Organized debating at Harvard dates from 1880, when the Harvard Union, intended to be the nucleus of a University Club like the Union of Oxford and Cambridge, was formed. In the next year the Wendell Phillips Club, soon changing its name to the Harvard Forum, came into existence. Besides these two clubs, open to all members of the University, except Freshmen, there was a separate club for the Freshmen. The competition for membership in the Union and the Forum seems to have been lively, the attendance at the meetings large, the debates interesting. But for some reason the Forum fell into decadence, and on March 23, 1898, it was combined with the Union, the new body taking the name of the Harvard University Debating Club, and being open to all except Freshmen and Sophomores. Simultaneously a class club was established for the Sophomores. Very soon after this what seemed to be a more practicable system was adopted; the University Debating Club was made a purely administrative body, membership being limited to men who had debated on a University team, and clubs were established for the Juniors and Seniors. The interclass debating series and the outside class debate came to be annual events.
In this general form, with changes of detail now and then, the system has existed till the present year. In the past month, however, an essential reorganization has taken place. The Junior and Senior clubs, having proved, as a rule, small and weakly bodies, have been abolished. To take their place, and at the same time to fill a new field, the University Debating Club, organized last night, has been established. This club is open to all members of the University except Freshmen and Sophomores. It will afford to Law School men, and men in other graduate departments of the University -- and most ex-University debaters come under one or the other of these descriptions--an opportunity for regular debating practice, and the presence of such men will react to stimulate, undergraduate debaters to greater excellence. The Freshman and Sophomore clubs, tested by time and found satisfactory, are retained. The administrative work of the University Debating Club will be assumed by the new University Debating Committee.
The purpose of the debating organization is not to create or maintain an interest in debating--real lasting interest in debating results from an appreciation of its value--but to give to the debating interest already existent the most efficient expression,--in other words, to accomplish the best work in the best way.
COACHING FOR UNIVERSITY DEBATES.
Able coaching must be regarded as an important factor, in the great success which the University debating teams have won. This is not to say that the members of the teams are looked upon as passive material, to be moulded by the coach according to his will. Such a point of view is utterly foreign to the Harvard system, which, on the contrary, strives to make the University debater fully dependent on his own discretion and best judgment, holding out to him as an ideal that he should know his subject so thoroughly as to be able to take part in a debate with Yale or Princeton with nothing committed to memory, with nothing rigidly predetermined, but with the whole question clear in his mind, every argument at his tongue's end, alert, ready to adapt his reasoning closely to that of his opponents. Indeed, to inculcate in him this ideal, and, more immediately, to direct his work so that time and energy may not be wasted,--are the functions of the coach. How well these two functions have been performed is shown by the continued successes of the Harvard teams, and by the nearer approximation, year by year, to the ideal of debating excellence held out. Prominent among the men who have thus assisted Harvard debating are: A. S. Hayes '91, who has coached the teams that have defeated Yale in the last two years, and will coach this year's team; A. P. Stone '93; F. W. Dallinger '93; W. S. Youngman '95; S. R. Wrightington '97; R. T. Parke '98; F. O. White '99; H. A. Yeomans '00.
DEBATING PRIZES AND REWARDS.
The University and the University Debating Club have under their control each year the award of a certain number of debating prizes.
In 1899 Mr. T. Jefferson Coolidge '50 gave the University the sum of 35,000, the income of which should be used to give a prize of $100 to the best speaker at each of the two series of trial debates for the choice of representatives in the annual Harvard-Yale and Harvard-Princeton debates.
In 1898 Baron Pierre de Coubertin established as a prize for debating the Pasteur medal. The conditions governing its award calls for a debate on some subject of contemporary. French politics, the subject to be approved by the French Department, which is instructed to award the medal to the best speaker in the prize debate.
The University Debating Club has reserved a fund for the purpose of giving cups to members of victorious class teams. Gold medals are also given to the members of successful intercollegiate teams.