From the Archives

History, documents, and photos

Literary Societies

Written By: Phillip Stone - Mar• 11•18
Literary Societies of Wofford College

Exhibit poster, based on a literary society presentation from 1885

This spring, the library’s archives and special collections are presenting an exhibit on the history of Wofford’s literary societies.

Within two months after Wofford opened in August 1854, eight students gathered to form a literary society, a group that would help them practice their oratorical and debating skills. They chose the name Calhoun Literary Society as a way of honoring South Carolina’s recently deceased Senator John C. Calhoun. They developed a constitution and bylaws and began holding weekly meetings.

Four years later, a second society, the Preston Literary Society, formed to meet the needs of a growing student body. A number of Calhoun Society members joined to help form the second society.

Much of the college’s co-curricular life revolved around the societies. By the 1870s, the faculty thought they were so important that they required students to join one of them. The societies helped start three student publications between 1889 and 1915 and helped select the leadership for each staff. They began collecting libraries for their members, and by 1894, they handed their libraries over to the college. Many of their books are still part of the college library collection today. (While most are in special collections, we’re finding a few that are actually in our circulating collection!)   They also commissioned portraits of notable individuals related to the societies or the college. Many of those portraits are now part of the permanent art collection.

Eventually, student body growth saw a third society, the Carlisle, formed in 1905, and a fourth, the Snyder, in 1920. The heyday of the societies, however, was in the past, and gradually, students began to lose interest in their activities. By 1935, the college had made membership mandatory only for freshmen, and soon after, dropped even that rule. A series of mergers led, by 1951, to the existence of only one society, and even it ceased its activities by 1952.

The exhibit will be up in the Sandor Teszler Library gallery through the end of the spring semester, and I’ll be giving a gallery talk on March 22 at 4:00. And I’ll also be adding some more information about specific topics related to the societies in the next few weeks on the blog.

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