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
Indiana University Office of University Archives and Records Management
1320 East Tenth Street
Herman B Wells Library E460
Bloomington, IN 47405-7000
Athenian Society (Indiana
Indiana University Athenian Society
records, 1830-1886, bulk 1840-1865
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.
This collection is open for research.
Advance notice is required.
Materials are in the public domain. For more information, contact the Indiana
[Item], Indiana University Athenian Society records, Collection C135, Office of
University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.
Processed by Lynn Gelfand and Brad Cook
Reprocessed by Ryan K. Lee
Completed in 2003.
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
adopted...in 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.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
IUCAT, the IU Libraries' online
catalog. Materials about related topics, persons or places can be found by searching the
catalog using these terms.
See also the Philomathean Society records, IU Archives
Collection C221 .
Administrative files, 1830-1886
Constitution and By-Laws,
Dec. 1845-Nov. 1846
Vol. 1, Dec. 1845-Nov. 1846
(2 complete leather-bound copies)
Vol. 1, nos. 1, 5, and 6
Announcements / Programs, 1839-1886