Demosthenian Literary Society

Demosthenian Literary Society
Demosthenian Hall, built in 1824, as seen on the night of the Demosthenian Literary Society's 200th Anniversary

The Demosthenian Literary Society is a debating society at The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. It was founded in 1803 by the first graduating class of the University's Franklin College. The society was founded on February 19, 1803 and the anniversary is celebrated now with the Society's annual All-Night Meeting. It was named after the Greek orator Demosthenes.[1] On November 10th, 2011 Carl Sagan was made an honorary member of the Society.



Augustin Clayton, Williams Rutherford, and James Jackson 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.

After 167 years of male-only membership, the first female members of the Society were inducted on March 4, 1970 [2]. 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. Today, the Society has more female than male members.

Demosthenian Hall was constructed in 1824 at a cost to the Society of $4,000.[3] This construction of the Hall gave the Society a place to keep its growing library, which surpassed that of the University's main library. In recent years, the Demosthenians have hosted two debates with the Oxford Union, splitting the contests 1-1. The Demosthenian Literary Society meets weekly Thursday nights at 7:00 during the Fall and Spring semesters at Demosthenian Hall on the historic North Campus of The University of Georgia.

Campus involvement

Over the past 200 plus years, the society has enjoyed a diverse group of students who have been proud to call themselves members. 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 has come to be known for.

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.

Organization of the Society

Robert's Rules

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

Extemporaneous Debate

The style of debate undertaken at normal meetings of the Demosthenian Literary Society is that of Extemporaneous Debate. 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 subject to questions, preferably of a non-rambling nature, from the audience and the bench. All speeches are limited to five minutes (with few exceptions), and hand signals are provided to the speaker when he/she has three minutes, two minutes, one minute, thirty seconds, and fifteen seconds left in his/her speech.


Elections of the Demosthenian Literary Society take place during the second to last meeting every semester. Nominations take place during the two meetings immediately prior to elections. The meetings during which elections take place are the only meetings that guests are discouraged from attending.

Speaker's Points

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: taking part in hall cleanings, 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 positions in the society and to obtain a Speakers Key.

Speaker's Keys

In the past, after accumulating 32 speakers points, members can purchase a Speakers Key. The Speakers Key is a gold lapel pin that shows a member's devotion to the society. After a decade long hiatus, speakers keys returned to the Society in late 2007. The new Speakers Keys were first awarded at the annual All Night Meeting on February 16, 2008.

The All Night Meeting

Every year, on the Saturday that falls closest to February 19, the Demosthenian Literary Society hosts its annual All Night Meeting. The meeting takes place between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am the following morning, and opens with guest speakers and continues with debate between both current members and alumni of the Society. Those members who stay until the end of the meeting are awarded a Speaker's Point.

Officer Positions

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 12 officers. They are President, Vice President, Secretary, Chief Justice, two Associate Justices, Treasurer, Hall Administrator, Historian, Sergeant-at-Arms, Librarian and Custodian. The offices of Treasurer, Hall Administrator and Historian are all year long positions elected every Spring while the others are elected semesterly.

Standing Committees

The Society has several committees that members can be a part of. They committees include Public Relations, Programs, Alumni Relations, Digital Media, Finance and Hall Preservation. Alumni Relations is responsible for the yearly All Night Meeting and is thus a year long committee while the rest are appointed semesterly. The only requirement of serving on a committee is that you must be a member of the society. The Vice President serves over all the committees and appoints the heads of each at the beginning of every semester unless otherwise specified in the Society's constitution.

Annual programs

The Demosthenian Literary Society is known for several events it holds annually during the Fall and Spring semesters.

The Hat Debate

A tradition dating to the fall of 1995, members and guests are called up one by one to pull a resolution out of a hat and then give a presenting speech in the affirmative. Participants are given five minutes maximum to make a case for the resolution and must present the resolution they pulled from the hat. Many times these resolutions are of a humorous nature.


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. 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.

Intersociety Debate

Each spring the Demosthenian Literary Society holds a debate with the rival literary society at the University of Georgia. Generally, the debate is held in the Hatton-Lovejoy courtroom on North Campus. However, in 2007 the debate was held in the Athens Clarke County Courthouse and the 2008 Intersociety Debate was held at the University of Georgia Student Learning Center. The judges are professors from the University of Georgia and are drawn from a hat (using the names from a negotiated list approved by both the Demosthenian Society and the Phi Kappa Literary Society) as per the 2007 Intersociety Agreement. Demosthenian won in 2008 snapping a 4 year win streak by Phi Kappa and adding additional wins in 2009 and 2011.

Famous alumni

Other Historic Societies


  1. ^ Sheahan, Matt (2003-03-15). "Demosthenian, Notes from a Polite New Yorker". Knot Magazine. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  2. ^ The Red and Black "Move over, men" March 5, 1970
  3. ^ "Demosthenian Hall". Carl Vinson Institute of Government. 

Further reading

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

External links

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