The following section of the website is an ongoing archive of Western’s history of competitive speech and debate. The earliest extant records of competitive public speaking on The Hill begin with the 1885 intramural Ogden and Robinson oratorical competitions. Intercollegiate competition began in 1910–first with oratory and then debate–a regular debate team developed in 1934-35; and a competitive body competing in debate, oratory, and other events began in 1950-51. Since 1934, such competition 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.”
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.
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