Junior Oratorical Contest (1836-1939)

Junior Oratorical Contest Program

The Junior Oratory was a cherished event that for over a hundred years served as part of the Commencement week ceremonies at Dickinson. Earliest records indicate that this contest, first titled the "Junior Exhibition," occurred on July 20, 1836. The first four oratories were on American Indians, the topic "The destruction of our form of government is not to be inferred from the examples of former republics," Chivalry, and Poland. These four set the stage for future oratory topics that focused on domestic issues, the American government, the qualities of man, and foreign relations. The winner and the runner up received gold and silver medals, respectfully.

Up until 1862 the awards were named after John Grigg, Esquire of Philadelphia. When his funding ran out the medals were renamed in honor of the new donor, Daniel Pierson, Esquire of Newark, New Jersey. During the Civil War the oratories became hotbeds for campus opinion and became popular enough to spawn two parodies, in 1863 and 1864. The oratorical contests were generally held in the Sentinel Opera House until they moved to Bosler Hall in 1888. The contests consisted of an opening prayer as well as musical interludes between contestants, usually six to eight in number, and concluded with a benediction. As the end of the nineteenth century approached, benediction, prayer, and music all began to fade from the contest. The contest itself began to lose popularity and declined along with the College's literary societies, the Belles Lettres and Union Philosophical.

In 1910 the Junior Oratorical Contest joined with the Belles Lettres' Sophomore Oratory Contest, and appeared with only three contestants. The College Catalog reports that the last contest took place in 1938, and the 1939 catalog reports no contest was held. From then on there is no mention of the Pierson Award in any College Catalog; the one hundred and six year tradition faded out of Dickinson life.

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Dickinson College Archives
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