The Phi Kappa Literary Society is a college literary society, located at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, and is one of the few active literary societies left in America. Founded in 1820, the society continues to meet every academic Thursday of the fall and spring semesters at 7 pm at Phi Kappa Hall on the University of Georgia's North Campus. The Phi Kappa Literary Society holds formal debates and a forum for creative writings and orations as well as poetry.
The society was founded by Joseph Henry Lumpkin, William Crabbe, Homer V. Howard, Stern Simmons, John G. Rutherford, and John D. Watkins. They formed the society after splitting from the Demosthenian Literary Society, dissatisfied with how the other society's meetings were being conducted.
As Phi Kappa grew larger, makeshift meeting places were no longer appropriate or useful. Through funding provided by member Alexander Stephens, the Phi Kappa Literary Society moved into its permanent residence at Phi Kappa Hall. Phi Kappa Hall was built at a cost of $5,000 and dedicated on July 5, 1836. It is the seventh-oldest building on the University of Georgia's campus, and the Phi Kappa Literary Society currently shares use of the building with the Georgia Debate Union.
The Phi Kappa Literary Society has disbanded and reformed many times in its history. The first occurrence was in 1863 due to student enlistment in the American Civil War, which left only five members remaining. Meetings resumed on January 5, 1866. The society flourished in the early 1900s, participating in numerous collegiate debate competitions as well as sending members to compete in international collegiate debate contests. However, a drop in student enrollment due to World War II caused the society to disband again in 1944, and an extremely polarized atmosphere in the society and the university as a whole pulled the Phi Kappa Literary Society apart, seemingly for the final time, in 1973.
After sporadic, unsuccessful attempts to revive Phi Kappa, in 1991, Stephanie Hendricks took an interest into the society after prompting from Thomas Peter Allen and was elected as its new president on January 31, 1991. Thirteen new members were inducted shortly thereafter, and the first meeting of the newly refounded society took place on February 14, 1991 in Phi Kappa Hall.
In order to become a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society, a University of Georgia student must petition the society for membership, which is a five-week process that culminates in the student delivering a petitioning speech before the society. The student must then be accepted by a vote of the society. Once a student is a full member of Phi Kappa, they must speak at least once every three weeks to maintain membership.
Each academic Thursday, Phi Kappa holds a pre-planned debate centered around a resolution in the format of "Be It Hereby Resolved." Two pre-selected speakers start off the debate with one speech in affirmation of the resolution and one in the negation. These speakers have seven minutes to deliver their speech while all subsequent speakers are limited to five minutes each. The president facilitates the debate, calling on each new speaker until the society is ready to vote. A majority vote of the society decides the winner of each debate. The society abides by Robert's Rules of Order for their meeting procedures.
The weekly main debate is followed by an open forum for creative writings and orations. In this section of the meeting, both members and guests can deliver any creative writings they may wish to share, pre-prepared speeches outside of the realms of debate, or extemporaneous speeches.
Each fall, Phi Kappa holds an Intrasociety Debate between active members and alumni. Active members and alumni form teams of five and prepare a debate based on a resolution, with about a month of preparation time. The resolution is chosen in alternating years by actives or alumni. One team speaks in affirmation of the resolution, and one team speaks in negation of it. The debate is separated into three parts: constructive, rebuttal, and summation. Upon conclusion of the debate, a panel of judges (also made up of active and alumni members) select the winner.
In the spring, Phi Kappa holds the Phi Kappa Declamation, wherein members aim to give their absolute best possible speech from a list of pre-selected topics. This is the most honored practice of the year, emphasizing impeccable rhetoric, writing, and floor presence of the speaker.
The Declamation was first introduced in 1994, shortly after the refounding of Phi Kappa. It was previously known as the Alexander Stephens Declamation until Phi Kappa members voted to rename the event in 2019.
The Phi Kappa Literary Society often collaborates with other on-campus and off-campus groups to hold special events. In 2013, Phi Kappa sponsored a debate between the Communist Party USA and the Libertarian Party of Georgia. They have also held a book discussion in collaboration with distinguished faculty members from the University of Georgia's philosophy department, and in 2011, members of Phi Kappa participated in a debate versus the renowned Oxford Union. The Phi Kappa Literary Society also maintains a close relationship with The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at UNC-Chapel Hill. Their closest tie to another student organization is their 200-year-long rivalry with the older Demosthenian Literary Society. Until 2019, each spring semester Phi Kappa would debate the rival society in the Intersociety Debate. However, in November 2019 the societies revised their longstanding intersociety agreement and eliminated the Intersociety Debate, ending its 28-year history until the agreement is renegotiated in 2022. The societies continue to meet for an Intersociety Meeting each fall.