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Very early in Indiana Asbury University history the literary societies arrived. These were clubs, semi-independent of the college, which lasted throughout the entire Asbury period and which in their heyday served as a distinctive social and intellectual outlet for the students. Their history was parallel to those of other colleges of this era.

Also early in Asbury history came the new institution of the social fraternity, which challenged the literary society for student interest. The initial excitement of the literary society seemed to wear off after a few years. Older boys in particular began to sense a need for social, as well as intellectual, camaraderie. In 1845 Beta Theta Pi, founded at Miami University in 1839, made its appearance on campus when a few members of Philo held secret organizational meetings in their hall at midnight. Two more fraternity chapters were organized at Indiana Asbury before the Civil War-Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Chi. In this period, membership in social fraternities was relatively small, limited mainly to upperclassmen. Meetings in the woods, secret ceremony often borrowed from the Masonic movement, boy talk and "horsing around" had appeal over and above the literary society.

Beta Picnic
The high level of religious interest and personal piety of students and faculty in this period may seem extraordinary to the present-day reader. But it was a national phenomenon in the years following the Second Great Awakening that took place in the United States at the turn of the 18th century. It was what one might expect of boys coming from families that nurtured them for the most part in pietistic Methodism, who grew up in a relatively unsophisticated intellectual milieu. In Greencastle, living away from home for the first time, they found themselves in a sectarian university setting where the adult role models were clergymen-professors who themselves had undergone emotional religious conversion. Student diaries reveal something of the religious turmoil and frequent spiritual rebirth which many students experienced in the frequent church services and camp meetings under faculty influence.

What about faculty life and culture in Greencastle? Many instructors, especially the tutors, were not much beyond the age of the older students and probably socialized with them. Unmarried faculty members lived in boarding houses and had social contacts with each other and young professional men in town. Most of the married professors and their wives were busy raising families, some of them quite large. Pious persons by nature and calling-most of the men were ordained Methodist clergymen-they must have looked to the local Methodist church for much of their social life. Relatively young and receiving miniscule salaries, professors and even presidents often carried on farming activities to augment their income, hauling water, feeding chickens, hewing wood, cultivating gardens, and slopping the hogs before driving the carriage to evening prayer meeting.

The Philosonian Society, a debating society of the 1850s, was originally anti-fraternity.  It later grew into the Secret Ten, a forerunner of Phi Gamma Delta.


Heavier rates of child mortality than today brought frequent tragedy to their homes. The Simpsons were strongly affected by the loss of a son during their Greencastle years, and the Larrabees buried a much-beloved daughter in a beautiful orchard garden. Rarely a year passed without one or more student deaths also. At the university itself professors had more duties than simply hearing recitations or giving occasional lectures. They were often responsible for such menial tasks as the upkeep and furnishing of their classrooms, repairing the cistern and the lighting system, and calling at saloons and gambling places at 9 p.m. to see if the students were visiting them. Larrabee was an active Mason, as may have been others, and many participated in literary society activities.

University finances were almost always precarious. Indiana Asbury began with little more of an endowment than the $25,000 raised by Greencastle citizens to bring the university to their community. The original plan of the Indiana Conference was to raise capital by sending out agents to sell shares to loyal Methodist supporters. For $100 a shareholder could send a student to Asbury for six years; for $250, for 20 years; and $10,000 would endow a professorship. The larger sums being hard to come by, subscriptions for $5 and $1 were available. The first student fees were $8.50 per session in the preparatory department and $12 in the college, plus a janitor's fee of $1.25. Over the years these modest fees were slightly increased, until 1874, when tuition charges were abolished and only a contingency fee of $15 per year was assessed each student. Despite low faculty salaries-Professor Nutt began at $400 and President Simpson at $1,000 a year-the university often ended the academic year with substantial deficits and salaries in arrears. Despite faculty salary cuts, by 1844-45 the university owed Simpson $1,164, Larrabee $984, the rest of the staff $3,490. It is a truism that in 19th century higher education professors everywhere subsidized the colleges, often overlooked by the nostalgia the alumni began to have for these "giants" of the classroom.

The first reported audit of university finances in 1855 calculated its total resources at $94,785, including buildings and grounds at $27,000 and railroad bonds at $58,700. In addition unpaid notes due the university came to another $43,516. Clearly Indiana Asbury, and presumably 19th century American higher education as a whole, were low-budget affairs.

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People, Events & Traditions

Cyrus Nutt

The Edifice

Tommy Goodwin

Matthew Simpson

John W. Ray

William C. Larrabee

Rebellion of 1856- 57

Literary Societies

Thomas Bowman

The Civil War

Joseph Tingley

Alexander Martin

The Edifice Fire

Bettie Locke (Hamilton)

East College

Japanese Students