlanta after a debate tour at the height of the Great Mississippi River Flood, during which they defeated Birmingham-South, Arkansas, Southern Methodist, McCurry, Baylor, Louisiana State University, and Tulane. The newspaper headline printed above was as big and bold as the raging river. After years of more defeats than wins, Emory's debate team really did have a "place in the sun" ("Emory is Victor," 1925).

In the late 19th century when intercollegiate debate became widely popular, victories like Emory's generated plenty of hoopla. "The old armory was packed to the rafters with cheering throngs, all in evening clothes [...] torchlight processions formed to welcome teams returning from battles on alien fields," one speech professor would recall (Phifer, 1963). On some campuses, debate contests generated ferocity and fanfare similar to college football rivalries, leading various observers to note that both activities were "sports" with similar features. But the comparison was superficial. Policy debate-a form of speech competition in which teams of two debate the worthiness of a specific policy action-contrasted with the brutal encounters of college football, on one hand, and the frivolity of campus society on the other. A fundamentally serious business, it demanded extensive research and analysis, volumes of reading and many hours of rehearsing and critiquing. If debate was a challenge to the debaters themselves, so it was for observers who found it academic and confusing. Not surprisingly, poor attendance plagued debate events right from the start, and while debate victories fostered school spirit, the real fun lay with athletics and fraternities. In an era when college students giddily sought entertainment and escapades, it is remarkable that an enterprise as cerebral as debate drew the student body's interest at all.

Gazing from the pages of early 20th century yearbooks, debaters appeared in formal dress, clutching their loving cup trophies, perhaps lounging around a library table or sitting stiffly in rows of chairs. Their coaches rarely appeared in these photographs, an absence just a bit ironic because so much of what we envisage as the history of intercollegiate debate is wound up with the coaches, their lore, and the emergence of the discipline of public speaking. Between World War I and World War II, an aristocracy of coaches and academics regularly debated debate, sometimes quite fiercely, in correspondence, at meetings, and in the pages of the Quarterly Journal of Speech. They debated the purposes and goals of intercollegiate debate, the outcomes, protocol, teaching and coaching, philosophy and approach, departmental territory, professional recognition, and much more. To the extent that there is a historiography of early 20th century debate, it has been dominated by the correspondence, oral histories, and records of these notable men, and several women, who published widely and whose voluminous papers have been gathered in college and university archives. If the early debaters' experiences have seemed marginal to the story, it may be because there is scant documentation of how they went about their work on a day to day basis, for few of their recollections and reflections are extant. Typecast as eggheads, largely unaware of the crossfire among their elders, most debaters diligently followed the rituals of research, writing, and revising, their personas reflecting dedication and accomplishment. Debate was hard work; debaters boasted it, coaches decreed it, professors acknowledged it, and editors editorialized it. Debaters were hard workers; everyone knew that. But most people were ignorant about the details of preparation and how students made room for it in their lives- or rather, made room for their lives around it. Inevitably, little historical attention has been given to the debaters' experience during the formative decades of intercollegiate debate.

This paper is a tentative consideration of those early debaters, based on a small sampling of young men who debated at Emory University, New York University, and the University of Chicago between 1900 and 1930. In the first part I describe several debaters, who they were and who they became. Despite the scant information about them, is it possible to discern how debating may have affected their lives? How did they fit into campus culture, particularly at a time when students conventionally scorned academic study and had little interest in the political and economic issues that were the lifeblood of the debaters (Thelin, 2004, p. 158)?

In the second part of this paper, I describe how the work of intercollegiate debaters became entwined with emerging research technology. During the first few years of the 20th century, with the popularization of debate, the market for handbooks, yearbooks, and manuals began to expand. These books enabled debaters to become highly skilled researchers by teaching them how to locate evidence within the growing literature. Such proficiency put them in the vanguard as information became an essential commodity in many fields. In this way, while intercollegiate debate may have been perceived as a relatively obscure enterprise it intersected in several important ways with changing American culture.


The earliest intercollegiate debate occurred between Illinois College and Knox College in 1881 (Reid, 2000). Debates grew out of rhetorical competitions sponsored by the literary societies that flourished on campuses during the early nineteenth century. While the term "literary society" evokes the study of literature, it more accurately refers to a widening command of knowledge (Graft, 1987, p. 44). The societies, which were exclusive, provided a forum for students to discuss and declaim outside of the classroom. In this way, many students made an intellectual transition from the interpretation of the ideas of others to the formulation of their own ideas. Through the nineteenth century, debaters depended upon several well-known guides to speaking and argumentation; these contained long lists of topics tending toward philosophy and morals. For example, The American Debater (McElligott, 1882) suggested these two questions: Which is better for the development of character, riches or poverty? Is childhood the happiest time in human life? Students who argued these topics invoked ethics buttressed with references to classical works, as they were told to do. For example, the author of The Debater proposed the topic, "Do titles operate beneficially in a community?" along with suggested readings: "Paley on Honour, Bentham on the Rationale of Reward, MacIntyre's Influence of Aristocracies, and Hamilton on Rewards" (Rowton, 1850, p. 296). Over time, the literary societies produced debates that stressed evidence over opinion; for example, "Which helps the world most, capital or labor?" During Jane Addams' years at Rockford Seminary (1877-1881), topics included whether French women "have more influence through literature than politics" (Knight, 2005, p. 87). Eventually the debates expanded beyond the confines of the individual societies, with most campuses boasting at least two competing groups.

While interest in intramural rivalries continued apace, after 1890 several colleges branched out to organize regional leagues with set schedules and topics. In 1892, Harvard and Yale formalized an annual debate. In 1896, a University of Michigan elocution professor, Thomas Trueblood, formed the Central Debating League comprised of Northwestern and the universities of Michigan, Minnesota, and Chicago while Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell established a triangular league in 1904. The first debate between women's colleges occurred in 1902 with Wellesley competing against Vassar, and in 1906 the New England schools Brown, Dartmouth, and Williams formed a triangular league (Vassar Miscellany, 1915; Mitchell, 1993). By 1912, 41 of the existing 47 states boasted colleges and universities with debate teams. So many colleges fielded teams that it is impossible to give a sense of the range and complexity of participation without offering a few examples. In Minnesota, Carleton debated Coe and Ripon while Gustavus Adolphus debated Hamline; Macalester debated St. Olaf; the University of Minnesota debated the universities of Nebraska and Wisconsin (Nichols, 1913, Appendix). The Arkansas Pentagonal League comprised the universities of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Tennessee (Nichols, 1913, Appendix). Historically black colleges committed to intercollegiate debate in 1909 when Howard, Fisk, and Atlanta University formed a triangular league, and the western and southern states pursued myriad arrangements (Nichols, 1913, Appendix). Soon enough, intercollegiate debate constituted a sweeping national system that gained structure and oversight each year, more participants and greater expenses. The expansion of debate is evident in the appendices of debate "year books" edited by the legendary debate coach Egbert Ray Nichols between 1912 and World War II. Over time more coaches, managers, club officers, and professors appeared in the descriptions of teams (Nichols, 1912, Appendix; 1917, Appendix).

As debaters maneuvered into the world, they visited places that were completely new to them, college towns and big cities where they were greeted by marching bands, feted at buffet luncheons and smokers, and occasionally even received an offer to have their clothing pressed before the debate. Perhaps most lustrous was the unchaperoned train travel. Thus, for many of the young men, even those of privileged backgrounds, intercollegiate debate held elements of real adventure and contained important social initiations. On the road debaters gained an introduction to fashion, ideas, and conventions with which they were unfamiliar. This kind of exposure had the potential to influence a student's beliefs and ambitions and give him the confidence to venture beyond the place where he grew up. If his team won, there would be a gratifying return to campus. Although the torchlight parades were a relic of the 19th century, the team often would be met at the train station, receive congratulations from friends and professors, and have its photograph published on the front page of the newspaper. By World War I, the celebration of debate victories had diminished but the debaters reaped greater social rewards in the form of worldliness and urbanity.


Intercollegiate debate came late to Emory University. A Methodist college with a tradition of literary societies that extended back to its 1836 founding in the small town of Oxford, Georgia, Emory began its transformation to a liberal arts university in 1914 when its benefactors urged relocation to the city of Atlanta. That same year Emory made its debut in intercollegiate debate, winning in a triangular against Emory & Henry College and Wofford College. During the next decade Emory debaters competed intermittently against southern schools including Furman and Davidson. Emory's Few Literary Society, which persisted into the 1920s, functioned as a forum for debate team practice as well as a setting for idle arguments about romantic love and marriage, and mock trials for petty larceny and pranks committed by elected members. Without a formal coach until 1924, the team depended on debate handbooks and manuals as well as critiquing by fellow society members (Few Literary Society Rolls, 1916). However, most of the critiques that were scrawled in the minute books suggest that debates were conducted with excessive informality: "Mr. Rockwell should leave his chewing gum at home...," "Mr. Pitman did not seem to care for the decision and proceeded to ballock [sic, vulgar] the judges and you bet he knows how...," "A new word was added to the English language-'bullshitory.'" One debater prefaced his speech by declaring: "I am a country cracker" (Few Literary Society Minutes, 1916). Was he trying to be humorous or offering a disclaimer as he glanced over at the member who would write up the critique? What we do know is that he had been nominated for the literary society and accepted by its members; he participated regularly in debates both silly and serious; and when he got up to speak, the room became quiet. Whether he referred too closely to his notes, gestured excessively or spoke with "plenty of ginger," he clearly was having fun. That is not surprising. Through World War I and into the 1920s, the Emory campus perfectly reflected the social frenzy typical of the age of flaming youth. "College students were described with metaphors suggesting a congenial collective experience: 'colts romping in a pasture,' 'fellow voyagers in a rowboat,'" as noted by historian John Thelin (Thelin, 2004, p. 163). At Emory as elsewhere, fraternities stimulated the students' social life although Emory was unusual in its ban on intercollegiate sports; therefore, for many years, debate was the school's sole intercollegiate pursuit. It was too serious to draw big crowds, however. "Empty Benches" was the headline of a 1925 student editorial that lamented, "A small audience of forty or fifty persons was a little short of shameful. Emory enrollment is 1200. It is imperative that more inspiring scenes than empty benches rise to greet our representatives" ("Empty Benches," 1925). Emory students participated most enthusiastically in dances, smokers, car rides and dates.

In October 1924, the same week that the student newspaper, The Emory Wheel announced the start of the school's "Handsomest Man Contest," the paper ran an editorial entitled "The Debating Societies of the College" (Sawyer, 1924):

There needs to be a greater effort made by the leaders of both societies to redeem them from the ignominy of being the campus jester and the feasting ground for all political intriguers and cliques. Lift Phi Gamma and Few into the field of worthy progress and efficient achievement. Let's develop some debaters and not merrymakers and politicians.

Within weeks the university appointed a University Debate Council chaired by Professor Nolan A. Goodyear, a scholar of romance languages who would enlist as coach Professor J. Friend Day, an economist who had debated as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto ("Emory-Davidson Debate Scheduled," 1924). An unprecedented 50 men tried out for the team, which soon defeated Davidson at home before an overflow audience. Although Professor Day left Emory the following year, he had launched the program which would enter a self-proclaimed "golden era" that lasted about ten years. Despite the fact that Emory did not replace Day-instead Goodyear would step in as a longtime advisor-the "hardworking, brilliant squad," noted the Emory Wheel editor, "advanced Emory's standing to the top rank of American debating circles" ("Emory is Victor," 1925). After a few years of success, the team began to receive invitations to schools well beyond the south. The debaters met Princeton, City College of New York, Michigan, and Harvard, clocking hundreds of miles and having a great time playing cards and flirting with the women who worked as "telephone girls" on the trains (Lockmiller, 1927, April 9).

Emory debaters hustled from early October when try-outs were held to their last competition in late April. The team's schedule featured back-to-back events like many though not all squads of that era. Debating did not preclude participation in the social activities that dominated the campus during these years. However, it did entail such duties as pleading for funding, enlisting judges, ordering medals, choosing the menu for a reception (tomato juice, celery and shredded wheat crackers), sweeping out the chapel and arranging tables and chairs, and meeting the visiting debaters at the train station and entertaining them at dinner (Lockmiller, 1926, January 7). Some of these responsibilities were unusual, for the student managers of most debate teams handled scheduling and housekeeping.

Emory's legendary debater, David A. Lockmiller of the class of 1927 liked to prepare briefs and speeches at the Carnegie Library in downtown Atlanta. His diary entries show that he "studied debate" for several hours each day, met frequently with Professor Goodyear, and vastly appreciated the fact that debate often got him out of chapel. He also found time to be consumed by personal issues: trying "Old Gold" cigarettes to see if they really were smoother, eating a cake of Brewer's yeast each morning in the hope of gaining a few pounds, reporting "a fine shave with new Gem razor," and habitually dating and breaking up with young women. Years later, Lockmiller reflected that he learned "as much and probably more" from being a debater and member of the literary society than from required college courses (Lockmiller, 1998). Born in 1906 and raised in the railroad city of Athens, Tennessee, the son of a local businessman, Lockmiller went on to become a professor of history and political science and would serve as president of the University of Chattanooga and Ohio Wesleyan University (Biographical Note). For him, the appeal of debate lay party in pure passion for knowledge, but his run for the presidency of the campus YMCA, chairmanship of the debate fraternity Tan Kappa Alpha, and establishment of The Independents, an organization he founded for students who did not wish to join social fraternities, suggest that he desired leadership and recognition and enjoyed active involvement in the life of the campus. In his spare time, Lockmiller read The Americanization of Edward Bok and saw the movies "The Plastic Age" and "The Price of Glory," commenting tersely on all (Lockmiller, 1926, September 5; Lockmiller, 1927, October 2). He confided to his diary that his grades dipped occasionally but he counted on his stature as a debater to win over professors.

Among the other Emory debaters of that era, James Quillian Maxwell, class of 1925, also served as editor of the student newspaper; this was common, for debaters often showed up on mastheads. A future author and distribution manager for the Curtis Publishing Company, Maxwell grew up in rural Georgia where his father was a Methodist minister. Several debaters were the sons of ministers and most were Georgia natives although Lockmiller's debating partner, Reginald W. McDuffee, hailed from Kentucky; he would practice law and become a bankruptcy judge (Lockmiller, 1998). In 1928 Vann Woodward, the nephew of Emory dean Comer M. Woodward, joined the debate team and helped defeat Wittenberg, Georgia Tech, and William and Mary before he graduated in 1930 and went on to become a scholar of Southern history. A fierce concern with racial justice drove Woodward's work and animated his lifelong friendship with a fellow debater, Glenn W. Rainey, the son of a cotton mill worker, who as an English professor and civil rights activist became devoted to political and social issues. The historian Woodward, who later claimed to have been bored at Emory where he swore off undergraduate history courses, did not become a lawyer, clergyman or salesman like so many of his fellow debaters (Severo, 1999). Also unlike them, Woodward was not merely indifferent to athletics and hi-jinks but found them contemptible (Roper, 1987). However, there were similarities among the Emory debaters: the golden era teams came largely from small southern communities and families of modest means. A conglomeration like other debate squads, they functioned as an elite yet marginal group. One of the ironies of the first few decades of college debate is that no campus was considered complete without a team; it was part of the "collegiate ideal." However, many students who attended the debates found them bewildering and not particularly enjoyable.


New York University's debate team first flourished at "University Heights," the Bronx campus overlooking the Harlem River. Although the university had been founded at Washington Square in 1831, University Heights was established in 1894 to escape encroaching industry downtown. The new campus-bucolic though still urban-drew students from diverse social backgrounds, largely from the five boroughs of New York City although Maine, Ohio, and other states were represented. Without a coach but with the gentle oversight of Professor Archibald L. Bouton who taught English and rhetoric, NYU's first intercollegiate debaters won against Tufts University in 1904, 1905, and 1906 ("Intercollegiate Debate," 1905, 1906; "NYU vanquished Tufts...," 1907). Among these early debaters, classics student Charles Augustus Tonsor, Jr. and his colleagues would establish the "Class of 1907 Debate Medal" bestowed each year at commencement. As an English instructor at NYU, extension lecturer at Columbia, and Brooklyn public high school principal, Tonsor also served as the NYU debate coach between 1913 and 1920 although it was not clear where he was moonlighting; trained also in engineering, for a time he worked at a shipyard. But he steered NYU's debate team through competition with Union College, Trinity College, Rutgers, and Yale, and under his leadership the program expanded rapidly, supported in part by students who paid a "debating tax" of 25 cents ("Have You Paid...," 1906). "Debating Booms at Heights," declared the student newspaper, The New Yorker, in 1916. "So great is the interest in our debaters that the student body is expected to turn out en masse...," an editor declared on the morning of NYU's first debate with Princeton. Indeed, the turnout would be "the largest ever" and several fraternities hosted a party afterward; and even though NYU lost, for the first time in the university's history the debate team earned a college cheer ("Debating Booms...," 1916). However, the problem of attendance plagued the team as it did Emory and other universities. Editorials in the student newspaper pleaded for larger audiences: "It is hoped that the student body will lend its hearty support," "All men are urged to attend," "the least the student body can do...," "The lamentable feature of debates held at the Heights has always been poor support" (New Yorker, passim). As an antidote, team managers began to present entertainment before and after debates: an organ recital, a baritone solo; and, as at Emory, the ubiquitous "smoker." With sports rivalries dominating student life, The New Yorker editorialized:

Although football is still king, other activities are, however, beginning, and not least of these is debating. Debating is one of the thankless activities-even more so than the work on the publications, but it must be carried on. Every university of prominence has a debating team in intercollegiate contests. The value of debating in preparation for any walk of life is not surpassed by a single college activity. The question may well be asked why it is not more popular, but the answer is found in the severity of the study demanded in preparation for an intercollegiate debate ("Editorial," 1909).

The student who characterized debating as a thankless activity was Joseph C. Brodsky, a member of the class of 1909, of whom the yearbook noted, "Johnnie has become a debater, and we call him Cicero" ("John C. Brodsky," 1909). Born in Russia and fluent in Russian, Brodsky lived in Manhattan with his parents and seven siblings and eventually became a lawyer. One of NYU's top debaters, Brodsky faltered when he collapsed during a debate with Rutgers where he was first affirmative speaker. The newspaper reported:

Before he had advanced very far with his argument, it became evident that Brodsky was not himself. His wonted energy seemed lacking and he became confused in his speech. At last he paused, then tried to explain to the audience that he could not go on. Words failed him. He staggered, and would have fallen had not several men jumped forward and caught him in time ("Rutgers Wins Debate,"lg09).

The incident, which was attributed to the "long strain of preparation," is difficult to decipher. Illness or anxiety that was unrelated to debating may have caused the unusual collapse. But the reporter, who could have been Brodsky himself, invoked hard work. Indeed, debate demanded hard work often without glory and, as Brodsky himself noted, without thanks. If "strangely enough this most beneficial activity has been overlooked," as yet another editorialist noted when the debate team called for new members, it was because a committed debater would be "doing a lot of earnest work." "Busily engaged," "hard at work," "hard work ahead," "working faithfully," "zealously looking up every particle of data," "working assiduously," "intensive training,"--these phrases appear repeatedly in descriptions of debate. In 1915, a triangular of NYU, Rutgers, and Trinity was postponed because the latter team needed another month to prepare. In the story about that triangular (which finally occurred and NYU won "as a result of consistent and conscientious work"), Professor Bouton and coach Tonsor outlined the "lessons to be drawn from Varsity Debating," including "a complete knowledge of current events which in turn implies a thorough reading of periodicals and newspapers" ("Violet Debaters Win," 1915). Working hard, accumulating knowledge-surely this was the antithesis of college life which, in the words of one college president, was "excessively gregarious."

Men herd together so closely and constantly that they are in danger of becoming too much alike [...] The same feverish interest in athletics, the same level of gossip, the same attitude toward politics and religion, tend to pass by contagion from the mass to the individual, and supersede independent reflection" (Veysey, 1965, p. 283).

Though thankless, the debaters continued to come. "At length we have found him out," read a description of Andrew Ten Eyck in the 1911 yearbook. "We have here a strange mixture of Abe Lincoln and W. Jennings Bryan, 'Ig' having the physical proportions and shambling gait of the first, and the hot-airing propensities of the second. From before daybreak to past midnight he keeps up a continual line of talk." A member of the team that lost to Wesleyan in 1910, Ten Eyck also served on the crew squad and as class secretary, and later worked in journalism and government ("Andrew Ten Eyck," 1911).

After World War I, the NYU debate program began to expand gradually. The team, whose members had always been diverse, became predominantly Jewish. In 1919, in a move that reflected a rise in anti-Semitism on campuses nationwide, 80 University Heights students petitioned Chancellor Elmer E. Brown calling for a 20% quota for Jewish students, citing the need for a greater "Americanizing" influence. The push for a quota and insistence that NYU remain a "white man's college" persisted through the 1920's but Jewish debaters continued to flock to the team, including Arthur Schwartz, class of 1920, who won the Class of 1907 Debate Medal. Pressured by his father, who was an attorney, Schwartz became a lawyer but switched to music composition and wrote many well-known Broadway and Hollywood songs of the 1930's, 40's and 50's. Among other Jewish debaters were William H. Kushnick, class of 1925, who stayed on to manage the team and subsequently became Director of Civilian Personnel and Training for the War Department; and Joseph Mersand, class of 1929, who also participated in the Menorah Society, the Daily News, student council, and The Medley, a humor magazine. Debate continued apace with Carleton, William Jewell, Colgate, George Washington, and Michigan in crowded tours that ranged into the Midwest and Canada. The 1923 edition of University Debaters' Annual included speeches from an NYU-Swarthmore debate on the soldiers' bonus, which was considered a great honor ("University Debaters' Annual," 1923).

As the debate program grew, the NYU team became more typical of university debate teams, with professors of public speaking overseeing recruitment and preparation. In 1924 NYU boasted the largest squad in its history when John S. Morris, an instructor who taught at Washington Square and Professor Charles Dwyer of University Heights combined their teams. During these years the NYU team not only maintained a strong record but received regular coverage in the New York Times. In 1928 Dwyer told the Times that he had seen renewed interest in debating since World War I and offered impressive statistics on the expansion of the squad including the fact that "last year our teams debated before more than 7,000 people" ("NYU Debaters," 1928). Soon after the 1929 stock market crash, a new debate coach announced that the team planned 50 contests. And while neither the NYU Daily News nor the New York Times covered every one of those 50 contests, the team had reached a comfortable point, the apex of its early years, where no one seemed to remember that debate and football were once thought to compete for the attention of the student body.


At the University of Chicago, a relatively young university founded in 1892, intercollegiate competition was embodied by Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and his winning foothall team, which basked perpetually in the glow of torchlight parades. However, the university's first president, William Rainey Harper, also supported intercollegiate debate: "He strongly urged the organization of literary and debating clubs," remembered Thomas W. Goodspeed, secretary to the board of trustees (Goodspeed, 1916, p. 255). Yet, while Harper hired the best football coach around, he did not seek out a debate coach. Instead, Chicago debaters were coached by young graduate students who perhaps months previous had themselves been Chicago debaters. Further, these debaters cum coaches were all affiliated with the university's Department of Political Economy. One outcome of this situation was Chicago's insistence on debate resolutions that related to economics, law and political science. In the 23 years that it participated in a triangular league with Michigan and Northwestern, not once did Chicago propose a social or cultural topic. With so many crossovers between academic work and debate work, the program would hopefully yield success. Yet its overall record remained quite average from its first debate with Columbia in 1896 until 1924, its last year in the league. This and other problems contributed to the decline of debate at Chicago well before World War II. However, in an unusual twist, many of the men who passed through the debate team developed specific, interrelated intellectual interests that lasted through their lives.

In 1898 the renowned elocution professor Thomas Trueblood of the University of Michigan invited Chicago, Northwestern, and Minnesota to join Michigan in the Central Debating League. Chicago president Harper waited four years to appoint a coach: his secretary Henry Porter Chandler, a former Harvard debater who was also an English instructor and law student. Chandler's love of debate and mentoring infused the team with a "debating spirit," noted the yearbook ("Debating Society," 1903). In his first call to arms, Chandler declared, "Every man who has an interest in his college and knows the slightest thing about debating should enter the contest for the team" ("Debate with Michigan," 1902). He arranged rallies before the debates and hosted luncheons and dinners afterwards but Chicago fared poorly, particularly against Michigan which was its arch rival in football as well. "I can only seriously regret that I have not more to show: fewer defeats, more victories," Chandler wrote to Harper in 1904. "At the same time ... every year I think I can see that the students are supporting debate more strongly" (Chandler, 1904). Like other coaches, Chandler worried about the lack of enthusiasm for debate among students and professors. Though he continued to coach for five more years, the poor attendance was particularly discouraging. His assistant Charles F. McElroy stepped in and proved to be a judicious coach. As a student at Butler University, McElroy had worked as a linotype operator and proofreader for the Indianapolis Sentinel and planned to be a journalist. In 1904 he arrived at Chicago, joined the debate team, and entered a master's program in political science. Though he won the university's Clark Medal for excellence in debate (awarded for a brief time) he struggled to pass his exams in English and political economy. However, he had been steeped in the world of debate topics while studying with the eminent law professor Ernst Freund and the economist Thorstein Veblen, and he evidently was effective in breaking down complex issues for the debaters. In 1911 he led Chicago to a "double victory" over Michigan and Northwestern and then persuaded the H. W. Wilson Company to publish a book of the Chicago debaters' speeches (McElroy, 1911). McElroy referred proudly to his team:

The Chicago debaters, while taking advantage of the experience of others, have gone further than any, and have given a new form to many elements of the question. They have treated it as a live issue of present interest, and have given it a quality of freshness that may surprise those who think it is a dry subject (McElroy, 1911, p. 9).

The yearbook editors echoed McElroy's remarks, noting that one debater "handled a dry as dust banking question in a way that could be understood by everyone" while another "made elasticity of the currency a very simple proposition" ("Varsity Debate," 1911). Unfortunately in 1912 Chicago met defeat at Michigan and Northwestern. This time the yearbook editors' remarks were critical: "Perchance Chicago's digestion and assimilation of methods and characteristics were poor. While the efforts of our opponents were mostly astronomic, the difficulty with the old 'C' was mostly gastronomic" ("Varsity Debate," 1912).

For the next twelve years, a succession of young men affiliated with the university's Department of Political Economy would become debaters or coaches or both. This highly interdisciplinary department was the birthplace of "institutional economics," the study of relationships between economic development and growth, social behavior, and cultural, social and business institutions. Among the topics that Chicago debated between 1902 and 1924 were municipal ownership of streetcars, the income tax, labor arbitration and the protective tariff. Coach Harold Moulton, who followed McElroy, was an instructor in the department. In 1912 he held try-outs for four teams of three debaters each and ratcheted up practice, asking the debaters to work on weekends and through vacations. (It should be noted that Chicago was one of the few universities to offer debate scholarships.) That year the try-outs produced a fourth-year student named Willard Earl Atkins, puckish and bespectacled, a transfer from the Montana College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts who was raised by his grandparents in rural southern Illinois. Atkins began taking law classes during his senior year of college after precociously publishing his first article, about the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations, in the Journal of Political Economy. The yearbook pronounced him a star.

While Atkins was in a hurry academically and worked tirelessly on debate, he found time to serve as class treasurer, play on the baseball team, and perform with the university band. In 1914 he went off to Albion College to become a full-time debate coach, bandmaster, and track assistant while he earned a master's degree in English. The Albion yearbook described him as "the 'Tommy Atkins' of the Albion College debating teams," and the students' affection for him seemed boundless after he wrote and starred in a comedy that the editors pronounced "side-splitting" (Ye Albionian). That same man returned to Chicago in 1916 to finish law school, audit several economics courses--the "State in Relation to Labor" and "Social Control of Business"--and coach debate from 1919 to 1921 (Atkins Transcript). Soon after the Central Debating League announced that the 1920 topic would be federal ownership of coal mines, Atkins held try-outs and chose two students who were studying political science and economics: Royal E. Montgomery, son of an elevator manufacturer in eastern Illinois, and Harold Lasswell, son of a Presbyterian minister and a teacher from central Illinois (; Ennis). These debaters both went on to become Chicago coaches. Further, with Atkins and his predecessor Moulton, they would collaborate on works related to politics, economics, and law throughout their careers: Moulton from the Brookings Institute, Lasswell from Yale, Montgomery from Cornell, and Atkins from New York University.

The Chicago coaches may have been brilliant scholars with mastery of the ideas and issues that dominated intercollegiate debate, but they were never able to establish a winning record, and despite their exhortations, pleas, and threats, the campus remained largely indifferent to debate events. In 1924, almost precisely when the Emory and NYU teams were gearing up to debate zealously, Dean Ernest Wilkins of the University of Chicago asked the officials at Michigan and Northwestern to release Chicago from the Central Debating League contract (Wilkins, 1924). Then he wrote a letter to the university Vice President James H. Tufts:

It has been customary in recent years to appoint a debating coach at a salary of $400 a year and to award scholarships for members of the debating teams to a total value of $1125 a year. The debating has been of a very dour and formal type, its main expression being a triangular debate ... These plans have been working very badly ... Membership of the team have been chiefly Jews. The audience at the joint debate here last year was small and predominantly Jewish (Wilkins, 1924).

Recommending the discontinuation of the debate scholarships, Dean Wilkins stated that Harold Lasswell should become coach and pursue a program that would be less formal, more extemporaneous in style. What actually happened is that Lasswell continued to work on his doctorate and never coached at Chicago. After 1924, the university did not field a debate team for a very long time although groups like the Women's Speakers Club sponsored events. The assertions about Jewish students are in line with the pervasive anti-Semitism in American universities between the world wars, seen earlier at NYU. In fact, while the composition of the audiences is unknowable, a review of the surnames of Chicago students who debated between 1902 and 1924 suggests that from year to year between one-quarter to one-half of all debaters were Jewish. The more interesting problem of debate at Chicago is whether the program's unusual affiliation with the Department of Political Economy, rather than the Department of Public Speaking, affected the debaters' experience and inevitably their success.


The negativism expressed by Chicago's Dean Wilkins probably was more pervasive than most debaters and coaches realized; however, intercollegiate debate has always had its detractors. "Standardized Hot Air" was the title of a derogatory article about debate that appeared in 1922; "debate has often the fatal defect of being deadly dull, so good attendance is secured largely by heavy drafts of that intoxicating liquid, college spirit," wrote Professor H.F. Angus of the University of British Columbia (Angus, 1922). If Angus' insults were merely snide, it was harder to disregard Theodore Roosevelt, who earlier wrote that maintaining personal convictions was worthier than making a good argument, and that college debaters were glib and insincere (Roosevelt, 1913). In 1913, the same year that Roosevelt made his pronouncement, the Chicago yearbook illustrated its section on debate with a sketch of a snake oil salesman ("Oratory," 1913). Debaters' reputations ranged from unsavory to brilliant. There were those who plagiarized, cheated, and presented false evidence, but arguably debate also became corrupted by coaches who wrote their team's speeches. As early as 1897 the Columbia debate coach Ralph Ringwalt had objected to coaching, calling it "loading" (Nichols, 1936, p. 219), and Wisconsin English instructor Rollo L. Lyman urged the "abolition of all coaching of teams" in 1914 (Lyman, 1914). At the 1913 meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English, Chicago public speaking professor Solomon H. Clark declared that "intercollegiate debate and oratorical contests were only contests between the skill and craftiness of the faculty members" (Clark, 1912). It was disingenuous for NYU professor and coach G. Rowland Collins to remark, "Too many of our debates have deteriorated into contests or duels between opposing teams for victory," for coaches as well as debaters yearned to win ("Debating Experience," 1922).

Sly, dishonorable or brilliant, unbecomingly competitive or even dull, these stereotypes of early college debaters proliferated on and off campus. They had an interesting counterpoint, however, in that debating was associated with several positive values embedded in American culture. Among these, hard work stands out. The first disseminator of this idea may have been Ralph Ringwalt, writing in The Forum in 1897:

On the day after the final preliminary contest the hard work begins. The debaters set about reading at once. They find little use in talking. From his preliminary work each man has derived a different idea as to how the question should be treated, and it is beyond his power to bring the others to his position. So the first thing is to get a common ground and this can be had only by hard reading.... Meetings are held every day and different assignments being [sic] made ... when the men go to the platform for the debate, their knowledge of the question and the best way to state it is well-nigh perfect. They are masters of themselves and of their whole line of proof (Ringwalt, 1897).

"The work involved in the preparation for an intercollegiate debate is tremendous ... It is hard, requires much time and conscientious effort. It also involves some sacrifices ...," cautioned an NYU debater, words echoed on campuses nationwide ("Try for the Debating Team," 1910). Sacrifices and heroics like the "do or die spirit" enabled Stanford's team to "redouble its efforts and by hard work accomplish what Stanford trusted in inspiration to do" ("Review of the Year's ...," 1902). At Chicago the debate coach was "not satisfied with good enough" and Stagg, the famous football coach, said that he admired when the debaters "kept right on hammering on the Michigan line till they won the victory" ("All Out for Mass Meeting," 1903).

The "hard work" imagery resonated with other aspects of American culture. During the first half of the 20th century, for example, mainstream Protestantism shed some of its Victorian predilections and began to invoke the ideals embodied in sports. "Team play represented 'ideal social relations' because it provided for 'personal development' as well as 'social training,'" historian Susan Curtis noted in her study of the social gospel and consumer culture (Curtis, 2001, p. 24). Athletic competition fostered "clean sport, fair play, self-sacrifice, obedience to rules, team cooperation, skill, initiative ... generous appreciation of an opponent," wrote a leading Christian educator, Erwin L. Shaver (Curtis, 2001, p. 24). Debate similarly touted team work, doggedness, determination and self-improvement, and observers admired those characteristics even though they may not have enjoyed debating. Therefore, while many debaters were socially marginal because of their devotion to debate, they represented some of the most popular virtues among college youth during the heyday of campus society. Early 20th century debaters also were similar to the "boy inventors" and hobbyists who flocked to amateur radio during the same years, young men known for resourcefulness and hard work. "Specific mention was made of their educational back ground," wrote historian Susan J. Douglas, describing the coverage they received. "Brute force or violence was less essential to their success than sharp analytical skills and mechanical flair. What set these boys apart from others was not luck, it was skill" (Douglas, 1987, p. 193). Similarly, skill and mastery of ideas set apart the debaters from many of their peers.

The early 20th century debaters may not have been the most stylish, defiant and "collegiate" of college students, yet they were firmly in the vanguard. Historians agree that intercollegiate debate descended from the 19th century tradition of literary societies, yet it would become a distinctively modern phenomenon in American life. This occurred because of debate's interdependence with emerging research technology and the effect of new methods of organization and categorization on debaters' productivity and access to information. The themes of efficiency and expertise, neither of which was new to Americans but certainly newly embraced, figured extensively--and still do--in the debaters' research proficiency and the marketing of information.


Since the early 19th century, college students had consulted collections of "great speeches" and books about oratory and argumentation. Some of these works were used by literary society debaters and in rhetoric, elocution, and public speaking classes. However, the rise of intercollegiate debate coincided with the appearance of new types of texts for classroom use. These dealt with briefs, evidence, proof, refutation, persuasion, and other elements of debate. Perhaps the best-known was The Principles of Argumentation by George Pierce Baker of Harvard and H. B. Huntington of Brown, who urged teachers to place their book "constantly in the hands of the class" rather than use it as the basis for lectures (Baker & Huntington, 1905, p. vi). "Let the boy start from fixed points and make the ground good as he goes," declared Bowdoin professor William Trufant Foster in Argumentation and Debating, "The Tendency to Quibble" and "Debating Not Mere Contentiousness" were among his chapter headings (Foster, 1917). In 1916, Pennsylvania State professor George K. Pattee declared that the second edition of his Practical Argumentation would: "set forth the principles of argumentation in such a way that the instructor will find them teachable and ... arouse in the students a desire for information about the important questions of the day" (Pattee, 1916). These and other books linked the theory and practice of argumentation and were used by many legendary speech professors, including Thomas Trueblood of Michigan, Isaac M. Cochran of Carleton, Haldor B. Gislason of Minnesota, and James A. Winans of Cornell, who also served as debate coaches while they forged the new National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking and established the Quarterly Journal of Public Speaking. Making the case for public speaking departments to exist independent of English departments, these teachers tapped into a larger trend in the professions and higher education in which "modem forms of knowledge sliced experience into specialized disciplines" (Lears, 1981, p. 234). The consolidation of new fields of study like public speaking, as well as sociology, anthropology, and economics in the social sciences, led to a proliferation of academic departments and scholarly journals between 1890 and 1920. Interestingly, this phenomenon also energized intercollegiate debate by increasing the volume of source material and advancing new ways for debaters to retrieve it. They would come to depend heavily on a series of guides published by the H.W. Wilson Company and compiled by a small group of college graduates who might have been debaters themselves if only they were men. These forcible, cerebral women understood intimately the dynamics of intercollegiate debate and the resolutions that debaters argued. Their work--retrieving, organizing, and compiling information--responded perfectly to the debaters' urgent need to develop research expertise. The extent to which policy debate became a nationwide college activity is evident in the presence of the Wilson Company books in the card catalogues of numerous American colleges and universities.

Born in Vermont in 1869 and orphaned at an early age, Halsey W. Wilson made his way to the Midwest where he attended the University of Minnesota until 1892, then opened a bookstore across the street from the university which he operated briefly with a partner. In close proximity with faculty and students, Wilson soon recognized his customers' intense need for books and articles both popular and scholarly. Of equal importance he saw that their research was hampered by the lack of an up-to-the-minute, well-organized compendium of source material. With the exception of Poole's Index, a guide to periodical literature published between 1882 and 1908, researchers found it difficult to stay current; and Poole's appeared only six times in 26 years. Card catalogues included only the library's holdings and were hardly comprehensive. Therefore the H.W. Wilson Company's innovations in reference, starting with the Cumulative Book Index in 1898 and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in 1901, transformed the process of research for a wide range of users including high school, college and graduate students; members of political and community groups, advocates for social reform, clergy, school superintendents, professors in all fields, and so forth. Across the years, Halsey W. Wilson would continue to fulfill their needs by extending his line of products. "By 1900 American libraries were so numerous and avid for reference services that current, ongoing bibliographies could be produced for a profit. Wilson proved himself a master in articulating detailed subject entries," historian John Higham observed (McHugh, 2008, p. 19).

Coincidentally, Halsey Wilson's favorite Minnesota professor was Maria Louisa Sanford, an acclaimed teacher of rhetoric and elocution who encouraged her students to debate in class (Lawler, 1950, p. 14; Sanford Biographical Sketch). Later, Sanford would clash with a young Minnesota speech professor, Frank M. Rarig, who himself became widely respected for developing Minnesota's intercollegiate debate program and would spend the decade between 1917 and 1927 trying to wrest public speaking from the English faculty in order to establish a Department of Speech (Keith, 2007, p. 36; Rarig Biographical Sketch). Back in 1903, however, it was almost certainly the work of Sanford's students that drove a tearful university librarian to Halsey Wilson's bookstore.

He had discovered to his horror that one volume of a new and prized set of the Review of Reviews was defaced by a section of worn and blackened pages while the rest of the volume remained in its pristine condition (Phelps, 1948, 162).

Having determined that the article was damaged by students preparing for a class debate on capital punishment, the librarian plotted with Halsey Wilson to head off future damage by locating and making reprints of articles related to new debate topics. Subsequently the Wilson Company established a department called the Cumulative Reference Library where journal articles and other material were copied and loaned to high school and college debate teams. The success of this library demonstrated that there was a market for handbooks and other reference material for debaters, recalled Edith M. Phelps, a Wilson employee who oversaw the company's debate publications (Phelps, 1948, p. 163).

By 1907 Wilson, who initially relied on his wife Justina to help with editing, had begun to hire women writers and researchers, mostly Minnesota alumnae, to work on the debate books (Peet, 1938). Across the decades they would compile volumes on child labor, compulsory arbitration, minimum wage, government ownership of railroads, conservation, war reparations, Americanization, and hundreds more topics (Lawler, 1950, Appendix I). The American Library Association plugged shamelessly for H. W. Wilson: "Of course, for debate work the first aid to scientific management is the use, so far as possible, of the work done by others in such invaluable little manuals as the Debaters' Handbook series" ("Scientific Management ...," 1913). The first volume of the Debaters' Handbook, On the Enlargement of the United States Navy, appeared in 1906. Subsequently handbooks about capital punishment, the election of U. S. senators, and the initiative and referendum were published in 1909 when Edith Phelps took over. She supervised the series until her retirement in 1948 when she characterized Wilson's willingness to produce handbooks about woman's suffrage, evolution and fundamentalism as "brash" (Phelps, 1948, p. 164).

Like Justina Wilson, the new editors came from rural backgrounds and had studied rhetoric though never debated. Justina Wilson became deeply inspired by her work; after editing Questions of the Hour, a collection of briefs on social, economic, and industrial topics (Wilson, 1917), she became prominent in the suffrage and prohibition movements. Of the other women involved in the Wilson Company's debate publications, Edith M. Phelps became an officer of the board in 1922 and lived to age 99 in a postwar development that the paternalistic Halsey Wilson created for his employees in suburban New York, while Mary K. Reely wrote plays for the Trade Union League and joined the Woman's Peace Party; she became a professor at the University of Wisconsin Library School and fought censorship and book banning. Julia E. Johnsen wrote prodigiously for the Debaters' Handbook Series, gravitating toward such topics as Communism, marriage and divorce, birth control, "the Negro problem," and the Ku Klux Klan. Edna Dean Bullock and Clara Elizabeth Fanning were both professional librarians who worked at the Wilson Company for about ten years before World War I; Bullock would return to her home in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she continued an earlier interest in cataloguing state documents. While writing for the Debaters' series, Fanning also edited Wilson's Book Review Digest, founded in 1905, and spent the rest of her career in the reference department of the Minneapolis Public Library. Altogether Bullock, Fanning, Johnsen, Phelps, and Reely were an intriguing counterpoint to the early male debaters whose success often depended on the thoroughness and analysis of women who were as much as a generation older than they were. The group broke up in 1913 when Wilson moved the company from Minneapolis to White Plains, New York, and in 1917 to The Bronx, from where he occasionally collaborated with the American Library Association, founded the Wilson Library Bulletin, and issued hundreds of titles including study outlines, bibliographies, and a Toaster's Handbook, a pet project (Lawler, 1950, Appendix II). Phelps, Johnsen, and Reely followed Wilson to New York but Bullock and Fanning stayed behind and Reely eventually returned to Wisconsin. Although they were highly talented researchers and surely missed, the fact is that by World War I the process of compiling the debaters' series had become highly systematized, due largely to Wilson's innovations in reference. Also by this time, the Wilson Company had some competition; for example, the universities of Iowa, Texas, and Wisconsin published debate guides and transcripts, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh issued three editions of a debate index. Intercollegiate Debates, a year book founded by Swarthmore speech professor Paul M. Pearson and edited by Ripon and Redlands debate coach Egbert Ray Nichols, appeared between 1909 and 1941. But the Wilson Company's debate publications dominated the college market. These were the Debaters' Handbook Series, University Debaters' Annual, The Reference Shelf, and, intermittently, the Debaters' Manual.

No matter the topic, the design of the Debaters' Handbooks was simple: two bibliographies followed by excerpts from magazine articles. In 1922 the series was renamed The Reference Shelf and an introduction, a brief, and definitions were added. For example, in "Selected articles on the income tax," a second edition published in 1911, there is a bibliography specifically about the income tax, including briefs, documents, and government and trade pamphlets. A general bibliography lists books and articles alongside many items from the Congressional Record. Excerpts came from sources ranging from scholarly to popular: New Encyclopedia of Social Reform, American Economist, American Journal of Politics, Fortnightly Review, Forum, Independent, and North American Review (Phelps, 1911). In "The Socialization of Medicine," the introduction is three pages long with Phelps noting increased specialization in the profession and advances in medicine and care. There is an affirmative brief and a negative brief and the excerpts from articles are also divided into affirmative and negative with the American Journal of Public Health, Nation, Scientific Monthly, and Harper's represented (Phelps, 1930). The Wilson employees read a vast number of publications to prepare the handbooks. In turn, college debaters were exposed to publications and ideas that would not have surfaced via the classroom. They encountered the propaganda of the trade associations of the Progressive era: agriculture, railroads, labor, the coal industry. They reviewed periodicals like Horseless Age, Eugenics Review, Modern City, and Policeman's Monthly. Advocacy groups such as the American Social Hygiene Association, the Prison Association of New York, and the National American Woman's Suffrage Association also became important sources for arguments.

In 1915, the H.W. Wilson Company published its greatest number of volumes and launched two new series. First was the Debaters' Manual, which used excerpts from textbooks and articles published in the English Journal and the Quarterly Journal of Speech Education to teach "the student or individual" how to organize, select propositions, collect evidence, write briefs, refute, rebut, and judge. Second was the University Debaters' Annual in which eight intercollegiate debates were represented, each with an introduction, an affirmative and negative brief, the first, second, and third affirmative and negative speeches and rebuttals and, lastly, bibliographies for each resolution. For example, the 1920 volume featured debates between the University of Washington and Harvard on "the suppression of propaganda for the overthrow of the United States Government" and the University of Redlands and Leland Stanford Junior University on "compulsory arbitration of railway labor disputes" (Phelps, 1920). Debaters and coaches considered it a great honor to be included in the Annual However, the handbooks were the key to learning how to gather information proficiently and distill it into arguments.


Among the first generation of intercollegiate debaters, most young men exuded two types of authority: efficiency and expertise. During these years, both of these traits gained particular value as productivity became a prized characteristic in modern American culture. Like the millions of people who had jobs to do, debaters needed to save time, get organized, work systematically, and coordinate with everyone else in their world. The professions embraced the "quick study," someone who could easily grasp ideas and suppositions and memorize them effortlessly. The publications of the Wilson Company were designed to help debaters become quick studies, managers of time and information. Therefore the early debaters not only represented determination and team play but efficiency, standardization, planning, and readiness. Their work, arguably, was part of the first wave of "scientific management," the "one best way" pioneered by the efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor (Kanigel, 1997, pp. 6-11; Strom, 1992, pp. 35-47, 249-251). Taylorization became popular among all types of managers but is best known for having been inflicted on factory laborers in order to increase their productivity. Similarly, debaters increased their output, though without being timed to the split-second. There were few realms of American life where scientific management did not intrude.

Debaters reflected another trend: the intense admiration of the American public for all kinds of expertise. The debater's success has always rested on the views of experts that s/he cites and, in turn, those experts derive authority from their credentials in education and experience. The relevance of expertise to debate grew alongside the public's fascination with professional qualifications, a phenomenon that started around 1900 with the rise of the consumer society. Americans flocked to lectures, products, guidance and challenges put forth by people who "knew their onions." For example, The Book of the Month Club, which grew out of the promotion of a series of classics called "Little Leather Library," featured literature that was chosen personally by a "selecting committee" of well-known writers and critics (Rubin, 1992, pp. 95-96). These five conferred their expertise to books to be purchased by readers who were floundering amidst the rapidly expanding body of reading material available to the public. And the desire for expertise raged through American culture: "Become an expert in checkers!" "Become an auto expert!" "Learn how to be the best stenographer!" When debaters quoted experts, they invoked authority. And when they searched periodicals and books for evidence they were seeking to become experts themselves. While several college debates aired on radio in the early 1920's, they never drew large audiences. Listeners may have preferred to hear experts with "real" credentials pontificate on domestic and international affairs. Yet it is clear that these debaters' mastery of complex issues rendered many of them akin to "experts."

We can understand the early intercollegiate debaters in several contexts. Their stories exist in the history of public speaking, the history of higher education, and the trajectories of social trends. They were present at the beginning of modern research technology, the awakening of youth, and the rise of professionalism. The first three decades of the 20th century saw profound changes in American life. The year 1920 was the last wherein more Americans lived in rural than urban areas. In 1925, the Scopes Trial not only put science on the stand but implicitly challenged the concept of progress and whether school, church or family is the higher authority. These are specific examples. More broadly, in the context of communication, Americans received more information than they had ever encountered coming to them in new forms.

Rhetoric, oratory, elocution, and declamation still played a prominent, if diminishing, role in American life. On the other side, radio, motion pictures, telephones, phonographs, business speaking, massive advertising campaigns [...] had begun to radically alter the way that Americans regularly processed knowledge about the world around them (Cerling, 1995).

It was not a coincidence that the rise of Progressivism occurred alongside the reconfiguration of communications, as William M. Keith has suggested (Keith, 2007). Ultimately, these years presented a striking backdrop to early intercollegiate debate, not least the political issues that were transformed into resolutions.

The three decades between 1900 and 1930 constituted the first generation of intercollegiate debate. Despite predictable differences among the experiences of Emory, NYU, and Chicago debaters, commonality existed in several areas: the intense anticipation and competition, the excitement of travel, the growing importance of research in the pursuit of debate knowledge, the varying enthusiasm of audiences, the marginalization of debate as an extra-curricular activity, and the debaters' reputation for being very smart, industrious, and meticulous. Further, these areas are points of intersection between debating and popular ideals, problems, and stereotypes-all of which have had, and still do have much to tell us about our values. As the history of argumentation continues to be written, it may be useful to consider how intercollegiate debate represents and reflects American culture in the past and the present. Debating involves its own conventions, traditions, and meaning, and there is considerable opportunity for interpretation.


Cap & Gown = University of Chicago yearbook

Daily Maroon = University of Chicago student newspaper

Daily News = NYU student newspaper

Emory Wheel = Emory University student newspaper

New Yorker = NYU student newspaper

Triangle = NYU student newspaper

Violet = NYU yearbook

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Claudia J. Keenan received her PhD in the History of Education from New York University (2002) and her B.A. in anthropology from the University of Chicago (/980). She has published on such topics as the P.T.A., First Ladies, and high school debate. She is an independent scholar residing in Atlanta GA. Send email correspondence to
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Author:Keenan, Claudia J.
Publication:Argumentation and Advocacy
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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