A History of Literary Societies at Hanover College

Suzanne M. Austgen

(1)Although Hanover Academy was established with the primary objective of providing men for the Presbyterian ministry [1], the institution recognized from its inception the importance of providing students with a solid education in literature, philosophy, and oration. An examination of the Academy's catalogue and first two curricular plans reveals the early emphasis placed on these areas of study, and thus is crucial in understanding the development of not only the Acadey at large, but of the societies that were to become on of its most vital features. The emergence in 1830 of literary societies, which played an important role in the life of the College for almost one hundred years until falling prey to other campus organizations, was not only a natural extension of the Academy's early objectives, but also provided students with the opportunity for self-government.

On November 25, 1830, the trustees of Hanover Academy established the following course of instruction:

Preparatory Department-English, Latin, and Greek Gramars, Wair's Latin Syntax, Caesar's Commentaries, Virgil's Ecologues, Bucolics and Aeneid, Cicero's Orations, Collectanea Graeca Minora, Modern Geography and Arithmetic.

Freshman Class, First Session-Roman Antiquities commenced, Sallust, Graeca Majora, Cyropedia and Anabasis, Algebra and English Composition.

Freshman Class, Second Session-Neilson's Greek Exercises, Roman Antiquities finished, Virgil's Georgics, Horace's Odes, Graeca Majora-Theophrastus, Polycenus, Herodotus, Geometry and English Composition.

Sophomore Class, First Session-Grecian Antiquities commenced, Horace finished, Graeca Majora continued, Plain Trigonometry, Mensuration of Heights and Distances, Surveying, Navigation, Application of Algebra to Geometry and Conic Sections, English Composition.

Sophomore Class, Second Session-Dicero de officus-de-Senectuta-de Anucitia, Spherical Trigonometry, Projections, Dialling, Leveling, Nautical Astronomy, First Volume of Graeca Majora finished, Second begun, Antiquities finished, English Composition.

Junior Class, First Session-Graeca Majora Continued, Cicero de Oratore, Rhetoric, Natural Philosophy, English Composition.

(2)Junior Class, Second Session-Graeca Majora continued, Cicero de Oratore finished, Astronomy and Chemistry, English Composition, Ancient and Modern History. [2]

On September 24, 1832, the original curriculum was replaced by a similar course of study adopted from Miami University. The new curriculum placed even greater emphasis on the study of classical literature, philosophy, and oration, specifying that "Graeca Majora" was to include such topics as "Heroic Poets," "Orators," "Bucolic Poetry," "Philosophers and Critics," "Tragic Poetry," and "Lyric Poetry." [3] Appearing in Hanover Academy's first annual catalogue under the "Statement of the Course of Instruction," in January, 1833, the new curriculum was followed by the additional information that "During the whole course there are weekly exercises in reading, speaking and composition." [4]

As Dr. John Finley Crowe states in his Manuscript for a History of Hanover College, the first literary societies at Hanover began on December 2, 1830, when the students of Hanover Academy decided to divide themselves into two societies. A committee was appointed to make the division in order to ensure that talent was equally distributed between the two, and the Union and Philosophronian Literary Societies were born. [5]

The January 8, 1836 Constitution of the Union Literary Society, the first version available in the College archives, has the following preamble:

Sensible of the great importance of improving the intellectual faculties with which our creator has endowed us; and considering the native tendency of all the liberal arts and sciences to refine, elevate, and expand the mind of man, and prepare him for the fulfillment of his high destiny as a rational being, We, whose names are hereunto affixed, have formed ourselves into a society for the Cultivation of Polite Learning; and for our good government have adopted the following Constitution. [6]

This preamble suggests the following: First, that the society viewed its existence as an extension of a Hanover liberal arts education; [7] and second, as seen in the language of "have formed ourselves into a society... and for our good government have adopted the following constitution," that self-government was an inherent aspect of the Union Literary Society.

(3)The preamble of what is presumed to be the first version of the Constitution of the Philosophronian Society is both briefer and more general than that of the Union Constitution: [8] "For the purpose of mutual improvement we students of Hanover Academy agree to form ourselves into a Literary Society to be governed by the following Constitution." [9] Although the preamble of the Philosophronian Constitution does not clearly identify itself with the Academy's curriculum, another part of the Constitution, Section 2, Article 1, does just that, stating, "The exercises of the society shall be Declaiming, Reading, Composition, Criticism, Forensic Discussion, and such other business as may be deemed expedient." [10] By providing for such exercises in its Constitution, the Philosophronian Society demonstrated its strong ties to the Academy's objective of educating students in literature, philosophy, and oration as seen in its first two curriculum guides.

In its wording of "we students of Hanover Academy agree to form ourselves into a Literary Society," the Philosophronian Constitution's preamble, like that of the Union Constitution, established self-government as a characteristic inherent in the society's existence. While the scholarly objectives of Hanover's first two literary societies were an extension of the Academy's curricular goals, the Union and the Philosophronian's notion of self-government provided students with an opportunity not available within the Academy at large. As the trustees and faculty said of the Academy's students, "They are taught to obey that they may be prepared to command." [11] The literary societies, however, provided practical experience in both obeying and commanding. The Union and the Philosophronian, as well as other societies to follow them, demanded that strict codes of behavior and parliamentary procedure be followed, while providing through offices such as President, Censor, Critic, Treasurer, Librarian, and Trustee the opportunity for leadership and power that they lacked outside the society meeting hall. [12] In addition to having a power structure separate from the Academy at large, the Union and Philosophronian Societies kept their officers and business secret from each other and the outside world. [13]

(4)In 1834, a third literary society was formed because the Manual Labor system begun in 1832 had brought so many new students to the college. [14] With the voluntary withdrawal of six men from both the Union and Philosophronian Societies, the Chrestomathean, soon changed to the Whig Society, was created. The abandonment of the Manual Labor system in 1839 caused a decrease in enrollment that led to the consolidation of the three societies back into two. The Philosophronian and the Whig, because there was more "sympathy" between them than between either one and the Union, decided to merge into a new society called the Zelomathean. A week later they changed their name to the Philalathean Society. [15]

When the College was moved to Madison in 1843, both societies were moved as well, taking with them the furniture and libraries which had been housed in their respective halls in the College Edifice. [16] But when Hanover Collegiate Academy reopened the next year, the Philalathean Society returned after great internal debate. The Union Society was also reorganized by a few students who had remained in Hanover, and they eventually succeeded in recovering their library. In the time the Union and Philalathean Societies had been absent, another society, the Erodelphian, had been organized. It disintegrated with the return of the other two. [17]

True to the objectives upon which they were founded, Hanover literary societies from the very beginning engaged in "essays, declamations and debates... on Friday afternoons and evenings" and gave "public exhibitions" every year. [18] The Address Catalogue of the Union Literary Society of Hanover College lists the address topics for every annual exhibition from 1833 to 1850. Topics of the Third Annual Convention, held March 23, 1833, included "Character of Daniel Boone," "Phrenology," "Effects of Benevolence," "Theatrical Amusements," "Chivalry," "Prospects of Africa," "Washington and Bolivar Contrasted," and "The Farmer." [19]

(5)In addition to providing a forum for public speaking, the societies offered members the use of well-stocked society libraries. The undated Alphabetical Catalogue of the Philal Society Library contains listings for approximately one thousand books, falling into every category from poetry to American history to theological studies. When the Union and Philalathean Societies moved to the new college building (Old Classic Hall) in November of 1857, they took with them the new libraries and furniture they had purchased for about five hundred dollars each. [20]

Despite the intellectual offerings of the literary societies, the arrival of Greek fraternities on Hanover's campus in 1853 seriously threatened them. Both Crowe's manuscript [21] and the 1890-91 premiere issue of Hanover's first annual, The Crow, record the 1853 disturbance. The Crow is more specific in its version of the events:

In 1853, serious difficulty arose in the two Societies, and especially in the Philal, on account of the power wielded by a secret society which had been established in the College. This difficulty was overcome by the Philals when she adopted a new Constitution containing an "anti-Greek" clause, and those members who belonged to this secret organization, and who were causing the trouble, immediately resigned. [22]

Although The Crow claimed that the "difficulty" posed by the introduction of Greek fraternities "was overcome," it was not permanently alleviated, as the fraternities were to contribute significantly to the literary societies' demise.

The history of literary societies at Hanover took on a new dimension in 1880 with the admission of women to the full course of studies. The newly-admitted women almost immediately created Zetelethean, a women's society. [23] In its study of literature, philosophy, and speaking, Zetelethean's objectives were similar to those of the men's societies already in existence; it's "regular exercises," according to the Constitution, were "debate, and study of authors with essays and declamations." Although Zetelethean shared the basic objectives of the men's societies, it was in all respects a women's organization, as seen in the preamble's assertion that through "literary culture and development of facility in the use of knowledge . . . our influence as educated women may thereby be enhanced." [24] A second women's society, Chrestomathean, was founded in 1889. Zetelethean and Chrestomathean had their own halls in Old Classic Hall along with the men's societies. [25]

(6)By the time William Millis published his history of Hanover College in 1927, little was left of the literary societies that had been central to student life almost since the College's beginnings. He gives several reasons for their deterioration. During World War I, the women's societies suspended their meetings in order to volunteer for the Red Cross. By the time the war ended, they had completely disappeared. The men's societies also suspended their meetings during the war, but after it ended, the two societies merged into one, renaming it the Philal-Union Society. At the time Millis was writing his history, he claimed that the Philal-Union "meets with a fair degree of regularity, but is in feeble condition. The service which the societies formerly rendered is now supplied in standardized courses in the department of English." [26] While it may be true that the English department took on some of the work of the societies, it appears that Millis was closer to the truth when he pointed to the "growth of new activities, particularly the fraternity, athletics, publications, dramatics and social functions" [27] as factors in the disintegration of the societies. In light of the 1853 disruption of the Philalathean Society by a fraternity, it is easy to see how the growing fraternities especially threatened the societies, for they offered the friendship, secrecy, and self-government which had been important aspects of most societies.

The removal of the literary societies to a peripheral position in relation to the fraternities is evident in the 1929 annual The Revonah, which announced the adoption of a new system to sponsor Intramural debating. A large loving cup was given to the winner after several rounds of eliminations. Although the debates were an attempt "in getting the old spirit into the debates as it was in the days of bitter rivalry," [28] a new rivalry had formed among the fraternities. Ironically, the first Intramural Debating Championship went to Beta Theta Pi, [29] the first fraternity at Hanover, the leaders of a trend that was to shift gradually and permanently the center of student life at Hanover away from literary societies. In 1890, the Philalathean Society had 35 members. [30] In 1928, the Philal Union had 29; [31] in 1929, it had dropped to eighteen; [32] then to fourteen in 1930. [33] By 1932, the next year The Revonah was published, the Philal-Union Society had completely disappeared. [34]

(7)Emerging from Hanover Academy's early objectives of providing students with a solid education in literature, philosophy, and oration while it prepared them for the ministry, and providing students with social opportunities and experience in self-government, literary societies played a central role in student life at Hanover for almost one hundred years. In total, College archives testify to the existence of eight societies: the Union, Philosophronian, Whig, Erodelphian, Philalathean, Zetelethean, Chrestomathean, and Philal-Union. These societies engaged in debates among themselves and public exhibitions, in reading great works of literature and writing about them, and, importantly, in establishing a group identity. Stanley Coulter, of the class of 1871, summarized the importance of literary societies in student life at Hanover College in the following words:

The outstanding activity in those days was that centering in the two literary societies, colloquially known as the Lits and the Philals. The rivalry between them was fierce and at times bitter. No fraternity ever rushed new men more ruthlessly than did these two literary societies. . . These Literary Societies were of almost inestimable value to the students and their relegation to a minor place in the college life has been a serious loss. [35]



1. William Alfred Millis, LL.D., The History of Hanover College from 1827 to 1927 (Greenfield, Indiana W.M. Mitchell Printing: 1927), 142.
2. Ibid., 158-159.
3. Ibid., 159.br>
4. Ibid.
5. John Finley Crowe, Manuscript for a History of Hanover College (Duggan Library Archives, Hanover College ). Appendix A, 2.
6. Constitution and By-laws of the Union Literary Society (Duggan Library Archives, Hanover College).
7. For Millis's detailed argument that "Hanover has been essentially and consistently a Liberal Arts College since 1833," see Chapter IX of his history of the College.
8. Although this Constitution bears no date, the presence of other dated Constitutions in the College archives suggests this is the original.
9. Constitution and By-laws of the Philosophronian Society (Duggan Library Archives, Hanover College)
10. Ibid.
11. Millis, 236.
12. See Union and Philosophronian Constitutions for provisions of officers.
13. Crowe, 3.
14. Millis, 144-50. The manual labor System was a program, adopted by the Academy at Dr. Crowe's suggestion, that allowed students to pay for their education by performing agricultural and trade work. See Crowe's history of the College for an evaluation of the program.
15. Crowe, 3.
16. Crowe's manuscript provides a detailed description of the Academy's move to Madison.
17. Crowe, 4.
18. Ibid., 6.
19. The Address Catalogue of the Union Literary Society of Hanover (Duggan Library Archives, Hanover College).
20. Crowe, 5-6.
21. Ibid., 5.
22. The Crow, vol. 1, 63.
23. Crowe, 6.
24. Constitution of the Zetelethean Society (Duggan Library Archives, Hanover College).
25. Crowe, 6.
26. Millis, 232.
27. Ibid.
28. The Revonah (Hanover, Indiana: 1929), 88.
29. Ibid.
30. The Crow. (Hanover, Indiana: 1929), 61.
31. The Revonah (Hanover, Indiana: 1928), 45.
32. The Revonah (Hanover, Indiana: 1929), 88.
33. The Revonah (Hanover, Indiana: 1930), 76.
34. The Revonah (Hanover, Indiana: 1932).
35. Millis, 282.