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Literary Societies Records

 Collection
Identifier: 08-001

Scope and Contents

Records of the Wheaton College literary societies, the earliest student-led groups at the College. The collection comprises meeting minutes, financial records, programs, incoporation records, constitutions, by-law documents, and a minor amount of correspondence. A few of the societies also published literary magazines, a small selection of which appear in the collection, including the Beltonian Review (1859-1861), Knights Digest (1940), and the Evening Star (1877).

The early literary societies organized the first lending libraries on Wheaton's campus, active from the late 1850s through the 1870s. Records of the library collection and circulation are held in the series for the Beltionian Literary Society and the Literary Union.

The majority of records in the collection are bound ledgers or minute books, some of which also include loose letters, programs, and other documents.

Dates

  • 1854-1959

Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions for documents in this record group.

Biographical / Historical

From the late eighteenth-century to World War II, literary societies were an important part of Wheaton social life. Societies, often with Latin-based names, were student-led organizations that offered a space for creative thinking, debate, and leadership development. For Wheaton College these societies began just as they were declining in the general culture. After the Civil War, literary societies were replaced on many campuses with fraternities and sororities, which were not allowed at Wheaton because of their history as secret oath-bound organizations.

Wheaton's first literary society, the Beltionians, was chartered by the State of Illinois in 1856, the oldest such society in the state. Originally organized as a co-ed group under the name Philomathean in 1854, President Jonathan Blanchard insisted on the separation of the societies into male and female groups, due in part to concern about the habitual lateness of the society meetings. Wheaton's first women's literary society, the Aelionians, was founded in 1862. Although this separation engendered continued protest by the students throughout the 1860s, most of the subsequent societies continued to be seperated by gender. However, cooperation between literary societies developed through the Literary Union and co-ed "all society" or "brother-sister lit" events were regularly held throughout the academic year.

At Wheaton, societies had their own halls where they met and developed their own governance and administrative structures. An evening would often include debate, speeches, poetry readings, and other literary work. Topics included Classical history, religion, ethics, politics, and current events. The debates often covered controversial topics with the discussion of slavery being a regular topic in Wheaton's early years.

The early societies were also the source of the first drama and theater on campus, the first student lending libraries, and the first college newspaper, Voice of our Young Folks (1868).

At their height during the 1920s and 1930s, Wheaton had more than half a dozen societies, with participation at or above 80 percent of the student body. The disruption in student life created by World War II, as well as increased access to Chicago and other off-campus entertainment, development of the College Union, and growth of the curriculum led to a sharp decline in literary society attendance through the 1940s and 1950s. Due to this declining interest and attendance, all the remaining societies disbanded within a year or so of each other in 1958-1959.

Wheaton College Literary Societies:

Aelioian Literary Society (Aels), 1862-1958
Women's society, sister society to the Beltonians
"To be rather than to seem"
Colors: Yellow/White


Aristonian Literary Society (Arrows), 1870 (disbanded in 1880s, reformed 1927)
Men's society, brother society to the Boethallians
Colors: Purple/Gold


Beltionian Literary Society (Belts), 1856-1958
Men's society, brother society to the Aelioians
"Striving for greater and better
Colors: Crimson


Boethallian Literary Society (Bows), 1927-1958
Women's society, sister society to the Aristonians
"Seize the opportunity"
Colors: Blue/Ivory


Chestomathean Literary Society, 1873-1887
Women's society, sister society to the Excelsiors


Epinoian Literary Society, 1930
Co-ed Wheaton Academy Society


Epidonian Literary Society, 1870
Men's society (Founded out of the Beltonians)


Excelsior Literary Society (Celts), 1872-1959
Men's society, brother society to the Chrestomatheans and then the Philalethians


Kreitonian Literary Society, 1895
Co-ed/men's Wheaton Academy Society


Ladosian Literary Society (Ladies), 1935-1959
Women's society
"Seek ye the best gifts"
Colors: Navy/White


Literary Union, 1880s

Naitermian Literary Society (Knights), 1936-1958
Men's society
"Dwellers on the heights"


Pentastrian Society, 1898
Co-ed society


Philadelphian Literary Society, 1876
Men's society


Philalethian Literary Society, 1893-1958
Women's society, sister society to Excelsior
"From possibility to achievement"
Colors: Nile green/White


Tiadeathean Literary Society (Tau Delts), 1946-1958
Women's society
"Ever to seek that which is honorable, beautiful and brightest"


Illinois Institute Literary Societies:

Ophelmensian Literary Society, 1858

Philomathean Literary Society, 1854 (Became the Beltonians in 1856)

Students Lyceum, 1857-1860
Men's society, rival to the Beltonians











Extent

37 Boxes

13.3 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English