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Hinman Literary Society

 Organization

The Hinman Society was the first literary society at Northwestern University. Founded in 1855, the Society claimed all thirteen members of the first two graduating classes and five of the eight 1861 graduates. It first met at the "old college," then situated at the northwest corner of Davis and Hinman streets, on Wednesday afternoons because candlelight provided insufficient illumination and kerosene lamps were not yet widely available. Hinman disbanded in 1915, the oldest and one of the last of the University's literary societies. Debate topics in the first few years were pressing issues and heatedly argued; questions included the dissolution of the union (in 1858) and the relative merits of Stephen Douglass and Abraham Lincoln during their senate contest. Until the 1890s the literary societies were a dominant force in the University's social life. They provided intellectual stimulation and social mingling, through receptions and inter-society debates as well as regular meetings. On November 5, 1869, the Society moved into its own room, "Hinman Hall," on the fourth floor of University Hall. Hinman invited women students to join the Society in 1871, and three women are listed on the program in February 1873. With the arrival of Dean of Women Ellen Soule in 1874 the women were segregated into their own society, Ossoli, although the action was publicly protested by Hinman, which had resisted pressure from the faculty to segregate the year previous. In 1871, together with the Adelphic Literary Society, Hinman founded the Tripod, Northwestern's first student newspaper. During the period of Hinman's existence many cash prizes were offered by various people for excellence in oratory and debate, and to select representatives of the University for the Central Debating and Northern Oratorical Leagues. The prizes were generally restricted to members of the literary societies. The first such prize, the Hinman prize, was awarded to the Hinman member who composed and delivered the best English essay, until the prize was abolished in 1893.

The rise of the Greek fraternity system and special interest clubs coincided with a general decline in the importance of and interest in the literary societies, especially during and after the 1890s. Hinman disbanded in 1915, the oldest and one of the last of the University's literary societies.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Hinman Literary Society (1857-1915) Minute Books and Librarian's Record

 Collection
Identifier: 31/6/8
Abstract Founded in 1855, Hinman Society was the first literary society at Northwestern University. These records consist of 2 volumes of minutes and 1 volume documenting the Society's library.
Dates: 1857-1882