The Demosthenian Literary Society was founded in 1803 as a haven for debate and has operated continuously for over 200 years. The society is named for the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes, who was known for his rhetoric and dedication to overcome a speech impediment. The society follows his example by participating in extemporaneous debate in Demosthenian Hall every Thursday. The Hall itself was constructed in 1824.
During the Civil War Demosthenian was used as a headquarters for occupying Union troops as their regimental headquarters.
After 167 years of male-only membership, the first female members of the Society were inducted on March 4, 1970. President Sherrill Watkins presided over the initiation of Kathy Conrad, a freshman from Atlanta, and Bebe Herring, a junior from Athens. By the late 1970s, female members were heavily active in the Society and held every office. Today, the Society has more female than male members.
Citing issues of student disenfranchisement within the UGA and U.S. political systems, the Society voted in 2012 to secede from the United States of America as the micronation ‘Demosthenia.’ This resolution was acknowledged as a move to raise the Society’s profile and to encourage lively debate.
In the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 20017, the society removed a portrait of Confederate general and honorary member Robert E. Lee from the building. The motion to remove the portrait passed unanimously, 27-0.