Initiates into Toastmasters, all-campus honor society, are told that the organization is the second oldest of its classification at the University. Priority, they are advised, goes to Owls, though Owls became inactive shortly after World War I and has been unknown to undergraduate generations since that time. Thus far no advocate has come forward Page 1929to dispute the contention made by the members of Toastmasters.
Toastmasters came into existence in 1897. There was no formal launching of the society; it merely began in an informal way and grew to man's size. Early members gave to Paul A. Cowgill the right to the title of founder. Cowgill had been a student at Michigan State Normal College at Ypsilanti before entering the University, and there had gathered together a group of students who enjoyed making speeches after having partaken of a meal. Originally those "meals" had been the contents of boxes of delicacies from "home."
The scheme proved so enjoyable that when Cowgill entered the University he sought to perpetuate the idea. He was successful, for the informal gatherings which he engineered were relished by the participants. Formal organization was the natural consequence and Toastmasters was in full swing.
The society took a unique place on the campus. Though classified with class honor societies, it made little pretense to being other than a rather selfish, social organization. The members gathered regularly for a dinner. The appointed chairman of the evening took charge after the menu; announced topics for "toasts" only a few seconds before the member was to respond; and at the close of the toast program a "critic" made scathing comment on the after-dinner-speaking mannerisms of his fellows.
Toastmasters became, consequently, a valuable training ground for extemporaneous speaking. The meetings were enjoyable, for there was sought for membership the witty and the alert student. Alumni pride in membership in Toastmasters is general among those who have appeared on its rosters. This alumni pride resulted in the reviving of the club in 1934 after a period of inactivity between 1921 and that date.