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Indiana University Athenian Society records, 1830-1886, bulk 1840-1865

A Guide to its records at the Indiana University Archives

Lynn Gelfand, Brad Cook, and Ryan K. Lee
Electronic finding aid encoded by Beth Benda

Summary Information

Indiana University Office of University Archives and Records Management
1320 East Tenth Street
Herman B Wells Library E460
Bloomington, IN 47405-7000
Phone: 812-855-1127

Athenian Society (Indiana University)

Indiana University Athenian Society records, 1830-1886,  bulk 1840-1865

Collection No.

2 cubic feet (3 boxes)

Materials are in English.

One of the two chief literary societies on campus, the Athenian Society was founded at Indiana University in 1830. Literary societies gave students practice in speaking and writing through regular orations, essays, and debates, as well as filling a social role. Collection consists of minutes, correspondence, publications, addresses, and announcements. The Publication series includes copies of the Athenian, a monthly periodical of writings submitted by members of the Athenian Society that were of "a high literary character," including what the editors considered "chaste and elevated literature." These span December 1845 through November 1846. Most prominent in the collection are the minutes from the weekly meeting of the Society.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.

Advance notice is required.

Acquisition Information
Accession 7181-7183
Usage Restrictions
Materials are in the public domain. For more information, contact the Indiana University Archivist.
Preferred Citation
[Item], Indiana University Athenian Society records, Collection C135, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.
Processing Information
Processed by Lynn Gelfand and Brad Cook

Reprocessed by Ryan K. Lee

Completed in 2003.

Administrative History
The Athenian Society, a student literary and oratory organization, was founded at Indiana University on February 12, 1830. It served as a training ground for students in such areas as public speaking, scholarly research, writing, debating, and parliamentary procedures. Its rival, the Philomathean Society, another literary and oratory group, was founded in 1831. At the height of their popularity in the 1850's, both societies contained memberships that, between the two, embraced almost the entire University student enrollment.

Both the Athenian Society and the Philomathean Society were born from an older student literary organization, the Henodelphisterian Society, established during the school's early Seminary period (1823-1828). The Henodelphisterian Society was founded by the school's first instructor, Baynard Rush Hall. The Henodelphisterians emphasized classical interests; members even assumed Greek and Roman names during meetings. However, with the transformation of Indiana State Seminary into Indiana College, the society found itself torn apart by rivalries between students native to Indiana and students from other states, and conflicts between Baynard Hall and Andrew Wylie, the school's first President. In 1830, nine students split from the Henodelphisterian Society to form the Athenian Society. Of the nine students, three were from Pennsylvania, two were from Kentucky, and four were from Indiana. Students remaining in the Henodelphisterian Society formed the Philomathean Society in 1831. Eventually, the relationship between the two literary societies developed into friendly, if sometimes sharp, rivalry. By the 1850s, both were large enough to dominate the intellectual and social life of Indiana University's student body. Athenian members met every Friday evening and frequently held public exhibitions where members would debate issues of scholarly or current interest.

However, by the mid 1880s, membership in both the Athenian and Philomathean societies were at low ebb. Scandals involving fist fights and plagiarism, as well as the introduction of Greek fraternities and specialized clubs (i.e. the Homeric Club, the Shakespeare Club, etc.) succeeded in drawing members away from the older literary societies. By 1887, the Athenian Society had dwindled to 15 members and the Philomathean Society to 20. Neither society is active today.

Scope and Content Note

The Athenian Society records span the period from the society’s founding in 1830 to 1886. The collection is organized into five series: Administrative files, Correspondence, Publications, Membership files, and Minutes.

The Administrative files series includes copies of the Athenian Oath; the Constitution and By-laws of the Athenian Society from 1870 and 1873; a pledge for the university (an oath of consecration to civic, military, and religious duty taken by ancient Greek Athenians at 18 years of age); and a pledge to Indiana, which is patterned after the pledge for the university. This series is arranged alphabetically.

The Correspondence series consist of two letters: one is dated September 29, 1842, to John R. Cravens thanking him for his address delivered before the society; the other, dated January 26, 1864, is to the Board of Trustees asking them to "...reconsider and rescind the resolutions regarding the Literary Societies connected with the University 1862." This series is arranged chronologically.

The Publications series consists of three sub-series: Addresses, The Athenian, and Announcements / Programs. Addresses include speeches delivered before the society by individuals such as Professor Alexander T. McGill of the Western Theological Seminary and Professor J.W. Scott of Miami University. This sub-series is arranged alphabetically by author. The Athenian sub-series consists of bound and loose copies of the first volume of this periodical, spanning from Dec. 1845-Nov. 1846. The Athenian was a monthly periodical of writings submitted by members of the Athenian Society that were of “a high literary character,” including what the editors considered “chaste and elevated literature.” The Announcements / Programs sub-series consist of exhibition and contest announcements and programs spanning from 1839-1885. This sub-series is arranged chronologically. Many of the addresses, exhibition, and contest announcements / programs state that they were also delivered or were exercises, respectively, of not only the Athenian Society, but also of the Philomathean Society.

The Membership series consists of material dealing with the membership of the Athenian Society. The first item of this series is the Athenian Roll, which is a ledger of the names of the society's members from 1830 to 1885, and includes such information as the student's place of residence, the date the student joined, the date the student left, and status at the time of leaving. The second item is the Catalogue of the Athenian Society, the official membership directory. This booklet includes the names of members from 1830 to 1858; additional information includes the members’ place of residence and occupation as of 1860. This series is arranged alphabetically.

The Minutes series consists of meeting minutes from the weekly meetings of the Athenian Society. This series consists of four leather-bound ledgers whose dates are 1852-1855, 1856-1865, 1865-1876, and 1876-1886. Volumes for 1856-1865 and 1865-1876 are oversized and stored separately from volumes for 1852-1855 and 1876-1886. Please refer to the folder listing for more details.


Arranged into five series: Administrative files, Correspondence, Publications, Membership files, and Minutes.

Related Material

See also the Philomathean Society records, IU Archives Collection C221 .

Series: Administrative files, 1830-1886 

Box 1 Athenian Oath, undated  [image]View item(s)

Constitution and By-Laws,

A pledge,

for the university, undated  [image]View item(s)

to Indiana, undated  [image]View item(s)

Series: Correspondence, 1842-1864 

Box 1 J. R. Cravens, 1842  [image]View item(s)

Indiana University Board of Trustees, 1864  [image]View item(s)

Series: Publications, 1830-1886 

Subseries: Addresses, 1838-1859 

Box 1 Blount, Brazillai M., 1859  [image]View item(s)

Dyer, Sidney, 1855  [image]View item(s)

Howard, Tilghman A., Esq., 1842  [image]View item(s)

Hughes, James, 1859  [image]View item(s)

McGill, Alexander T., 1846  [image]View item(s)

Scott, J. W., 1838  [image]View item(s)

Stewart, William, Esq., 1844  [image]View item(s)

Subseries: The Athenian, Dec. 1845-Nov. 1846 

Box 1 Vol. 1, Dec. 1845-Nov. 1846 

(2 complete leather-bound copies)

[image]View item(s)

Vol. 1, nos. 1, 5, and 6

(loose copies)

Subseries: Announcements / Programs, 1839-1886 

Box 1 1839-1866 

25 March 1839  [image]View item(s)

28 March 1842  [image]View item(s)

25 March 1845  [image]View item(s)

29 March 1847  [image]View item(s)

28 September 1847  [image]View item(s)

27 March 1848  [image]View item(s)

26 September 1848  [image]View item(s)

27 March 1849  [image]View item(s)

2 April 1850  [image]View item(s)

4 April 1853  [image]View item(s)

7 January 1854  [image]View item(s)

4 April 1854  [image]View item(s)

2 April 1855  [image]View item(s)

31 March 1856  [image]View item(s)

30 March 1857  [image]View item(s)

29 March 1858  [image]View item(s)

21 October 1858  [image]View item(s)

29 March 1859  [image]View item(s)

2 December 1859  [image]View item(s)

27 March 1860  [image]View item(s)

25 March 1861  [image]View item(s)

26 March 1862  [image]View item(s)

13 January 1865  [image]View item(s)

18 April 1865  [image]View item(s)

19 April 1866  [image]View item(s)


15 January 1867  [image]View item(s)

23 April 1867  [image]View item(s)

12 December 1867  [image]View item(s)

12 December 1867  [image]View item(s)

23 April 1868  [image]View item(s)

04 February 1868  [image]View item(s)

13 May 1869  [image]View item(s)

26 May 1870  [image]View item(s)

15 March 1871  [image]View item(s)

16 May 1871  [image]View item(s)

25 April 1872  [image]View item(s)

13 June 1872  [image]View item(s)

1 May 1873  [image]View item(s)

3 June 1873  [image]View item(s)

28 May 1874  [image]View item(s)

16 June 1874  [image]View item(s)

31 May 1875  [image]View item(s)

10 June 1875  [image]View item(s)

13 May 1876  [image]View item(s)

19 May 1876  [image]View item(s)

13 March 1877  [image]View item(s)

22 April 1880  [image]View item(s)

11 February 1884  [image]View item(s)

17 April 1885  [image]View item(s)

15 May 1885  [image]View item(s)

29 January 1886  [image]View item(s)

Series: Membership, 1830-1885 

Box 2 The Athenian Roll, 1830-1885  [image]View item(s)

The Catalogue of the Athenian Society, 1860  [image]View item(s)

Series: Minutes, 1852-1886 

Box 2 1852-1855  [image]View item(s)

Box 3 1856-1865  [image]View item(s)

Box 2 1876-1886  [image]View item(s)

Box 3 1865-1876  [image]View item(s)