Over the last several decades, formal forensic debate has led a somewhat checkered history at Williston. Last year a new Political Awareness Club presented several well-attended and well-argued, if informal, debates. And in 2013 members of the AP U.S. History class went all the way to the national We The People finals in Washington. So debate is currently alive and in reasonable health. But it doesn’t compare with what was arguably a golden age of debating, for roughly sixty years beginning around 1860.
There were two rival societies: Adelphi (“Brotherhood”), representing students from the Classical side of the curriculum; and Gamma Sigma (from the Greek initials for Socrates’ admonition to “Know Thyself”), drawing its membership from students in the Scientific program. The elder society, Adelphi, was founded in 1853, and was initially open to all students. But the growth of the Scientific program produced friction. The Classicals arrogated to themselves a tradition that as members of the intellectually superior division of the Seminary, all positions of leadership within Adelphi should devolve to them. Naturally the Scientifics objected. Unable either to achieve compromise or extract an appropriate apology, in 1870 they withdrew from Adelphi and founded their own organization. The rivalry continued unabated for decades, long after the initial slight was forgotten.
In March, 1881, an attempt at reconciliation resulted in the creation of the campus newspaper, The Willistonian, to be “published by the Societies of Williston Seminary.” Good feeling and cooperation lasted for exactly one issue, after which Adelphi published The Willistonian on its own. (The newspaper became independent of either society in 1894.) Continue reading