The Minervan Debating society caught my eye as I scrolled through a collection of student organizations by name. I have always had a particular affinity for the club’s goddess namesake, Minerva, who was the Roman god of wisdom. (She was known in Greece as Athena, too.) I have considered her my “patron goddess” since I learned of her, because she represents intelligence, education, and wisdom — all qualities I find especially important.
It was this club’s name that caught my attention, but perhaps more interesting was what I found after looking them up in the 1926 Kawbawgam yearbook on the Archives’ reading room shelves. Out of 18 student organizations at Northern in 1926, six were debating societies. Compared to today’s nearly 300 organizations, not one holds the sole purpose of debating. In order to get a better understanding as to what these groups did, I read through their descriptions in several yearbook editions.
Forum Debating Society
Comprised of 19 female students, Forum is probably the least notable of all groups… That is, they would be if they did not have a Sergeant-at-Arms listed under their Officers. Noted next to the regular roles of President and Treasurer, this position was held by Beatrice Morrison. A quick search on Google informed me that a Sergeant-at-Arms has the duty of maintaining order and security. Given the fact that she was the only such person in all of the debating groups, it is not difficult to imagine each young woman pictured making a firm point during their meetings, and maybe discussions getting a bit out of hand, too. Meetings were held each Wednesday at 3:45, where the girls met with their faculty sponsors, history professor Miss Miriam Compton and English professor Miss Daphne Dodds, to practice their skills.
Minervan Debating Society
“The aim of the Minervan Debating Society is to develop the ability to debate and coach debating. The society has debated weekly on current topics. Keen competition and interest in argumentation has been aroused through the inter-society clashes.” So says their description in the Kawbawgam, placed above a doodle of the spear-and-shield armed goddess herself. Though they had one less member than the other all-female group, the Minervans were represented on both the Affirmative and Negative Intercollegiate Teams (more on those later.) Their picture below was the only group photo in the “Forensics” section of the book.
Webster Debating Society
Named for Daniel Webster (who was a famous orator and Congressman in the early 1800’s), this group of 16 young men must have been an interesting bunch. They are noted for having debates on such “current questions” as prohibition and co-education, and a fun fact is written in their description as well: “Sylvester Trythall and Mr. Meyland related their experiences in traveling; the former telling of his trip through the East, and the latter, of his jaunt through Canada. They instilled into every member the longing to travel.” Trythall would go on to receive the Distinguished Alumni award from Northern in 1962, and you can read about his travels here.
Haynes Debating Society
Though the Haynes Society members didn’t have a fun name like the Websterites did, they were undoubtedly the most active and enthusiastic Forensic group on campus. “That the men of Northern are becoming interested in this work,” says their description, “is further shown by the fact that when a call for membership was issued last fall, the roll was augmented by thirteen new recruits.” They seem to have hosted the most events, too, including a banquet at the “College Eat Shop.”
Affirmative and Negative Intercollegiate Teams
The intercollegiate teams at Northern were responsible for representing the school in debates across the state. Most notable were those at the Ypsilanti and Central normal schools, which both had the same question for debate: “Resolved, That the United States should recognize the present government of Russia.” With wins at both Ypsilanti and Mount Pleasant, these teams were a successful grouping of members from Minervan, Webster, and Haynes.
See the gallery below for more news articles about debate groups on campus, or stop in to the Archives to view them on Northern Normal News microfilm reels. The Kawbawgam yearbook series are also available to the public, and can be found on our reading room shelves.
This post was written and formatted by Emily Tinder.