Early Extracurriculars

20 Nov



Agreement Between Ohio University and the Philomathean Society, 1884

The New York Times posted an interesting slide show entitled “Early Extracurriculars” on its website.  James R. Petersen in the introduction to the slide show writes;  “Harvard founded in 1636, enjoyed a monopoly in the colonies for more than half a century, when it was joined by the College of William & Mary. If there existed a student organization in all that time, it left no fossil evidence. Harry R. Lewis, a former dean of Harvard College who has studied its history, explains: “The college was run by Puritans and Calvinists. Students had to turn out for chapel at a certain time. They couldn’t make noise. The college was not student-friendly.” (Indeed, its first schoolmaster, Nathaniel Eaton, was forced to step down for starving students and wielding a stick large enough, it was said, to kill a horse.) Early extracurricular activities involved huddling around books and periodicals outside the curriculum — and out of which, according to archivists and librarians, would come respect for debate, polished argument and the American Revolution.”

Ohio University, which was first in the second wave of institutions of higher education to be established in America, also had its share of early extracurriculars particularly the literary societies described by Betty Hollow in Ohio University: The Spirit of a Singular Place, 1804-2004:  “With little to do except study, . . . young men formed literary societies . . . and spent hours honing their skills in debate, oratory, essay writing and reading, and interpretation of literature.  With the help of Jacob Lindley [ first President of Ohio University], they secured twenty-five dollars to promote their public speaking activities in 1811 and sixteen dollars for a stage in 1812, when the Zelothian Literary Society was founded.  By 1819 the Polemic Society had replaced or joined the Zelothians.  The Athenian Society began in June 1819 with a meeting that dissolved the Polemic Society; the Philomathean Society was organized in January 1822.  Though other societies developed and disappeared over the years, the formidable Athenians and Philomatheans persisted until 1923, making them two of the longest-lived literary societies in the United States.”




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