September 2010

Literary Societies at PC

Our thanks to intern Stewart Self ’10, who wrote this entry on the literary societies.

What would you call a group of people that got together regularly and discussed, debated, and dispensed demerits? These days I’m not sure we have a name for a group like that! But in 1884 they were called Literary Societies. At PC we had two significant literary societies: the Eukosmian and the Philomathean. These societies had a variety of regular activities like publishing campus magazines via the Thornwell Orphanage Press, practicing oratory skills, and collecting books – the bulk of which were added to the PC library collection.

The Literary Societies took their debates very seriously. The Eukosmian Society even went so far as to declare its chief goal as “to craft eloquent speakers.” During debates, the Society members would critique their peers on the form and content of their speeches. Much like a modern Public Speaking class, they were expected to stand comfortably with their hands by their sides without fidgeting or moving around (a big problem with yours truly). They were also expected to have an adept knowledge of their topic so that they spoke with authority and didn’t flounder. We can see how critical the society members could be if we look at an excerpt from the Eukosmian Society minutes:

Mr. Wherry takes a very good stand but folds his hands behind his back instead of letting them hang loosely by his side. He enters into his subject as if he knows what he is talking about. Mr Wherry brings out some good points and shows a fair knowlege of his subject. He makes a good speech but much more could have been said about the subject.

The Philomathean Society kept clearly marked debate “score sheets” that addressed who the speaker was, what their topic was, and how they fared against their opponent. Once every year, each society would send a complement of debaters to a state oratorical contest.

As an interesting closing note – I would like to reproduce a list of misdemeanors that were recorded in the same Eukosmian minutes as above. Before I do, however, I’d like to point out that the Philomathean Society actually charged their members money for each misdemeanor. The impressive list of these demerits includes (but is not limited to): chewing, sitting in an ungraceful position, disturbing the Society with trivial matters, speaking without recognition, making no effort to speak for two minutes, disturbing Society by “shaking a doll’s head,” leaning back in the chair, and leaning forward in the chair.

The Eukosmian Society was founded in 1884 and was the first literary society at Presbyterian. The Philomathean Society was founded 10 years later in 1894. The literary societies phased out in the early 1920s to make room for fraternities.

The Eukosmian Society in 1912

The Eukosmian Society in 1912