Columbian and Hesperian Literary Society records, 1848-1942

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Trinity College (Durham, N.C.)
The Columbian Literary Society was founded in 1846. The Hesperian Literary Society was founded in 1851. Records of both the Columbian Literary Society and Hesperian Literary Society documenting their activities. Included are numerous minute books, roll books, treasurer's books, book lists, constitutions and bylaws as well as some correspondence and programs for events co-hosted by the societies.
8.5 Linear Feet
Material in English
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
31 -- Student/Campus Life
31 -- Student/Campus Life > 09 -- Student Organizations – Art and Literature


Scope and content:

Contains correspondence, reports, financial information, roll books, record books, and minute books of the Columbian and Hesperian Literary Societies. The two societies conducted many joint debates so their papers are in one collection. Most of the collection is in oversize boxes. The collection ranges in date from 1848-1942.

Biographical / historical:

The Columbia Literary Society was first organized in 1846 at Union Institute. The Society grew with the school, witnessing the founding of Trinity College and its development into Duke University. In 1881, the CLS started the College Herald, forerunner of the Chronicle.

The Hesperian Literary Society was founded in 1851 at the suggestion of President Craven, because in his opinion, all first class colleges had two societies. According to tradition, it was called "Hesperian" because it was originally intended to be joined by boys from Western North Carolina.

The two societies are the only student organizations known to have existed when Normal College became Trinity College in 1859. They each had libraries and competed in acquiring books. The joint efforts of both societies led to the creation of The Archive and The Chronicle publications. Additionally, they both accumulated larger number of books than the college library.

According to the Trinity College Catalogue, by 1860 each society held 2,200 volumes, while the school itself held only 650. In 1887, new president John Franklin Crowell persuaded the literary societies to merge their collections with that of the college, creating a combined library of 10,000 volumes. The new library was housed on the second floor of the old Trinity College chapel, and Crowell claimed to have catalogued each of the books himself.

After Trinity moved to Durham in 1892, the library occupied a large single room in the Washington Duke Building, the main building of the campus. One student from each of the two literary societies served as librarians.

Both societies continued to co-exist until the Hesperian Literary Society dissolved in 1931-1932, although a similar organization, the Hesperian Union, organized in 1937. The Columbian Literary Society ended in 1938.

Acquisition information:
The Columbian and Hesperian Literary Society Records were received by the University Archives as a transfer in 1971.
Processing information:

Processed by Jessica Wood, June 2006

Encoded by Kimberly Sims, July 2006

Accession A71-67 is described in this finding aid.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Columbian and Hesperian Literary Society Records, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.