These are the archives of Western’s history of competitive speech and debate. It would be a mistake to consider it a history of the forensic team, as competition in oratory and debate are not exclusive to that one body. Additionally, it is also an anachronism. There was no forensic team in 1910, when Lula Wade won an intramural oratorical contest. Each student is instead part of their own story, understood only in its own context, like a snapshot. While each snapshot can be strung together into a narrative, one must keep in mind that the narrative is a construction. As a narrative, then, one could describe the story of competitive speech and debate on The Hill as the following. The earliest known records of competitive public speaking on The Hill begin with the 1885 intramural Ogden and Robinson oratorical competitions. The normal school also began intramural oratory by 1899; regularly by 1910. Intercollegiate competition began in 1910–first with oratory and then debate–as the normal school moved up onto The Hill, merging with the women’s college and joining Ogden College. A regular debate team and annual competition in oratory–separately, not as a team–developed in 1934-35, but debate dissolved in 1940. 1950, however, marked the creation of a permanent competitive body competing in all three of the current genres of forensic competition: debate, oratory, and the interpretation of literature. Interpretation events were not common, however, at the tournaments at which Western competed until the very early 1970s, following a growing trend in the academic study of the interpretation of literature. Since 1934, competition in speech and debate was interrupted only by the Second World War and the Reagan Recession.
A note on procedure
Regarding historical practice, first, there are gaps in our knowledge which could lead a reader to misplaced conclusions. It may likely have been lack of access to sources which shaped the mistaken claim in the 1974 forensic team flyer–available below–that the team was formed in 1924.1 Drawing conclusions from a lack of information is problematic, but at times necessary. The 1974 team flyer offers another lesson: secondary historical sources, such as this website, should always be treated with skepticism. This is a repository for information, but a serious researcher should not settle with this work. Third, the scope for this project is best declared “the history of competitive speech and debate on The Hill.” These archives do not include contests for groups primarily engaged in other activity, such as Future Farmers of America or 4-H. The archives also mostly overlook non-competitive speech and debate (e.g.: Green River Readers of the 1970s). They also constrain our claimed heritage to Ogden College for Men, Potter College for Young Ladies, and the Western Kentucky State Normal School & Teacher’s College, but only partially Bowling Green Business University.2 Finally, note that the terms and titles used within are contemporaneous, so you will find that women debaters in 1926 were in the “Girls Debating Club.” Note, however, that this policy changes after roughly the 2010 point, as some have asked to use only their current names. This means that some names found will not be reflected in the documents of the time.
Each decadal page below is subdivided into annums, with a team roster and, where applicable, team photos. Some annual subsections offer more information than others, including extra photographs, intra-team banquet awards by 1973, and team awards highlights (state and national). If you prefer to access the awards information in a single sheet, that can be accessed at the WKU Forensic Team Awards Archives. This section also includes the digital archives of the memorial cinder blocks of Garrett Conference Center room 201. These blocks, painted by some team members between 2006 and 2013 can be found on the Memorial Blocks page, and in the annual subsections for the years 2006 through 2013.
For the sake of transparency, these archives were constructed by WKU Forensic Team alumnus and staff-member Chris Chandler, with the help of the WKU Archives, over the 2015-16 school year. The WKU Archives staff, namely Suellyn Lathrop and April McCauley, proved invaluable in quadrupling the content of this project from its original 2005 iteration. And content continues to be added and updated. Should any reader wish to update or amend the content within, please email the Director of Forensics at WKU. If you’ve primary sources (photographs, event programs, or letters) to add to the archives, please do not send them to the forensic team, but instead contact the WKU Archives. The university is always eager to collect and store the documents which record its history.
1. The year 1924 only appears to coincide with the first long-term school year book; Catalog Number UA1C9.987, “Forensics at WKU Broadside,” WKU Archives, accessed 3 September 2014, URL: http://westernkentuckyuniversity.pastperfectonline.com/photo/DD43F284-0877-46E0-991C-232334811410