Bailey Oratorical Contest – public event
The Bailey Oratorical Contest, the oldest academic tradition at Juniata, is a public debate featuring students giving brief speeches, while a panel judges a winner and places. Honorable Thomas F. Bailey, President Judge of the Twentieth Judicial District from 1916 to 1936, and his mother Letitia Fisher Bailey founded the Bailey Oratorical Contest in 1909. They established the Bailey Oratorical Contest in honor of John M. Bailey after his death, Thomas’s father and Letitia’s husband. He also served as President Judge of the Twentieth Judicial District from 1896-1903. The first competition took place on May 19, 1910. In the beginning, the first place winner received $25 and second place received $15.
Formal Debates have been an important part of Juniata College student life since 1877. In the early 1900s, speech contests were extremely popular and having cash prizes helped. Juniata College Intercollegiate Prohibition Association held public speaking contests in 1904, but only for their members. The winner of that oratorical contest went to the state competition to represent Juniata. At that time Juniata students dominated the state competition for thirty years. Between the years 1953-1990, the Bailey wasn’t considered a contest but instead it was an award that was given periodically. It was in 1990, during President Robert Neff’s term, that this academic tradition was revitalized and became what we know today. Before 1990, only students in Clayton Briggs and Doris Goering’s public speaking class could participant in the Bailey. This was before Juniata College created the Communication Department and public speaking classes were part of the English Department. President Neff hoped to rebuild the awarding winning Debate Team that existed during the early 1900’s. Realizing how expensive and also how much traveling and weekends go along with having a debate team, the Communication Department chose to focus on the Bailey. With the help of Colonel Sedgley and Elizabeth Thornbury, a substantial budget was established and the Bailey Oratorical Speech Contest was re-opened to all students. Since 1990, the Communication Department has been in charge of the Bailey.
Dr. Donna Weimer, chair of the Communication Department, has oversight of the Bailey Oratorical Contest with the help of her department. The Bailey provides an opportunity for students to be able to speak on current topics that are chosen each year. For example, the topic for the 2014 Bailey is derived from Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech commemorating its fiftieth anniversary.
The Bailey Oratorical Contest is still popular today with many students participating from all backgrounds and all POEs. There is a single topic or question presented to the students. The purpose of the speech is to be persuasive and the requirement of the speech is to be between six to eight minutes long. The average number of students range from about forty to fifty who sign up to participate. There is a preliminary round held with three judges, who have some training in public speaking. From the preliminary round seven finalists are chosen to deliver their speech to a new set of judges, often returning alums
The winner receives a monetary prize of $1,000 for first place; second place, $500 and third place, $300. Also, the first place winner’s name is inscribed on the antique Loving Cup displayed in the Ellis Hall lobby. Judge Thomas Bailey’s son-in-law, the Colonel Sedgley Thornbury and his wife Elizabeth Bailey Thornbury contributed to an endowment, which provides a Chair in Communication as well as a scholarship for students. Thomas Thornbury, the son of Sedgley and Elizabeth, continues this tradition of generosity to Juniata students.
Current Winners of the Bailey Oratorical Contest (1990 to Present):
1990, Brian Simpson
1991, Sonya Yoder
1992, Ginger Bryant
1993, Deborah Windhorst
1994, Jane Croyle
1995, Jane Croyle and Steven McElroy
1996, Joann Kester
1997, Christopher Scalia
1998, Heather Kidder
1999, Malingsoe Kambandu and Sarah Worley
2000, Jeffrey Bellomo and Brian Olsen
2001, Joshua Hicks
2002, Leigh Ann Suhrie
2003, Michelle Calka
2004, Gretchen Stull
2005, Eli Finberg
2006, Magda Sarnowska
2007, Lisa Detweiler
2008, Dustin Gee
2009, Justin Doutrich
2010, Vanessa Guerra
2011, Jewel Daniels
2012, Elise Mihranian
2013, Reinaldo Liem
2014, Reinaldo Liem
2015, Julia McMurry
2016, Julia McMurry
Kayla Morgan ‘16
Eastman, Frank M. Court of Lawyers of Pennsylvania: A History 1623-1923. New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1922; University of California, California Digital Library. https://archive.org/details/courtslawyersofp03east.
Ellis, Charles Calvert. Juniata College: The History of Seventy Years (1876-1946). Elgin: Brethren Pub. House, 1947, 76-8.
Juniata College. “The Bailey Oratorical Contest.” Accessed January 30, 2014. http://jcsites.juniata.edu/faculty/weimer/bailey.html.
Kaylor Jr., Earl C. Truth Sets Free: A Centennial History of Juniata College, 1876-1976. New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1977, 166.
Weimer, Donna. Interview with the author, April 07, 2014.