1855—The University of Iowa opens for business. According to school documents, “The school term will be 16 weeks long; the tuition $4.”
1860—The Zetagathian Society is founded. This is the first literary society at the University of Iowa and the foundation of the modern A. Craig Baird Debate Forum.
1861—Members of the Zetagathian Society hold their first debate at the University of Iowa. The Resolution is Resolved: that C. Columbus deserves more honor for discovering America than G. Washington for saving it. After a number of secret meetings, the Zetagathians vote to open their society meetings to the public.
The Zetagathian Society, whose constitution was established in 1861, developed a society whose purpose was “having for our object advancement in learning and improvement in morals.” The first meetings were held in a room in the northwest corner of the Old Capitol building by the light of oil lamps. During this time, society reflected the tenor of the times. The Civil War had just started and the young men at Iowa served both as soldiers and public servants discussing the important issues of the times. The first meetings of the Zetagathians were held in private. But excitement about debate and requests from professors and community members meant that the Zetagathians decided to open a number of their meetings to the public in November, 1861.
Public Audiences—When the literary societies at the University of Iowa decided to make their debates open to the public, community enthusiasm was immediate and substantial. In fact, there were often so many people in attendance that societies on campus were forced to rent theater space to accommodate the audience. Debate events were discussed in daily conversations and local newspapers covered the rivalries between societies. Individuals would even travel, by foot, through the cold Iowa City snow for an evening of debate. When debates were particularly contentious, audience members were driven to shouting and fighting for their “side” of the argument. The societies turned to hired bodyguards to control the crowd. Early documents show that the popularity of forensic societies was attributed with strong community support for the University in general.
1862—The first women’s literary society at the University of Iowa is established. The Erodelphian Society chooses as its motto: “Philosophy, Religion, & Liberty support each other, he who will not reason is a bigot, he who dare not is a coward, and he who cannot is a fool.”
Erodelphian Society—Female forensicators met on Friday afternoons. In the absence of faculty, it was considered promiscuous for the women to be out after dark. The women had official members and then they also had honorary members who included faculty and women from the community who had distinguished themselves. Before debate was integrated, the women would debate within the society. Some interesting resolutions included: Resolved: that gymnasiums are more important for girls than boys, and, Resolved: that Canada should be annexed to the United States. The women of the Erodelphian society were also the first to include a broader variety of events in their programs. Programs often included orations, music, and short dramas in addition to debates.
Civil War—Although Iowa sided with the Union, a number of Confederate sympathizers, known as “copperheads,” created internal dissension within the Zetagathian society. As it was all over the country, the war was a source of great controversy. For society members on campus, this played out in some of the resolutions debated at the time. As LeRoy Cowperthwaite reports: “On November 15, 1862, the question, Resolved: that slavery is right and justifiable and sanctioned by the bible, was debated, but no decision seems to have been reached by the judges. The copperheads split with the Zetagathian Society in the Winter of 1862-1863 to create a short-lived University group called the “Ciceronian Society”
1864—The Irving Institute, the second major literary society at the University of Iowa is founded.
Irving Institute—While a number of literary societies would be established in the early history of the U of I, the formation of the Irving Institute, comprised of a number of former “Zets” instantly sparked a rivalry with the Zetagathians. It was this rivalry that allowed the spirit of forensics to build at the U of I. In the early debates between the two societies, the house was split into “two sides” and all members had a chance to speak. Since that time, the format for debating has changed.
1865—The Zetagathian Society and the Irving Institute hold the first intersociety forensic contest on the University of Iowa’s campus.
Forensic Contest—While original meetings and events consisted primarily of debates, societies often included oratory, essays, dramatic interpretations, and readings in their programs.
Format for debating—By 1865 forensic societies had grown so large that it made the most sense to pick teams to represent each house. Since that time, intercollegiate debate has witnessed a number of format changes. Currently, the University of Iowa competes with a two-person 9-3-6 format. In other words, teams are made up of two people. Each competitor receives a 9 minute constructive, a 3 minute cross-examination and a 6 minute rebuttal.
1867—The Zetagathians challenge the “ladies of the University” to debate Resolved: That the University should admit only male students. The women won.
1873—The first recorded intercollegiate oratorical contest was held in Galesburg, Illinois. The competitors were Knox, Monmouth, Abrigdon, and Lombard Colleges.
Oratorical Contest—When intercollegiate competitions first began, they were often oratorical challenges. Individuals would present an “inspired essay” on a topic and were judged on the merit of their claim and its presentations. In the 1870’s and 1880’s oratory was swept into the age old debate over styles versus substance. It’s around this time that societies made a renewed call for debate. While oratory declined at the University of Iowa, it made an important contribution to the development of the forensics program because it inspired the call for professional coaching in speech activities.
1882—Edward M. Booth is appointed as professor of elocution and oratory in hopes of training the Iowa students who are competing in intercollegiate oratorical competitions.
1892—The first intercollegiate debate takes place between Yale and Harvard universities at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 14, 1892.
1893—On May 26, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, three men from the University of Iowa participated in Iowa’s first intercollegiate debate. Iowa was affirmative and the teams debated Resolved: that the United States Government should own and operate the telegraph system. The decision was unanimous—Iowa won. The next day, the Iowa—Minnesota debate league was created.
Iowa—Minnesota debate league –The Iowa-Minnesota league was Iowa’s first official organizational commitment to debate competitors from a neighboring state. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Iowa would join a number of Midwest leagues including the Iowa-Minnesota-Illinois league in 1914. In June of 1928, Iowa signed up with the nation’s largest league, the “Western Conference.” The conference included the Universities of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue and Ohio State.
Intercollegiate debate—Due to the cost and travel time associated with intercollegiate competitions, Iowa treated her guests with impressive hospitality. Students from opposing schools were housed and fed at some of the finest establishments that Iowa City had to offer.
1895—Phi Beta Kappa is chartered on the University of Iowa campus.
1896—Intercollegiate debate at Iowa continues to grow. On January 17, representatives from the University of Iowa met members from the University of Chicago for a debate. At the Coldren’s Opera house in Iowa City, teams debated Resolved: that further territorial expansion of the United States is undesirable.
1899—Iowa ends her first decade of intercollegiate debate competition vs. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, and Illinois. A number of alumni generously contributed award money for early forensic competitions. For example, in the early 1900’s the Honerable Frank O. Lowden, class of 1885 contributed a sum of $50 for the top competitor, as decided by the faculty. Judge Martin J. Wade of Iowa City donated $25 to the literary society that won the University championship in debate. Since that time awards and trophies have grown to include such things as leather briefcases, silver platters, wood plaques, and even handmade mardi gras masks.
1900—The Department of Public Speaking is established at the University of Iowa. Students can begin taking courses in debate, oratory, and public address.
1901—The University of Iowa’s newspaper, The Daily Iowan is formed.
1904-1906—Debate at the University of Iowa suffers tremendous losses. Iowa does not earn a single victory during these seasons. There is rivalry among societies, a call for professional coaching, and growing recognition that the University of Iowa needs a centralized forensic organization if it hopes to compete. An editorial in the Daily Iowan, on May 3, 1906, wrote: “When we are defeated two times in one night in debating contests, it is time to think. When we are defeated three times in one year, it is time to grow serious. When we fail to win a debate for two consecutive years it is high time to do something…The University gets no glory out of this thing, nor do the men get much benefit…The facts are that our debaters can hardly be called university representatives. They are not chosen from the University at large…The Iowan believes that debating contests should be open to all men in the University. The try-outs and preliminary debates should be many. Finally one team should be chosen, and that team should be drilled and coached to a finish.”
1906—The Iowa High School Debate League is formed by the University of Iowa’s own Professor Gordon. The hope is to build University of Iowa’s debate program by training successful high school debaters who will be recruited to the university.
1907—On February 8, the Forensic League of the State University of Iowa is established. Debate moved from literary society control to a period of faculty/student management.
1908-1912—Debate at the University of Iowa is revived. There are a number of new coaches, a move to develop briefs and evidence, and the complementary development of a credit classes for debaters and coaches.
1913—On March 3, the Women’s Forensic League is established.
1914-1916—During this pre-war period the University of Iowa competes in a number of debates. In January 1916, Delta Sigma Rho sponsored a practice debate between the University of Iowa and Northwestern University. The topic is Resolved: that the United States should grant the Philippines their immediate independence. Iowa was victorious and it was the first time Iowa used the two-person team format for debate.
1917—University of Iowa authorities decide to award an annual 8 four-year scholarships to the state high school finalists in debate and extemporaneous speaking.
1917-1919—Intercollegiate debate is suspended because of WWI. According to LeRoy Cowperthwaite, “the war had a two-fold effect upon forensic activity in general. The immediate effect was, of course, the curtailment of intercollegiate contests…The reason, of course, was obvious: All available men were being taken into the armed forces as rapidly as they became eligible for service.” The long-term effects, Coperthwaite argues, were felt in the topic selection process when societies resumed debating.
1919—The “Principles of Speech” course is added as a requirement for a Bachelors of Arts degree.
1921—A. Craig Baird takes the debaters from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine for the first “international debate” in Oxford, England. During the same year, the first women’s intercollegiate debate to be held between universities in the Midwest occurs. Women from Iowa competed against the ladies from the University of Indiana. Ella F. Schmock, Marion H. Smith and Mildred C. Freburg from Iowa upheld the negative Resolved: That the Philippines should be granted their independence within one year.”
1922—During this year, Iowa debaters experienced their first use of “prep time” during debates. Known as “interval time,” students received a one-minute interval between constructive speeches and a five-minute interval before the rebuttals.
1923—The Iowa Forensic Advisory Board is established.
1924—Iowa participates in her first international debate. On October 30, in the Natural Science Auditorium, Edwin Cassen of Mitchell, South Dakota, Phoebe Chittenden of Waverly, Iowa and Harry S. Stevenson of Iowa City met the team from Oxford: H.C. Collins of Balliol College, J. D. Woodruff of New College, and Malcolm MacDonald of Queens college (and son of the British Labor Prime Minister). The debate was carried out in “typical Oxford fashion” with no judges, no fixed rebuttal speeches, and no time limit on any of the participants. The vote was 364 to 190 in favor of Oxford upholding the affirmative. The topic was Resolved: that this house condemns the policy of France towards Germany since the war. The debate was broadcast on the local radio station—WHAA.
1925—Professor A. Craig Baird begins his tenure at the University of Iowa. Iowa tries out the shift of opinion ballot for adjudicating debates.
Shift of opinion ballot—In contemporary competitions, judges are asked to make a decision about which team has done the “better debating” in the round. At one time, the winner of a competition was decided on a judges “shift of opinion.” In other words, judges were surveyed before the debate to determine their stance on the topic. A team was awarded a victory if they “swayed” a judge to their side at the end of the debate.
1926—The Iowa Memorial Union opens on campus.
1927—The University of Iowa Fieldhouse opens to athletic events.
1928—During this year, Iowa teams first used cross-examination during debate rounds. The “Oregon Plan” of debating was developed by professor J. Stanley Gray of the University of Oregon. A debate team from the University of Oregon team traveled to Iowa for a competition. Debaters used cross-examination after the constructive speeches.
1930—The University of Iowa speech department awards its first two dissertations. Directed by Professor Baird, these dissertations focused on public address. In the same year, Iowa holds its first “radio only” debate. The team from the University of Iowa defended the negative against the Law School of Loyola New Orleans. The topic was Resolved: that the United States should adopt the Canadian system of liquor control.
1933—On March 2 & 3, Iowa participated in its first forensics tournament—the Central States Intercollegiate Debate Tournament and Extemporaneous Speaking Contest. Twelve universities from ten different states participated. The competition was held on the Iowa campus. Participating schools included: the Universities of Florida, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Denver, Oklahoma, Northwestern, Washington University of St. Louis, Iowa State College, and Iowa State Teacher’s College of Cedar Falls.
1935—A. Craig Baird brings the international tradition to Iowa. Iowa debates the British in the Fine Arts Building in front of over 600 people. Resolved: that the American written constitution is a hindrance to, rather than a safeguard for social progress. The British won.
1936-1939—During this period, Iowa debaters compete against the British team at least once each year. Concern about hostilities in Europe, and the U.S. response, leads the teams to agree to keep the same topic for each meeting. Teams discuss the effects of U.S. isolationism in the world arena.
1940—The effects of war are felt at home. The British are unable to travel to the States for their annual debates. Instead, Iowa debates a team from the University of Manitoba, Iowa is affirmative on the topic Resolved: That the nations of the Western Hemisphere should form a permanent union.
1942—1945—During the war, Iowa suspends all but the annual spring tournament debates. These Western Conference debates were held in Evanston. In 1943, Iowa placed third with a 5-3 record on the topic Resolved: that the nations of the world should form a post-war federal union. In 1944, Iowa tied for first with Chicago and Indiana on the topic Resolved: that the United States should cooperate in establishing and maintaining an international police force upon the defeat of the axis. In 1945, the topic was Resolved: that the United States must apply economic controls to Germany for at least twenty-five years. Iowa tied with Purdue for second place. Almost every department on campus made adjustments to accommodate the war effort. Specifically, “in 1941 the forensic program at Iowa was reorganized to perform the tasks involved in such an extensive program. In addition to regular debates and discussions in the classroom and on the campus, the weekly radio broadcasts…those engaged in wartime forensic work were organized into the Association of Forensic “Speakers for Victory.”” (Cowperthwaite, pg. 118). The Speakers for Victory engaged in a number of tasks, including: providing qualified speakers for community events, competing in National Inter-American Affairs contests where the topics focused on U.S. policy toward neighboring Latin America, and hosting conferences about the problems of war and peace.
National Debate Tournament—The National Debate Tournament was first hosted at the United States Military Academy in 1947. Iowa’s own A. Craig Baird helped to develop the tournament’s original rules and procedures. Currently the NDT is sponsored by the American Forensic Association. Each year the tournament is held at a different campus. Recent NDTs have been hosted by Wake Forest University, Emory University, and Wayne State University.
1953—1955—A. Craig Baird leaves Iowa. Carl Dallinger, James McBath, and Orville Hitchcock are tapped to lead the team. There are three groups on campus during this time: the University Debate team, the Discussion Group, and the Forensics Association. The debate team shrinks to only 8 members. Graduate students Malcolm Sillars and Mildred Ditty take on the task of rebuilding the team. In 1955, the graduate students debated the British team for the first time.
1956-1959—The Iowa debate team grows. By the 58-59 season there are 20 debaters on the team and Iowa debate, with the help of its grad students, recovers from the absence of A. Craig Baird.
1960—1965—during this period, Hugh Seabury joins as a coach of the debate team. The Iowa team continues to make a transition as collegiate debate also shifts. By 1965, debate is a national affair with larger tournaments and a single topic uniform at national tournaments. The demands of college debating made it difficult to participate in other events, and forensics activities at Iowa fade away.
1967-1968—Former Cedar Falls high school coach, Robert Kemp, comes to Iowa to coach the team. In the fall of this year, Rich Edwards comes to debate at Iowa. During the 67-68 season, Iowa competed at five national tournaments—with as many as nine 2-person teams. Bruce Gronbeck and Michael McGee serve as assistant coaches.
1968-1969—The varsity team of Rich Edwards and Mark Hamer complete the season with a 73% win-loss record.
1971-1972—Iowa competes for the first time at the National Debate Tournament championship. Ken Strange and Rich Edwards serve as assistant coaches for the team.
1972-1973—A very successful season for Iowa. The team of Cherwitz & Updegraff reach the elimination rounds at every major national college tournament and are invited to compete at the Marietta Round Robin.
1975-1976—Mark Deatherage joins the Iowa team. He is the first Iowa debater ever to qualify for 3 national debate tournaments
1976-1977—Iowa reaches the elimination debates of the NDT for the first time. The team of Donn Stanley and Mark Deatherage lost to the University of Southern California in the Octa-finals.
1977—1978 Assistant coaches Carole Blair, Karen King, and Ron Lee join the coaching staff. Ten different teams compete at thirty regional and national events during this season.
1980-1981—Dale Herbeck and John Katsulas come to Iowa as assistant coaches.
1984—1985—Karla Leeper and Robert Garman become the first team in Iowa’s history to receive a prestigious first round at-large bid to the National Debate Tournament. They make it to the final round, losing to Harvard. In the Fall of 1985, Paul Slappey is hired as the Coordinator of Forensics and David Hingstman is hired as the Director of Debate.
1988-1989—Greg Abbott joins as an assistant coach. Nathan Coco and Charles Smith, both freshman, win the prestigious Novice Nationals Tournament.
1989-1990—Shawn Shearer and Randal Sandler, along with Coco and Smith become the first two teams to qualify for the NDT through the at-large bid process. Both teams qualified for elimination debates.
1990-1991—Coco and Smith and Omar Guavera and Sandler receive first rounds, Coco and Smith make it to the semi-finals where they lose on a 4-3 to the University of Michigan. Younger Iowa teams close out the junior varsity national championship in Kansas City.
1991-1992—Iowa received a grant from the Ford foundation to sponsor a number of public debates on diversity issues. Called the “year of the dynasty,” every single team on the Iowa squad won a debate tournament. The Iowa team of Jon Brody and Jeff Kueter were the top team to qualify for a third-round bid to the NDT. Guavera and Sandler were in the top ten first-round at-large bids. Coco & Smith did not lose a single ballot at the NDT—24-0 in all. Smith was the top speaker at the NDT. Coco and Smith lost in the quarterfinals to Georgetown—who eventually went on to win the NDT
1992-1993—Iowa recruits a number of talented new freshman. Jeff Kueter and Ernie Wagner along with Tiffany Earl and Monte Johnson both see elimination debates at the NDT
1999—2000—The Iowa team of Andy Ryan and Kristin Langwell win the prestigious Rex Copeland award placing them as the number one team in the country prior to the NDT. Langwell and Ryan lose to Dartmouth College in the Octafinals.
2000—2001—The Iowa team of Andy Peterson and Andy Ryan win the NDT to secure Iowa her first national championship in intercollegiate debate. Andy Ryan is awarded the top speaker award. Paul Bellus is Coordinator of Forensics.
2017—2018—The Iowa teams of Coco Christophersen/Brooke Kimbrough and Sam Gustavson/Geo Liriano are co-champions of the CEDA National Championship. Brooke is named 2nd speaker.
University of Iowa—Currently, the University of Iowa boasts nearly 29,000 students and 1,700 faculty members in 11 different colleges. Undergraduates have their choice of over 100 degree and certificate programs and over 350 student organizations. In the early years, literary societies and public debates were thought to be essential to the growth and popularity of the university. In January 1871, an editor for the school’s paper, The University Reporter said, “As long as the American people is a self-governing people so long will the ability to speak well in public be a desideratum, and so long will public literary societies be a necessary part of every educational institution.” For more information about the University of Iowa, visit the university website at www.uiowa.edu.
Speech Department—Iowa’s speech department is now the nationally recognized Department of Communication Studies. To read more about the faculty, classes, and majors offered in the department go to https://clas.uiowa.edu/commstudies/.