Debate Council records
Scope and Contents
The records of the Debate Council date from 1895 to 1982, with the vast majority of the records dating from after 1976. Arranged in one series, these records are filed in chronological order. Records from the late 1890s and early 1900s include programs and announcements of debates as well as some financial records and University awards. Later records are more complete and include tournament invitations, materials, cases and briefs. There are also administrative records such as correspondence between the Hopkins Debate Council and other teams.
- Creation: 1895-1982
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1976 - 1982
- Debate Council (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
All student organization records received prior to 2017 are closed for 25 years from the date of creation to everyone except current members of the student organization, after which they are publicly available for access. Materials intended for public dissemination, such as publications, newsletters, and event flyers, are publicly available for access immediately once processed. If you are a member of this student organization and have questions about our access policy, please contact Special Collections.
Conditions Governing Use
Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.
Biographical / Historical
Debating at Hopkins started as early as 1884 when Woodrow Wilson, then a graduate student, helped found the House of Commons. In 1898, the first of the annual interclass debates was held. These debates, which pitted a team from the junior class against a team from the senior class, were held each year in conjunction with the annual public speaking contests. The first intercollegiate debate at Hopkins, and one of the first in the country, was held in 1902 when a team from the University of North Carolina met a Hopkins team in Baltimore. Hopkins teams have participated in intercollegiate events each year since then.
After the first intercollegiate debate, interest in the activity flourished. Students were picked for the varsity debate team from the junior and senior class teams. Dr. Carleton Lee, of the Department of History, served as an advisor and coach to the team until 1904 when John C. French, of the English Department, became the new coach. French was a member of the Class of 1899 and had participated in the first and second inter-class debates. Under the guidance of French, the team participated in several intercollegiate debates each year as well as the annual inter-class debate. In 1911 the first triangular debate was held with Washington and Lee College and Pennsylvania College. Around 1914, the team began calling itself the Debate Council, although there was no change in organization. For the next forty years, the titles Debate Council and Debating Society were used interchangeably. The early debates were prestigious events with audiences of several hundred people. A debate would typically include an introduction from the President of the University, musical entertainment and prizes for the winners. Judging the debate would be professors, or lawyers and court judges from the Baltimore area. The attention lavished on early debates reflected the intention of the University: that debate serve to promote relations between the University and the public or other universities.
The format of the actual debate was also different from that of today. The debate teams often contained three men each (who were sometimes graduate students), plus a whole host of others called alternate or substitute debaters, chairmen, advisors or managers. The speaking times and rules varied with each debate but they often received more speaking time than is allotted today.
The topics debated reflected another aim of debate which was emphasized in its early years -- promoting thought and discussion of important political issues. The topics were either value judgments or limited proposals for change.
In the late 1920s interest in debate began to diminish. The annual inter-class debate ended in 1925. In 1927, French resigned as coach when he became University Librarian. Membership in the Debate Council dropped sharply and instruction in debate was discontinued. Then, in 1931, Clifford P. Lyons of the English Department became the new coach and there was a surge of new members. In 1932, the English Department again began to offer courses in debate. Earl Wasserman of the English Department became the coach in 1937 and Thomas Pyles, formerly Professor of English at the University of Maryland, became a full time coach in 1938.
Debate in the 1930s and 1940s became a more common and less grand affair, with the aim of providing forensics to students assuming more importance. Hopkins teams competed in twenty to thirty inter-collegiate conferences each year. Although they still debated before audiences, debating became less formal, even while rules and techniques became more formal. Also during this period many of the debates were broadcast over radio. Debate continued to be a strong activity on campus and Hopkins teams usually did well in competition. In 1946, Francis Thompson, Professor of English Writing and Speech, became coach and continued until 1951. In 1949, the Debate Council acquired its own television and radio show on station WBAL. On this program they debated informally topics in national or international affairs. Graduate students and members of the faculty frequently participated. In 1951, Hopkins sponsored the first annual Johns Hopkins University Debate Tournament, one of the first tournaments in the country and the first tournament in which Hopkins participated. The annual tournament was a great success and grew to be one of the major tournaments on the East Coast. Francis X. Gallagher coached the team from 1951 to 1953 and Charles Moylan from 1953 to 1955; both were graduate students and former Hopkins debaters. In 1956, the Debate Council became the official name of the group, and that name has been used exclusively since then. From the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s the group experienced a decline in membership; support from the administration also decreased. Perhaps as a result, the success of the Hopkins teams in competition also declined.
With tournament debate came a form of debating closer to today's style. No longer were there audiences except in final rounds of competition. Rules and topics grew more uniform, more accepted and more formal. Debate essentially became a sport, although its main function was still to provide forensics training. Around 1960, debate took on its modern form, with broader topics allowing for more creativity on the part of the Affirmative teams. By the late 1960s, the annual tournament reached the status of being one of the most important in the country, with sixty or seventy debate teams entering each year. The final round was usually judged by a distinguished panel, including Milton S. Eisenhower, President of the University. In 1968, George Alapas, a former Hopkins debater, became the coach. Before he retired in 1979, he had coached the Hopkins team through their most successful winning streak ever. In four consecutive years, from 1975 to 1979, Hopkins qualified five teams for the National Debate Tournament, a record equaled only by Harvard and the University of Kansas.
0.38 Cubic Feet (1 letter size document box)
Language of Materials
Debating at Hopkins started as early as 1884 when Woodrow Wilson, then a graduate student, helped found the House of Commons. The records of the Debate Council date from 1895 to 1982, with the vast majority of the records dating from after 1976. Arranged in one series, these records are filed in chronological order. Records from the late 1890s and early 1900s include programs and announcements of debates as well as some financial records and University awards. Later records are more complete and include tournament invitations, materials, cases and briefs. There are also administrative records such as correspondence between the Hopkins Debate Council and other teams.
Arranged in one series, these records are filed in chronological order.
Wayne Kimball, President, transferred the newer records. The old records were removed from scrapbooks found in Gilman Storage.
Processed by Sean DiGiovanna and Wayne Kimball.
- Debate Council records
- Language of description
- Script of description
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