The Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education

1837 - 1914

Phi Gamma House
Emory University was founded in Covington, Georgia, on a campus known as Oxford in 1837. That year the Phi Gamma Literary Society (Phi Gamma house pictured left) was formed followed two years later by the Ignatius Few Literary Society. Modeled after the literary societies of British Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, the Phi Gamma and Few Societies were organized around the practice of the forensic and literary arts. Students in these societies held weekly debates in their halls on the old Oxford campus. All students attended the debates, and diaries of the day describe the subjects and content of some of these events.

1914 - 1950

Nolan A. Goodyear and Debate Images from the 1920s
Emory relocated to its current campus in 1914, and the literary societies continued their tradition of public debates. Under the direction of Theology and Speech Professor Nolan A. Goodyear (pictured left), an intercollegiate debating team emerged from the weekly meetings of the societies.

The decade from 1925 to 1935 was a golden era for debate at Emory. The team competed successfully against its college rivals at Duke, Princeton, and Harvard. Teams from British Universities, Oxford, Ireland, London, and Cambridge visited the campus almost every year to participate in audience debates that filled the spacious Glenn Memorial sanctuary.

During World War II, travel restrictions limited the intercollegiate dimension of debate. Professor Goodyear retired, and the literary societies dissolved. After the war, the debate team was revived under assistant professor of speech George A. Neely. The United States Military Academy also began to host the first national collegiate debate championship tournament known as the National Debate Tournament or N.D.T.

1950 - 1972

Glenn Pelham Photo
In 1950, Alben W. Barkley, a graduate of Emory debate and former United States Vice-President, granted permission to the Emory debaters to name the debate team, the Barkley Forum. In 1951 the Barkley Forum hosted its first high school debate tournament, a tournament first won by Woodlawn High School of Georgia. In 1959, Cairo High School, coached by Glenn Pelham, won the Barkley Forum for High Schools.

In 1961, the Barkley Forum membership asked the same Glenn Pelham, who would also serve two terms in the Georgia State Senate, to coach the Emory University debate team. He accepted, and the Barkley Forum went on to become one of the most successful debating organizations in the country. In 1967, Emory won its first national title in academic debate when Susan Cahoon, Mark Frankel, Joe Longino, and Bill McDaniel brought home the DSR-TKA national championship. Since 1967, Emory debate has won over twenty national championships.

1972 - 2014

1970 Yearbook Debate Page Image of Melissa Wade
In 1972, Glenn Pelham retired and one of his most successful debaters, a third seed at the National Debate Tournament, became Director of the Barkley Forum. Melissa Maxcy Wade took over the program from her mentor and began a new era in debate at Emory. The Wade era has seen the Barkley Forum grow in membership, achieve record-setting success, and expand community service to unparalleled heights.

2014 - Present

In 2006 Emory Board of Trustees supported Barkley Forum’s work towards a Center for Debate Education at Emory. After a period of academic assessment, scholarship, engaged learning, and fundraising the work was realized with the establishment of the Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education in 2014.