Bates celebrates 100 years of debate with weekend program

One of the most successful and distinguished debate programs at any American college or university is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month with a series of newsworthy events.
The program, which has produced such eminent Americans as statesman Edmund S. Muskie, civil-rights pioneer Benjamin Mays and suffragist Ella Knowles, is marking its 100 years with a weekend of debate and discussions from Sept. 20 through 22 on the Bates campus. It’s an opportunity to connect the past, present and future of this discipline that has proved so important in the development of hundreds of notable Bates alumni.

Among the events slated for the weekend is a major international debate featuring university teams from around the world. Bates was the first American college to engage in international debate, as well as the first to have women and African Americans as varsity debaters.

The celebration coincides with the publication of a book on Bates debate history, Stanton’s Elm. The title refers both to a historic tree on the Bates campus and the legacy of Professor Jonathan Y. Stanton, who founded the Bates debate program in 1896.

Bates graduates who debated as undergraduates included:

* Edmund S. Muskie ’36, U.S. senator and secretary of state, and candidate for president and vice president;
* Benjamin E. Mays ’20, longtime president of Morehouse College and mentor to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.;
* Ella Knowles, an 1884 graduate who, even before debate was a recognized activity at the college, was a member of one of the (largely male) debating societies and became one of the nation’s highest-ranking woman public officials as assistant attorney general of Montana;
* Erwin Dain ÒSpike” Canham ’25, respected editor of the Christian Science Monitor.

“The very definition of our college, its history and its demanding culture, has much to do with the achievements of the Bates debate program,” said Donald W. Harward, president of Bates. “From its nineteenth-century beginnings to its emergence early in the twentieth century as a leader in international debate, the program’s current successes and sustained prestige have blossomed under Robert J. Branham, professor of rhetoric.”

Branham and many of the college’s debate alumni, as well as current undergraduates, will be on hand to comment on the significance of debate in their lives. On display will be memorabilia, photos and programs from the past 100 years, up to the college’s recent high finishes in the North American and world championships.

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