Bailey Oratorical 2020

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

2017, Anh Ha

2018, Alex Jones

2019, Taylor Hallabuk

2020, Rachel DesFosses

2021, Juliana Slater


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.

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.

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.