Demosthenian Literary Society

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Demosthenian Hall, built in 1824

The Demosthenian Literary Society is a literary society primarily involved in debating at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. It is one of the oldest literary societies in the English-Speaking world, and was founded in February 1803 by the first graduating class of the University's Franklin College. It is named after the Greek orator Demosthenes.[1]


Augustin Clayton, James Jackson, and Williams Rutherford are recognized as the founding fathers of Demosthenian. Clayton became the first student to receive his diploma from Franklin College and went on to become a judge of wide respect and a U.S. Representative from Georgia, with Georgia's Clayton County being named in his honor. Rutherford and Jackson went on to become professors at Franklin College. Confederate general Robert E. Lee was given "honorary membership in March 1866."[2]

After 167 years of male-only membership, the first female members of the Society were inducted on March 4, 1970.[3] President Sherrill Watkins presided over the initiation of Kathy Conrad, a freshman from Atlanta, and Bebe Herring, a junior from Athens. By the late 1970s, female members were heavily active in the Society and held numerous offices—even President. In 2008, the Society put forward its first all female Inter-Society Debate team. The four women swept the debate on warrantless wiretapping and FISA reform, winning the votes of all three judges and the alternate.[citation needed] Today, the Society has slightly more female than male members.[4]

Citing issues of student disenfranchisement within the UGA and U.S. political systems, the Society voted in 2012 to secede from the United States of America as the micronation "Demosthenia."[5][6] This resolution was acknowledged as a move to raise the Society's profile and to encourage lively debate.[7]

Demosthenian Hall[edit]

Demosthenian Hall was constructed by Dr. James Tinsley of Columbia County in 1824 at a cost to the Society of $4,000.[8] It is the fourth oldest building at the University of Georgia and was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1971. It has become the physical expression of a living tradition which binds generations of students. The Society’s minutes show that by September 5, 1829, the building’s $4,000 construction cost had been completely paid off. The construction was financed by the Society’s members, alumni, and friends.[9]


Located on the University of Georgia’s historic north quadrangle, its facade in the formal Federal style forms a pleasing contrast to the later columned Greek revival structures which surround it. The front is graced with a Palladian window over a light doorway. The exterior walls are two feet thick and are of stucco over brick construction.

In 1997, Demosthenian Hall received a $200,000 facelift. Financed primarily by alumni donations and conducted by the architectural firm Serber and Barber, the construction work restored the ceiling medallion and the rest of the Upper Chamber to its original 1824 layout and color scheme. The original hard wood floors were uncovered and restored in the Lower Chamber.[10]

The Upper Chamber[edit]

The Upper Chamber is the meeting room of the Society. The speaker’s lectern has been dated to the 1820s and may have been built for the Hall. The simplicity of the carved mantels, window moldings, doors and deep paneled wainscoting emphasizes the drama of the ornate plasterwork ceiling medallion which is based on a template designed by Asher Benjamin. It is a medallion of holly leaves surrounded by swags of smaller leaves which are framed by delicate filigree. This ceiling is one of the most architecturally significant structures at the University of Georgia and is one of the few remaining examples of this form of decorative artwork.[10]

The Lower Chamber[edit]

The Lower Chamber is the social space of the Society; members can often be found studying or enjoying a game of chess in between classes. It is divided into one main room flanked on the right by two smaller rooms - designated the President's Office and the Library. Containing mostly donated furniture constructed in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Society has endeavored to maintain the historic feel of the rooms. The rooms feature high wainscoting, four fireplaces, and plaster walls.[citation needed]

The Library[edit]

The Society has maintained an extensive library since its founding and currently owns over 1000 volumes. Its collection surpassed that of the University's main library for the majority of the 19th century. Upon the reopening of the University after the Civil War, the Society donated its books to the University to replace the library collection that had been burned.[citation needed] Demosthenian maintains extensive archives of past meeting minutes, Society business, and members. Bound editions of minutes are kept in the Demosthenian Hall Library and in the Georgia Reading Room located in the University's Main Library. In addition, the most recent minutes and some historical minutes from 1829 are available online.[11] Many books currently in the Demosthenian Library contain personal inscriptions from members and alumni who donated them.

Robert E. Lee's portrait[edit]

In the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, the society removed their portrait of Confederate general and honorary member Robert E. Lee from their building.[2][12] Warren Furman Smith, a law student from Gainesville, Georgia presented the resolution to remove the portrait of the confederate general. [13]

Campus involvement[edit]

Over the past 200 plus years, the society has enjoyed a diverse group of students who have been proud to call themselves Demosthenians. In recent years, students from a wide array of majors spanning North and South Campus have come to the society to take part in the debate and intellectual discourse that the society is known for.[4]

Members of the society are often heavily involved on campus, having a hand in over 60 campus organizations. These groups include but are not limited to every political affiliated organization on campus, The Red and Black, numerous service and honor societies, WUOG, CURO, Greek Fraternities and Sororities, fencing and are also affiliated with every major religious (UGA Atheists, Club Baptist Student Union, Pagan Student Association, Catholic Student Union) and ethnic group on campus.[4]

In addition, the Society maintains relationships with other Literary and Debate societies across the United States, including the Philodemic Society at Georgetown University and the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at UNC-Chapel Hill.[citation needed]

Organization of the Society[edit]

Robert's Rules[edit]

All meetings of the Demosthenian Literary Society are run in accordance with Parliamentary Procedure as set out in Robert's Rules of Order.[14]

Extemporaneous Debate[edit]

The Demosthenian Literary Society was founded for the specific purpose of promoting the art of extemporizing, or extemporaneous speaking.[15] In this style, only the presenters know what topics are to be debated at the meeting, and all subsequent speeches are performed based on prior knowledge and without extensive preparation, though notes can be taken during other speeches. During their speeches, the speakers are also potentially subject to questions, preferably of a non-rambling nature. Speeches are generally limited to five minutes, and hand signals are provided to the speaker when he/she has three minutes, two minutes, one minute, thirty seconds, and fifteen seconds left.[16]


Elections of the Demosthenian Literary Society take place during the penultimate meeting of each semester. Officer nominations take place during the two meetings immediately prior to elections. While guests may remain in the upper chamber for candidates' speeches, member debate and voting of officer candidates is confidential. For this reason, election day is the only meeting of the semester that guests are discouraged from attending.[citation needed]

Speaker's Points[edit]

Members of the Demosthenian Literary Society are awarded Speaker's Points for outstanding service to the society and participation in related activities. Services and activities worthy of Speaker's Points include: presenting resolutions before the Society, taking part in special programs, and serving as an officer or on a committee. Points are awarded by the President, the Judicial Council, and Committee heads. Accumulation of points is necessary to hold certain officer positions in the society and to obtain a Speaker's Key.[16]

Officer Positions[edit]

Members of the Society, upon receiving enough speakers points or being in the society for a certain amount of time, are eligible to run for officer positions. The Society has 13 officers. They are President, Vice President, Secretary, Chief Justice, two Associate Justices, Treasurer, Hall Administrator, Hall Preservationist, Historian, Sergeant-at-Arms, Librarian and Custodian. The offices of Treasurer, Hall Administrator, Hall Preservationist, and Historian are all yearlong positions elected every Spring while the others are elected each semester.[16]

Faculty Adviser[edit]

The Society has a faculty adviser who serves as a liaison between the University of Georgia and the Society.[16] Notable faculty advisers who contributed greatly to Demosthenian include Albert B Saye and Cal Logue. Professor Mulic, Dr. Knox, Dr. John Murphy, and Dr. Daniel Kapust served as the Society's adviser until 2008, 2011, 2017 and 2019 respectively.

Standing Committees[edit]

The Society has committees dedicated to Public Relations, Programs, Alumni Relations, Digital Media, Finance and Hall Preservation.[17] The Alumni Relations committee is responsible for the yearly All Night Meeting and is thus a year-long committee, while the other committees are appointed each semester. The Programs committee organizes speakers, resolutions, critics, and Robert's Rules workshops and several social events throughout each semester. The only requirement of serving on a committee is membership in the society. The Vice President serves over all the committees and appoints the Chair of each committee at the beginning of every semester unless otherwise specified in the Demosthenian constitution.

Annual Programs and Traditions[edit]

As one of the oldest student organizations in the nation, the Society has established a number of traditions and annual events throughout the course of its 200+ year history.

Speaker's Keys[edit]

For service to the Society, members are awarded speaker's points. After accumulating 32 such points, members have the honor of being awarded a Speaker's Key. The Speaker's Key is a gold lapel pin that shows a member's devotion to the society.[18] After a decade long hiatus, speaker's keys returned to the Society in late 2007. The new Speaker's Keys were first awarded at the annual All Night Meeting on February 16, 2008.[citation needed]

The All Night Meeting[edit]

On the Saturday that falls closest to February 19, the anniversary of its founding, the Demosthenian Literary Society hosts the All Night Meeting. The All Night Meeting lasts for twelve hours, beginning at 7 pm on Saturday and ending at 7 am on Sunday. Dinner is served at 6 pm and the meeting opens with guest keynote speakers. The meeting then continues with debate among current members, guests, and alumni of the Society throughout the night and into the morning. Those members who are present until the end of the meeting are awarded a Speaker's Point.[19]

The Hat Debate[edit]

An annual tradition dating to the fall of 1995, members and guests are called up one by one to pull a random resolution out of a hat and then immediately give a presenting speech in the affirmative. Participants are given five minutes to make a case for the resolution and must present the resolution they pull from the hat. These resolutions are often of a humorous nature, but may cover any and all topics.

Orations and Declamations[edit]

Because the Society traditionally participates in impromptu debate, once a year a meeting is dedicated to original orations and famous or not-so-famous declamations. The meeting takes place in two parts: Orations and Declamations. The events are considered a competition with the winner of each event winning a speaker's point. The competition is judged by the members of the Judicial Council. The competition normally takes place in early April.[citation needed]

Intersociety Debate[edit]

Each spring, the Demosthenian Literary Society and the Phi Kappa Literary Society hold a debate to highlight the oratory skills of the societies' best speakers.[16] Generally, the debate is held in the Hatton-Lovejoy courtroom at the Law School on North Campus. The judges are usually professors from the University of Georgia and are selected by having their names drawn from a hat (using a negotiated list approved by both societies).[20]

Annual Intersociety Debate Results
[hide]Date Resolution

(Be it Resolved:)



2019 Technology companies should release user data to the United States government in criminal cases. Phi Kappa


2018 Globalization is a net detriment to the developing world. Demosthenian


2017 The continued usage of U.S. agricultural subsidies is irresponsible. Demosthenian


2016 The XXIV Olympic Winter Games in Beijing shall be the last Olympic Games. Demosthenian


[citation needed]
2015 The University of Georgia should institute a test-optional policy for admitting undergraduate students. Phi Kappa


2014 The development of artificial intelligence greater than or equal to human intelligence would be detrimental to mankind. Demosthenian


[citation needed] Debate held at the Larry Walker Room in Rusk Hall.[citation needed]
2013 The United States is obligated to interfere in the domestic affairs of other nations when human rights are violated as defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Demosthenian


2012 The United States should privatize its national ocean waters. Demosthenian


2011 Global nuclear disarmament would be detrimental to U.S. national security. Demosthenian


2010 The management of natural resources by foreign corporations in lesser developed countries is beneficial to those countries. Phi Kappa


2009 Supreme Court justices should be chosen by popular election Demosthenian


2008 In the interest of national security, the United States ought to permit warrantless surveillance for communications going into or out of the country. Demosthenian


Debate held in the Miller Learning Center
2007 Term limits for Congress. (Exact wording not available) Phi Kappa


Debate held at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse
2006 The United States should increase significantly its use of nuclear power for the purpose of generating energy. Phi Kappa


2005 The United States should ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court. Phi Kappa


2004 Limitations based on country of origin are an ethical means to restrict immigration into the United States. Phi Kappa


2003 A direct democracy is better than a representative democracy. Demosthenian


2002 The teaching of a consensus history is necessary in preserving American identity. Demosthenian


2001 A citizen's right to vote does not carry with it the duty to vote. Demosthenian


2000 Artistic achievement, not multicultural representation, should guide the formation of the American Literary Canon. Demosthenian


1999 America was safer during the Cold War. Phi Kappa


1998 Debate not held due to break in relationship between societies
1997 The international community should practice a policy of sustainable development to combat the environmental crisis. Demosthenian


1996 When in conflict, the rights of the individual outweigh the interests of the community. Phi Kappa
1995 Phi Kappa
1994 (Proposed by Demosthenian) Manned space flight is counter to the scientific interests of the United States. N/A Debate was not held. Phi Kappa rejected the official debate challenge due to a dispute over the topic.
1993 (Unavailable) Phi Kappa


1992 Which has been more beneficial to mankind, science or religion? Demosthenian


1991 The United States is entering a decline, instead of a Renaissance. (paraphrased, exact wording unavailable) Demosthenian


First modern intersociety debate following the refounding of Phi Kappa

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]

Other Historic American Debate Societies[edit]



  1. ^ Sheahan, Matt (2003-03-15). "Demosthenian, Notes from a Polite New Yorker". Knot Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-06-11. Retrieved 2007-07-07.
  2. ^ a b Harris, Nate (August 25, 2017). "UGA Debate Society Takes Down Robert E. Lee Portrait". Flagpole. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  3. ^ The Red and Black "Move over, men" March 5, 1970
  4. ^ a b c Members section of Official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  5. ^ "Minutes: November 1, 2015". Demosthenian Literary Society.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "An Open Letter to President Obama". Demosthenian Literary Society. Archived from the original on 2013-02-05.
  7. ^ "'Demosthenia prevails:' Demosthenian Society passes resolution to secede from the U.S." The Red & Black.
  8. ^ "Demosthenian Hall". Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Archived from the original on September 20, 2006.
  9. ^ Demosthenian Literary Society. "Minutes, September 5, 1829".
  10. ^ a b Demosthenian Hall Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of Official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  11. ^ Minutes Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine of the Demosthenian Literary Society. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  12. ^ Roll, Nick (August 28, 2017). "Confederate Round-Up". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Linda Clemmer (October 2, 2000). "Demosthenian Society debates weekly". The Red and Black. The Red and Black Publishing Company, Inc. Archived from the original on February 1, 2013. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
  15. ^ About us Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of the official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  16. ^ a b c d e Constitution of the Demosthenian Literary Society[permanent dead link], from the official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  17. ^ Current committees Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  18. ^ Speaker's Keys Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of the Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  19. ^ All Night Meeting Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of the Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  20. ^ Demosthenian Literary Society; Phi Kappa Literary Society (2007). "The Intersociety Agreement of 2007".
  21. ^ Famous alumni Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.

Further reading[edit]

  • Coulter, E. Merton. College Life in the Old South. Reprint edition. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, c1983.