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Debate Team records

Identifier: STO-0045-001

Collection Statement

The collection includes debate team records, comment sheets, programs, correspondence and other related items.


  • 1881 - 2000


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Usage Restrictions

Copyright interests for this collection have been transferred to DePauw University.

Historical Sketch

Oratory and debate at DePauw is founded upon a long forensic tradition reaching back into the Indiana Asbury period, with its emphasis on public speaking in the literary societies and its graduates' inclination toward such vocations as the ministry, law, and teaching. As early as 1875 a branch of the Indiana Oratorical Association was founded at Asbury, and in 1881 Charles Coffin won both the state and interstate oratorical contests.

The next student to achieve that same double honor was Albert J. Beveridge, later the distinguished U.S. Senator and historian. His victory in 1885 set off an explosion of excitement on the DePauw campus. On his return from the contest held in Columbus, Ohio, he received an artillery salute at the railroad station and was escorted to Meharry Hall by a brass band and military company. The faculty declared a holiday from classes. During the next several years DePauw won many state and a few interstate contests, all celebrated in similar fashion, the victors accorded honors usually granted only to heroes of the gridiron or baseball diamond. Few women participated, but there was a special celebration when coed Jean Nelson won both the state and interstate in 1892, defeating in the latter contest the representatives of 62 colleges from 10 states.

By 1918 DePauw had won 19 out of 37 oratorical contests but only five interstate contests, the last in 1905. David E. Lilienthal won the last state contest in 1918 with a speech on "The Mission of the Jew." There were other oratorical victories as well: DePauw won 10 of 15 contests sponsored by the State Prohibition League and four of seven in the state Peace oratorical contests and two interstate contests.

DePauw also took an active part in intercollegiate debate in this period, beginning with three consecutive victories over Indiana University in 1894, 1895 and 1896. Student interest remained high in this form of public speaking throughout the period, when DePauw teams debated Earlham, Butler, Wabash, Notre Dame, and other colleges to the accompaniment of campus enthusiasm similar to that shown for intercollegiate sports.

Three men molded the speech department in the modern period, Harry B. Gough and his two proteges, Robert E. Williams and Herold T. Ross. The Kentucky-born Gough, who earned both an A.B. and A.M. from Northwestern University before serving as a Methodist pastor in Illinois and as president of Hedding College, was named DePauw's first professor of public speaking and debate in 1907. He soon became a popular figure on campus, known among other things for his booming voice and his unusual locutions. "By the great horned spoon" was one of his favorite expressions.

In addition to training outstanding orators and debaters, Gough had a large part in introducing theatre to DePauw in an era when its Methodist constituency still tended to frown on stage performances. In 1914 he founded the dramatic society Duzer Du, which survives to the present. The author of two books on public speaking, Gough was elected president of the National Association of Speech Teachers in 1923. After 29 years as head of the speech department at DePauw he retired in 1935 but lived on in Greencastle until his death 10 years later.

In 1921 Gough brought one of his students, Robert E. Williams, back to DePauw as the second member of the speech department. Williams, who graduated in the class of 1916, enlisted in the American Ambulance Service and saw action on the North Italian front in World War 1. After teaching briefly at Knox College and the University of California, he earned an A.M. at the University of Wisconsin in 1921. His forte was oral interpretation and dramatics, and he became director of the Little Theatre. He organized a chapter of the National Collegiate Players at DePauw and was elected its first national treasurer. Like his mentor, Gough, he was a popular chapel speaker, known especially for his entertaining dialect stories. Retiring in 1957, he taught part-time for another decade. He died in Greencastle in 1982 at the age of 91.

The third man to join the department was another of Gough's students, Herold T. Ross, who came to DePauw as a freshman in 1914 from his hometown of Rochester, Ind. He later recalled how he was met at the railroad station by a group of Sigma Nus, who transported him by horse and buggy to their house and immediately pledged him to the fraternity. Near the end of his senior year he joined the Army and saw active service in France in the Argonne. After the war, he taught briefly in high schools and at Iowa State University, was English master at Cutler Preparatory in New York for a year, and earned an M.A. at Columbia University.

Ross began teaching at DePauw in 1927 and five years later completed his Ph.D. from the State University of Iowa with a dissertation on DePauw graduate Senator Albert J. Beveridge. He was active in the university's program in oratory, debate and drama and became head of the speech department on Gough's retirement in 1935. He was chiefly responsible for inaugurating DePauw's radio station WGRE-FM and also introduced work in television programming. He served a term as national president of the speech honorary society Delta Sigma Rho. After his retirement in 1961 he served one year as assistant dean of the university and taught at Butler, Hanover, Wabash, and Central Missouri. In 1986 the Indianapolis Star granted him the Jefferson Award for community service, especially in his leadership role in the American Association of Retired People.

Most academic departments remained the domain of a single full professor, often with an instructor or assistant professor added in these years to help with the increased student enrollments. The growth in subject areas within an elective system curriculum also brought about expansion of the departmental organization. Separate departments of English composition and rhetoric, English literature, comparative literature, and public speaking and debate came into existence, headed respectively by Nathaniel W. Barnes, Adelbert F. Caldwell, Francis C. Tilden, and Harry B. Gough.

The department of public speaking was renamed the speech department in 1929. Taking up new quarters in Speech Hall (the former College Avenue Methodist Church), the department was able to expand its work in both forensics and Little Theatre.

An interesting development was the formation of a separate women's debating team which took part in intercollegiate competition along with the men's team.

Professor Emeritus Robert O. Weiss (Ph.D., Northwestern 1954). Dr. Weiss was the Director of Debate at DePauw almost his entire career (1955-1997). He was the President of Delta Sigma Rho/Tau Kappa Alpha, the forensics honorary, from 1983-85. Much beloved by his students and colleagues, "Doc" received the prestigious Tucker Award from DePauw University in 1995, and in 1999 he was recogized by the American Association of University Professors for his "long and distinguished membership" (50 years) at its Annual Convention in Washington D.C. Also in 1999, the National Communication Association recognized Professor Weiss with its highest honor, the Presidential Award. In 2007, Professor Weiss received the E.R. Nichols Award from Pi Kappa Delta, the forensics honorary, for "outstanding contributions to the futherance of the forensics discipline." Professor Weiss is the author of a highly regarded book on debate, Public Argument, which was first published in 1995.


1.225 Cubic Feet (4 document cases)

Language of Materials


Oversize items removed

Posters. DC3495: Item 79, DePauw Debates, Notre Dame, March 4th, University of Florida, March 6th; DC3495: Item 80, Shall Athletes Be Paid?, December 8th; DC3495: Item 81 (2 copies) Shall We Abolish the Jury?, February 20th; DC3744, Items 14, Pi Kappa Delta National Forensic Honorary charter certificate, 2013; DC3744, Items 15-23, Debate posters, 1916-1994



Debate Team records
Jenney Taylor
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of DePauw University and Indiana United Methodism Repository

Roy O. West Library
11 East Larrabee Street
Greencastle Indiana 46135 United States