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


Competition came in the form of challenges, both from inside and outside UNL. On occasion, the Unions and Palladians would invite the other to select a few of their number to meet and perform. After an agreement had been reached, the competing societies would elect a committee composed of members from each society and this committee would be responsible for selecting which members would participate in what event; the contestants would compete in Orations, Essays, Declamation and Debates, similar to what the societies exercised during their meetings. Each society would choose judges from among the faculty and a literary show-down would ensue. Various prizes were offered to the winner—for example, a leather-bound volume of Dante's Inferno—but the prestige of being awarded first place was prize enough for the society members. Challenges came from outside UNL as well. In 1882 the Hesperian Society from Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, invited the Palladian literary society to their city to participate in a contest. On the day of the contest, members of the Society, faculty, and the community boarded a train for Doane. When they all returned that night, their spirits were diminished: the Palladians and the Hesperians had tied.

One famous literary contest was the Chase and Wheeler contest, begun in 1883. Two Palladian alums, Clement Chase and Daniel H. Wheeler, Jr., sent a letter to the current Palladian members, offering prize money to be awarded the winners of an oration contest. The early years of this contest proved to be the best, with many society members competing for the cash prize. The winners of the contest, as well as the runners-up, were listed every year in the Palladian Yearbooks. After a few years, the interest in oration waned and the number of competitors dwindled. Chase and Wheeler finally withdrew their offer of prize money after only two contestants competed in 1898.

As had been seen earlier, campuses most often had two literary societies that were rivals. The same thing could be seen at UNL between the Palladians and the Unions. Rivalry between these two societies ranged from friendly competition to down-right loathing of the other. It's been mentioned that the two societies exchanged challenges for almost the duration of their respective existences. But there was one instance where the rivalry was extremely prevalent. In the minutes of both societies, dated October 5, 1883, two sides of the same challenge response can be examined. According to the minutes of the Palladians, the Union society sent a for a literary contest during the course of the business meeting. After creating a committee to come up with a response to this invitation, the final resolutions accused the Unions of backing out or indefinitely postponing previous challenges that the Palladians had issued and chose to decline the invitation. The society agreed unanimously with what the committee had written and elected a messenger to give the Union society their decision. The Union minutes state that they sent an invitation to their neighbor society and mention nothing until the Palladian messenger declines the contest invitation. The minutes express that the Palladian committee's answer consisted of "genuine Palladian lies and a list of silly resolutions," and the Union members proceeded to boo and hiss the Palladian out of the room.

Even though the rivalry between the two societies was strong, it couldn't match the enmity both societies felt for the Greek-letter fraternities. Similar to the colleges in the eastern part of the U.S., the secret societies weren't trusted by the faculty and the students. However, some students joined the fraternities that had made it to UNL and some of those students also belonged to the literary societies. The mistrust of the literary societies, then the admittance of members belonging to fraternities, led to a fear of a take-over of the literary societies. Thus the Frat-Barb Fight began.

Fraternities began to show up on UNL campus in the 1880s, with Sigma Chi being the first in 1883, followed by Phi Delta Theta in 1884. Many of the students believed the Greek letter societies were inherently evil and wanted nothing to do with them—the general reaction towards fraternities at the time. Even so, both fraternities began gaining members, some of whom also belonged to the literary societies. The general air of suspicion and dislike on both sides, along with a few clashes, led to the Frat-Barb Fight of 1884. Fearing a take-over by the "frats", the Palladian Literary Society passed an amendment prohibiting fraternity members from entering the society, as seen in their society minutes. Likewise, the Union Literary Society passed a similar amendment. The amendment made exceptions to those fraternity members active in the societies at the time the amendment was passed; however those students promptly handed in their resignations. Ten years later, Mary L. Jones and Will Owen Jones, a "frat" and "barb" respectively, relate the fight in their own ways.