Upon close examination of the earliest yearbooks, it appears that HENRIETTA ORD AMES of Leon County was the first woman who participated in Florida State Debate. Ames served as Class President for three years and as the Argo Literary Editor representing the Platonic Debating Society. While the male-only debate society did recognize honorary membership for women, they did not have voting rights and did not participate in the commencement or anniversary debates. Thus, Ames’ name does not appear in the membership lists. However, she was a member of the Oratorical Society which was open to women and, in her senior year, she does appear in the center of the 1903 Platonic Debating Society photo.
In one yearbook segment entitled “About Some of Our College Students,” under the category “What We Believe,” Ames was described as “The New Woman.” Historians describe the idea of “The New Woman” as a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century embracing women’s move from the private to the public sphere, seeking education, employment, and enjoyment in public activities like bicycle riding, and, of course, public debate.*