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Demosthenian Literary Society
FormationFebruary 19, 1803
Type Literary Society

The Demosthenian Literary Society is a literary society focused on extemporaneous debate at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. It is among the oldest literary societies in the English-speaking world and was founded on February 19, 1803 by the first graduating class of the University's Franklin College. The object of the Society is "to promote the cause of science and truth by the cultivation of oratory and the art of debate at weekly meetings." It is named after the Greek orator Demosthenes. [1]

The Society meets every Thursday during the academic school year at 7pm and once during the summer in Demosthenian Hall on UGA's North Campus. In addition to its relations with other organizations at the University of Georgia, like the Phi Kappa Literary Society, the Society maintains relationships with other Literary and Debate societies across the United States, including the Philodemic Society at Georgetown University, the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at UNC-Chapel Hill and the Philolexian Society at Columbia University.


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 federal judge 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. Today, the Society has slightly more female than male members.

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.' [3] [4] This resolution was acknowledged as a move to raise the Society's profile and to encourage lively debate. [5]

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. [6] [7] The debate attracted significant media attention, with various newspapers such as the Red and Black appearing for the debate. The motion was passed by a unanimous vote of 27-0. [8]

Demosthenian Hall

Demosthenian Hall was constructed by Dr. James Tinsley in 1824. [9] It is the fourth oldest building at the University of Georgia and was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1971. [10] The construction was financed by the Society's members, alumni, and friends. [11] It remains the only building on the UGA campus that was privately financed and is not wholly owned by the University.

In 1997, Demosthenian Hall received $200,000 in donations for the purpose of restoring the hall. The construction work restored the ceiling medallion and the rest of the Upper Chamber to its original 1824 layout and color scheme. The original hardwood floors were uncovered and restored in the Lower Chamber. [12]

The Upper Chamber

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 specifically 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 unique structures at the University of Georgia and is one of the few remaining examples of this form of decorative artwork. [12]

The Lower Chamber

The Lower Chamber is 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 Library

The Society has maintained an extensive library since its founding and currently owns over 2000 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. In addition, the most recent minutes and some historical minutes from 1829 are available online. [13]

Organization of the Society


The Demosthenian Literary Society was founded for the specific purpose of promoting the art of extemporaneous speech. [14] During meetings, members introduce original resolutions that have not been shared with others prior to their presentation. This method of debate challenges members and guests to formulate speeches based on solely prior knowledge and without extensive preparation. Speakers are also subject to questions from the audience and are limited to speeches of up to five minutes in length. [15] Each meeting of the Demosthenian Literary Society is run in accordance with Parliamentary Procedure as set out in Robert's Rules of Order. [16]

Officer Positions

After being active members for a designated amount of time and completing adequate service to the Society, members are eligible to run for officer positions. The Society has 13 officers: 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 year-long positions elected every Spring while the others are elected each semester. [15]

Faculty Advisors

These advisors are members of the University of Georgia faculty and serve as a liaisons between the University and the Society. [15] Notable faculty advisors who have greatly contributed to the Society include: Albert B. Saye and Dr. Cal Logue (1981- 1988).

Recent faculty advisors include:

  • Dr. Daniel Kapust (? - 2008)
  • Dr. John Murphy (2008- 2011)
  • Dr. John Knox (2011- 2017)
  • Professor Hatidža Mulić (2018- 2019)
  • Dr. Cassia Roth (2019- present)

Annual Programs and Traditions

All Night Meeting

On the Saturday that falls closest to the anniversary of the Society's founding, the All Night Meeting is hosted at Demosthenian Hall. The All Night Meeting lasts for twelve hours, from 7pm Saturday to 7am Sunday. Dinner is served and then 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. Each year at the All Night Meeting, current members are recognized for their service and devotion to the Society by being awarded with Speaker's Keys. [17] [18]

Hat Debate

Starting in 1995, the Thursday closest to Halloween has been designated as the date that the Demosthenian Literary Society hosts the annual Hat Debate. Members submit resolutions (usually of a humorous nature) and challenges (certain tasks people must complete during their speeches) before the program that are then put in a hat to be drawn from. Participants are called up one-by-one to the lecturn, pull out a resolution and/or challenge, and then must immediately present a speech in the affirmative while completing the drawn challenge.

Orations and Declamations

Once a year in early April, the Society hosts a program dedicated to presenting orations and declamations, speeches that are originally written by the presenter and those not written by the presenter, respectively. Members may compete in each category of prepared speech for an award of one speaker's point. The Judicial Council judges the orations and declamations and declares the winners at the following meeting.

Intersociety Debate

Each spring, the Demosthenian and the Phi Kappa Literary Societies hold a debate to highlight the oratory skills of the societies' best speakers. [15] Due to a change in relations between the two societies, the 2020 Intersociety Debate is being held between the Demosthenian Literary Society and the Georgia Debate Union. [19] Debate is usually held in the Hatton-Lovejoy courtroom at the University of Georgia School of Law. Judges are randomly selected for the debate from a pool of nominations submitted by members of both societies. [20]

Annual Intersociety Debate Results
Date Resolution

(Be it Resolved:)



2022 The establishment of private property on celestial bodies should be established via first possession. Phi Kappa (Negative)
2021 Debate not held due to Covid-19 pandemic.
2020 Debate not held due to Covid-19 pandemic.
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


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 The United States Constitution ought to be amended to limit the number of terms a member of congress can serve in his or her lifetime. 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 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

See also

Other Historic American Debate Societies



  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. ^ The Red and Black "Move over, men" March 5, 1970
  3. ^ "Minutes: November 1, 2015". Demosthenian Literary Society.[ permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "An Open Letter to President Obama". Demosthenian Literary Society. Archived from the original on 2013-02-05.
  5. ^ "'Demosthenia prevails:' Demosthenian Society passes resolution to secede from the U.S." The Red & Black.
  6. ^ Harris, Nate (August 25, 2017). "UGA Debate Society Takes Down Robert E. Lee Portrait". Flagpole. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  7. ^ Roll, Nick (August 28, 2017). "Confederate Round-Up". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  8. ^ Writer, Ashlyn Webb | Staff. "Demosthenian removes portrait of Robert E. Lee following debate". The Red and Black. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  9. ^ "DEMOSTHENIAN HALL". 2006-09-20. Archived from the original on 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  10. ^ "Demosthenian Hall - University of Georgia buildings drawn by Jill Leite". Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  11. ^ Demosthenian Literary Society. "Minutes, September 5, 1829". {{ cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= ( help)
  12. ^ a b Demosthenian Hall Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of Official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  13. ^ Minutes Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine of the Demosthenian Literary Society. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  14. ^ About us Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of the official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  15. ^ a b c d Constitution of the Demosthenian Literary Society[ permanent dead link], from the official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Speaker's Keys Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of the Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.
  18. ^ Speaker's Keys were briefly discontinued and not given out from the year 1997 to 2007.
  19. ^ Editor, Savannah Sicurella | Campus News. "Phi Kappa and Demosthenian literary societies end longstanding intersociety debate". The Red and Black. Retrieved 2020-02-04. {{ cite web}}: |last= has generic name ( help)
  20. ^ Demosthenian Literary Society; Phi Kappa Literary Society (2007). "The Intersociety Agreement of 2007". {{ cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= ( help)
  21. ^ Famous alumni Archived 2013-10-06 at the Wayback Machine section of official Demosthenian website. Last accessed 2012-03-27.

Further reading

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