Indiana Teenager Wins National Robert G. Ingersoll Oratory Contest

Sarah Henry, 17, of Georgetown, IN captured the top prize in the third Robert G. Intergoll Oratory Contest held Sunday, June 30 in Washington, DC, an event co-sponsored by the American Humanist Association. The high school student won the top prize of $250 against 10 other contestants from as far away as Florida and Michigan.

“I think that this contest is a really good way to not only keep the ideas of Robert G. Ingersoll alive, but also expand those ideas into new groups and people,” Henry said. “It was a fabulous event with a ton of amazing people involved.”

Henry will be a senior at Floyd Central High School in southern Indiana this fall where she co-founded the school’s chapter of the Secular Student Alliance. She has been attending Camp Quest in Ohio for six years and will be attending Camp Quest Chesapeake this year. 

Steve Lowe of the Washington Area Secular Humanists is the event’s founder.

The 11 contestants competed by reading a selection from any of Ingersoll’s speeches.  Henry took first place by reading from “Improved Man.” Terence Madden of Anne Arbor, MI took second place reading from Ingersoll’s talk about Thomas Paine. Third place was won by Tya M. Pope from New Castle, DE who chose from two related speeches: “A Christmas Sermon” and “What I Want for Christmas.” Jenniffer Masterson from Washington, DC took fourth place reading a selection from Ingersoll’s “Suffrage Address.”

Cash prizes were awarded to the top four orators: First place, $250; second place, $150; third place, $100; fourth place, $50.

The panel of judges was made up of Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason and former executive director of the American Humanist Association, Jamila Bey, host of the “Sex, Politics And Religion Hour: SPAR With Jamila” radio program (Bey is also a member of the American Atheists board of directors), and District 29 Toastmasters Governor Monifa (Mo) Hamilton.

Robert G. Ingersoll was known as The Great Agnostic. The 19th century orator was an outspoken critic of religion, as well as an advocate for racial equality, birth control, women’s rights, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Shakespeare, free speech and voting rights for Washington, DC. Besides being a speaker who delivered over 1,200 public speeches to packed houses all over the country, he was a successful lawyer and Civil War veteran. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The contest is sponsored by the Washington Area Secular Humanists, The Center for Inquiry-DC, the American Humanist Association and the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, a project of the Council for Secular Humanism.

More photos from this year’s event can be found here (Photo Credit: Bruce Press).

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, welcomes the crowd.

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

Steve Lowe, Coordinator of the Robert G. Ingersoll Contest, kicks off the event.

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

Attendees pack the room for the contest.

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

Sarah Henry takes top prize for her recitation of Ingersoll’s “The Improved Man.”

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

Tya Pope takes 3rd place for her recitation of “A Christmas Sermon.”

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

Contest winners (L-R): Sarah Henry (1st), Terence Madden (2nd), Tya Pope (3rd), Jenniffer Masterson (4th)

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

All Contestants (L-R): (Back row) Donald, Ardell, Cody Smart ,Mike Schmidtmann, Terrence Madden; (Middle Row) Amelia Vogel, Jesse Christopherson, Charles Catania, Sarah Henry; (Seated) Carol Ardell, Tya Pope, Jenniffer Masterson

Photo Credit: Bruce Press

The 2013 Judges (L-R): Monifa (Mo) Hamilton, Jamila Bey, Fred Edwords