"[A]ctuated by a desire of improving ourselves in knowledge, eloquence and every accomplishment by which we may be the better prepared for any station in life."
Founding Mission Statement, 1822
Adapting its name from the Greek word meaning "to shake" or "to contend," the Enosinian Society was founded on March 6, 1822, by a group of 15 students as the debate and literary society of the new Columbian College. Taking full advantage of their location in the nation's capital, the society rapidly evolved into a dynamic organization combining civic engagement with debate, research and writing to create platforms for academic, civic and professional development. General Lafayette and his son, George Washington Lafayette, were the first honorary members the society inducted, followed by a veritable who's who in American politics: Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, and John Tyler, among others.
At its inception, the Enosinian Society dedicated itself promoting public dialogue and the promotion of useful knowledge via writing and debate. Because the only mode of mass communications in the mid-nineteenth century was the public address, the members of the Enosinian Society took special interest in promoting public speaking and many of its surviving publications are transcripts of speeches given to the assembled student body of the Columbian College. Surviving pamphlets include transcripts on the subject of aesthetics, D.C. culture, and various commencement speeches. In 1838, the group established a periodical, the Enosinian Bee, full of "light and witty reading" such as poems, editorials, and other ramblings of its members, in addition to more serious topics and essays. In all, it published over 1500 works, of which 15 remain in the Gelman Library. Debates often lasted until the early hours of the morning and the exchanges shaped articles for the Enosinian Bee and school newspaper.
When the rise of modern transportation in the middle of the twentieth century made intercollegiate debate competition easier and cheaper, the Enosinian Society shifted its focus from civic engagement and writing to concentrate on competitive intercollegiate debate tournaments. During this time, the society changed its name to "The George Washington University Debate Team" or "GWDebate" so as to be more easily identifiable at tournaments. (The Columbian College changed its name to The George Washington University in 1904.)
In 2012, GWDebate began reviving the Enosinian Society's approach of promoting student development using research, writing and debate as tools for civic engagement, scholarship and public service. This included changing our official name to "The George Washington Debate & Literary Society," reforming the Enosinian Society as the GWDebate alumni group, and reviving The Enosinian Bee as the society's annual newsletter. Ironically our decision to revive a literary tradition almost 200 years old was spurred by a desire to prepare our members to be effective citizens and professionals in the face of new political, social and economic realities, including the emergence of a global and highly competitive information economy and the development of new information technologies that are making possible new forms of research, writing and publication.