Project Editor:Anastasia Smallcomb, UCARE, 2007

Table of Contents

Overview of U.S. Literary Societies
UNL Literary Societies:
1. History
2. Within the Society
3. Women's Roles
4. Controversies

Works Cited
Site Map


The various literary societies at the University of Nebraska Lincoln have a very close history. It all began with one event: in 1871 the students at UNL formed the Palladian Literary Society. Like their society predecessors in the eastern colleges, the Palladians met in their own hall on Friday night of every week. Similar to the eastern societies, they practiced declamations, read from their own works, and participated in debates; these activities were referred to as "classes." After these classes, a business meeting would be held to cover upcoming events within the society, assigning people to "classes", and general house keeping matters.

Literary societies were created "to help build up and perfect the moral and intellectual capacities, and in like manner the social qualities." Or so it's written in the first constitution of the Palladian society. Most of the students that attended the University also belonged to one of the Literary Societies on campus. The literary societies were created to fill in where university classes left off: showing how to apply lessons learned in the classroom to the outside world, primarily through public speaking. One of the main beliefs was that oratorical skills were absolutely necessary if one wished to be a productive member of society. This could be why many of the society graduates went on to be statesmen, local officials, lawyers, and ministers.

Only two short years after the creation of the Palladian society, there became a split in the ranks of the lone literary society. Palladian alumnus Thomas H. Worley explains the creation of factions in the Palladian Centennial: the Palladian society began as the "poor student's society." However, the faction known as the Aristocrats—the sons of wealthy townsmen—began to gain more and more control over the society. The "Hay Seeds" faction—poor country boys—wanted to prevent the Aristocrats from gaining complete control over the society. During the election of 1873, the two sides met and disputed the ballots. Finally, after disputing the validity of the ballots and nearly coming to blows, the Aristocrats left the society and proceeded to elect their own officers, with the "Hay Seeds" doing the same.

When this factional dispute was brought before the faculty committee of the University, they concluded that neither of the elections could be considered valid. The faculty committee prompted another election over which the Chancellor himself would preside, but there was no turning back. The divide had formed and the party of Aristocrats formed a new society called the Adelphian Literary Society.

Society life continued peaceably until yet another dispute arose in 1876. This time it was about which students should be allowed to enter the society. The students that believed that only non-preparatory students should be allowed into the Palladian Society broke away and formed the University Union Literary Society. The complete history of the formation of this society is still fragmented and unclear. An article by Henry H. Wilson in the February 15, 1894 edition of the Hesperian Student claims that the Union Literary Society was composed of those students who broke away from Palladian and many of the Adelphian members:

"In the fall of 1876, for the purpose of forming a society composed exclusively of the college classes, the present Union society was formed, drawing most of its members from the Adelphian but embracing also nearly all of the eligible members of the Palladian . . . The Adelphian had ceased to exist, nearly all of its members being eligible had become members of the new Union."

The Union Society's own histories are unclear on the subject of their formation. A skit that was presented at the Centennial Banquet of the Delian-Union Society in 1974 presented a history of the society. One line of the skit states, "There is no doubt in my mind Adelphian was shortened to Delian or joined another group and became Union in 1876." But whether the Adelphians changed their name or joined with another society, they became inactive in 1876.

A third society emerged in 1889—the Delian Literary Society. The idea for this society was formed by the alumni from both Union and Palladian Societies. They felt that a third society was needed to control the population of both societies; each had grown rather large, boasting membership numbers over 70, and the alums felt smaller societies would provide greater chances for success among its members. So each existing society was asked to provide charter members for the Delian Society. In the minutes of both societies can be found the resignation letters of the "seed members," as well as an article in the Hesperian welcoming the infant Society.

Each of these societies lasted well into the twentieth century, beyond the span of this project's research. The Delian, after numerous struggles and hardships, joined with the still thriving Union to create the Delian-Union Literary Society in 1931. The literary society became inactive in 1974. The Palladian Society survived until 1969, just a few years shy of their Centennial.