Athena Literary Society
The first women's debating society at the University owes its existence to the inspiration of Vera Andrus ('19, A.M. '21). Originally called the Girls' Oratorical League, it was organized with twenty charter members on the evening of November 5, 1917, which was the day that the state of New York voted for woman suffrage by a majority of ninety-four thousand. A few weeks later the name was changed to Athena Literary Society. The zeal of Thomas C. Trueblood, then Professor of Oratory and in charge of the public speaking instruction, and that of Ray K. Immel, Instructor in Oratory, brought about recognition of the society's charter by the University.
The Athena Literary Society met weekly during the school year — first in the old Alpha Nu room in University Hall, then in Barbour Gymnasium, later in Room 302, University Hall, and finally in the Athena room on the fourth floor of Angell Hall. Occasionally, meetings of the society were adjourned in order to attend lectures or recitals by famous speakers or artists such as Ethel Leginska, Professor Trueblood, William Jennings Bryan, Catherine Breshkovsky, and Jane Addams.
The threefold purpose of the organization was to provide a practice forum for public speaking, a society through which women could try out for intercollegiate debates (in 1917 all debate tryouts were held through Adelphi and Alpha Nu), and for the study of parliamentary usage.
The early history of the Athena Literary Society is replete with "first times." Its members attended a meeting of the Adelphi House of Representatives and a meeting of Alpha Nu in December, 1917, the first times that women had been admitted to the sessions of either group. In the same month three Athena members, Victoria Adams, Vera Andrus, and Ruth Huston, tried out in Adelphi for the annual debate of the Midwest Debate League on the cabinet-parliamentary form of government for the United States. This was the first time women had tried out for the varsity debate squad. In May, 1918, the first woman timekeeper in University debate circles was furnished by the Athena Literary Society, and in the same month the society participated actively in the oratorical elections, hitherto an exclusively masculine affair.
The example of the Athena Literary Society led to the founding of the Portia Literary Society in 1923 and to the founding of five similar organizations at other universities, including Delta Chapter at South Dakota in 1931. From 1924 to 1931, Athena and Portia held an annual series of debates for the Lillian B. Huston trophy, which was won permanently by Athena.
A few subjects of debate indicate how closely Athena women followed the trend of the times. The subject in 1918 was Page 1885"Woman Suffrage and Democracy"; in 1921, "The Kansas Industrial Plan"; in 1922, "Merchant-Marine Subsidy"; in 1924, "The Bok Peace Plan"; in 1926, "United States Claims in China"; and in 1929, "The Emergence of Women from the Home" and "The University Auto Ban."