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As in other colleges of the time, the literary societies provided a chief extracurricular outlet for student energies. The first was the Platonean Literary Society, formed in June 1838 under the direction of Professor Cyrus Nutt. Two years later, on President Simpson's advice, it split into two groups, the second taking the name first of the Ciceronian, and finally, the Philological Literary Society. Plato and Philo, as they were generally known, persisted throughout the Asbury period, each with a membership of from 50 to 100 students. After women entered the university in 1867, they formed their own literary society called the Philomathean, and the preparatory department at times had its own, less well developed, society. Most students were to join one or the other of the societies, which were highly competitive but not as exclusive as social fraternities became in later years. Faculty members and selected Greencastle professional men were also connected with the societies, which vied with each other in inviting prominent Americans such as Longfellow, Bryant, Holmes, Agassiz, and Beecher to accept honorary membership.

The literary societies met on Friday evenings in college rooms set aside for them by the university, where their members elected their own officers, conducted business according to parliamentary rules, and debated the issues of the day. Plato and Philo Halls were especially elaborately furnished, with thick carpets, window drapes, and comfortable sofas and chairs. Each had a collection of books which served as a circulating library for its members, who were unable at that time to borrow volumes from the university library. The literary societies obviously served as student retreats where members could relax from the rigid and often sterile atmosphere of the recitation hall, where they were forced to engage in rote, lockstep learning under the stern control of a professor. Here students found an opportunity to organize themselves democratically and thrash out ideas and topics. of their own choosing. Perhaps one could say about them what has been said about the playing fields of Eton: that the battles of Shiloh and Antietam were won on the Victorian settees of American college literary societies!

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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