From the inception of Boston College, elocution and oratory skill were among the most important assets that the school actively cultivated in its students. The Prefect of Studies–or Dean–Robert Fulton, S.J., profoundly fostered the student interest in oratorical aptitude. Under his tutelage, the “Senior Debating Society” was officially founded in 1868, just four years after Fulton admitted the first students. By 1890, students renamed the organization in his honor as the Fulton Debating Society or, as more fondly known by the students, “the Fulton.” Topics of political, philosophical, and social intrigue were common to the debates of the club.The Fulton Prize Debate took place annually in Boston College Hall and attracted students and lay spectators from all over the city. The winner was crowned the best debater of the year and received a medal of gold. The prize was one of the highest honors that could be bestowed upon a Boston College student at the time. When Boston College moved from its South End residence to the Heights of Chestnut Hill in 1913, only one club–the Fulton Debating Society, naturally–received a room specific to its use in the campus’s first building. A century later, the debating room’s walls are still adorned with paintings of the world’s most famous orators and a list of all the past winners of the Fulton Prize Debate. After its first intercollegiate debate against Georgetown University in 1895, the Fulton competed against many notable institutions. Perhaps the most notable victory of the Fulton Debating Society came in 1928 against Harvard University before a sold-out Symphony Hall, holding an audience of almost 3,500. The spectacular and overwhelming victory against “the gentlemen from across the Charles” was hoped by The Heights to “remove much of the silly prejudice that unfortunately exists now in both institutions among certain groups.”
Unmatched in garnering of acclaim for the university in the 19th and early 20th centuries, debates lured crowds from all across Boston and teams from across the globe. The intercollegiate debates strengthened bonds and set a sturdy foundation with colleges across the country for future sporting matchups.
- Jenny Frese BC 2015 and Spring 2015 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit #WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.