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Bourne on the Societies

Written By: Phillip Stone - Mar• 16•18

I wrote a piece on Prof. W. Raymond Bourne, class of 1923, recently, and since we have a literary society exhibit up right now, and I’m trying to feature some stories about that right now, I’m going to include a piece Professor Bourne wrote about the literary societies in the 1954 Wofford centennial edition of the Herald-Journal.

“When I first knew the college, in the fall of 1920 the societies met every Friday evening right after supper. Normally there would be the role call, discussion of business, and an oration or two, debate, and sometimes the reading of original compositions of varying kinds. Judges were named for each debate and a decision was rendered. At the end of the program, the critics offered comment on the quality of each performance.

“Sometimes a member assigned to speak by the program committee would be absent. If he had no acceptable excuse, he was fined it for non-performance of duty. In his absence, volunteers were called for, and if there were no volunteers, the president appointed someone to take his place. So those who value the opportunity got to speak to their hearts content. But the mood of 30 years earlier, when the meetings had lasted sometimes into the morning, it was gone, and the meetings were generally over by 9 PM.

“At this time, the societies controlled the three campus publications. Also the societies gate a few public performances in the chapel, notably the sophomore oration, and the general oration on February 22.

“As late as the early 20s, white tie and tails were required for formal public appearance in one of the contests. And while an occasional boy with only one pair of shoes to his name might appear in brown footwear, lapses of this kind were infrequent. The audience appeared in whole suits, with collar and tie.

“Today the publications board has to go down to the sophomore class to find editors, even for salaries. The Glee Club gives almost the only student public performances in the chapel, and it is entirely controlled by a faculty member, Professor Sam Moyer.

“So, in the course of a century, the college literary societies gave their opportunities for intellectual growth and a surface polish. They have passed, with their demands on time and attention, and have been replaced by other activities such as athletics, social fraternities, dances, marriage, and plain and ordinary sitting. The 20th century of wealth for everybody is well underway and all educational procedures are under survey.”

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