Kimball Union's women's group, The Minervian Society in 1903, 48 years after it was established in 1855.

Kimball Union’s women’s group, The Minervian Society in 1903, 48 years after it was established in 1855.

Kimball Union students have always enjoyed extra curricular clubs and activities from our earliest years. Today, there is a wide array of choices for our students, ranging from Model UN and the STEM Team to the Kimball Union Fire Brigade and Environmental Club. In the nineteenth century, the names of their clubs and activities may have been different and their culture less diverse with travel and outside communication more difficult, but, the purpose of education combined with entertainment, surely were the same.

Some societies came about as a result of Kimball Union’s religious founding in 1813 to prepare “poor and pious young men for the gospel ministry.” There was the Christian Fraternity, established in 1887, that became the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor c. 1889. Later, the Ladies Christian Association and the Young Men’s Christian Association were established and there was the Philharmonic Society that met “once a week, sometimes oftener, for the practice of sacred and secular music. … “

Other groups were based on students using their writing and literary skills. Organized c. 1855, The Rhetorical Exercises by the Middle Class for improvement in debate, rhetoric and composition, and the Addison Society, c. 1874, that concentrated on oration, discussion, declamation and essays, were for men only. However, the Junior Literary Society had the same guidelines as the Middle Classes’ Rhetorical Exercises, but was established for both men and women. Two societies were established in the mid-1850s that combined many aspects of all the societies and both were still popular into the 1930s. These were the men’s Philadelphian Society and the women’s Minervian Society described for the first time in the Kimball Union Annual Catalogue in 1871 under “Societies, Libraries, etc.:

Two of many programs printed for the Minervian Society meetings. Left: In 1859 the meeting opened with an Essay by the President; "Theme – A thing done is written upon a rock; yea, with a pen of iron. Sarah J. Walker, Cornish, N.H."

Two of many programs printed for the Minervian Society meetings. Above: In 1859 the meeting opened with an Essay by the President; “Theme – A thing done is written upon a rock; yea, with a pen of iron. Sarah J. Walker, Cornish, N.H.”

“The Philadelphian Society holds weekly meetings, and furnishes good opportunity for improvement in speaking and writing. Any young man belonging to the Middle [today’s Junior Class] or Senior Classes is entitled to membership. It has a Library of about a thousand volumes, and a convenient Reading Room, well supplied with newspapers and other periodicals.” The Philadelphian Society by-lays have a charter that was signed in 1850 by the New Hampshire Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, the Governor and the Secretary of State. The purpose of their society was for “mutual improvement in Elocution, Composition and Debate…”

“The Minervian Society is sustained by the ladies. Its exercises have the same general aim as those of the Philadelphian. It has a small Library.” The first record book we have of the Minervian Society was kept in 1855-56, but the constitution for the society can be read In one from 1897. “The Preamble: We, the undersigned, members of Kimball Union Academy, do declare ourselves an Association for mutual improvement in Elocution, Composition and Debate, and have adopted for our government, the following Constitution, by-laws, and Rules of Order.”

Although their meetings were closed, both societies offered “public” meetings during the year for the whole community. We are fortunate to have a personal account of the proceedings from the diary of Helen Richards, class of 1857, daughter of Principal Cyrus Richards. On January 30, 1856, Helen and her brother “Charley,” class of 1854 (my oft quoted Rev. Charles Richards), travelled two hours by horse and buggy to Claremont, NH, where she had a “new silk coat made” and he, his “ambrotype taken at a saloon there.” They returned in time for “public Philadelphian. … discussion was carried on between Haley (Aff.) and Chapin (Neg.). President [of the society] gave his decision in the negative, which made Haley so vexed that after it was through, Charley said, he took his hat and walked off without speaking a word.” Two essays were read and “… a paper-which was pretty good. The music was got up by Blakesley. He played on his mandolin as accompaniment.” More enjoyable singing followed including the song, The Old Granite State. “I must just say that Charley composed most of the words for ‘The Granite State.’ They were quite amusing.”

In 1899, the feature was, "Discussion–The desirability of student representation in school government. Aff. Louise E. Mitchell; Neg. Fannie F. Davis."

In 1899, the feature was, “Discussion–The desirability of student representation in school government. Aff. Louise E. Mitchell; Neg. Fannie F. Davis.”

The next evening, the Minervians held their public meeting and Helen described it in detail. “First, there was the President’s Essay, subject Music, very pretty-Second. Music by myself. I played Oberon. … Discussion between Miss Merrill and Miss Prentiss, subject ‘Is the study of the natural sciences more fitted to improve the mind than the study of the classics?’ … Pres. Gave decision in the affirmative. Next, … music ‘What are the Wild Waves Saying.’ … Poem … ‘Things Unseen,’ some very beautiful passages in it and all good. … Essay by Miss Daniels, who spoke so low we could scarcely hear her. … Instrumental music by myself. I played one of the Pearls of the opera-quite long and very pretty, I think. … Paper …. It was first rate, far surpassing that of the Philadelphian last eve. On the whole, it was a fine one. … Music, Solo and chorus. The selection was ‘Rosalie the Prairie flower’ very simple and sweet. The whole performance passed off very quietly and to general satisfaction. We all wore wreaths of hemlock and large white beads and with the exception of 3, black dresses, silk, of course.”

On April 30 the “esteemed Philadelphian brothers held their quarterly meeting” which Helen thought very good on all accounts. The following day, “Our fair Minervians presented themselves and their golden ideas to the criticizing and learned audience assembled in the Chapel of K.U. Academy. Mary Green as President gave a very pretty Lecture, to say the least. … ‘Where shall my grave be’ -were written by Misses Rauney, Hardy, Wyman, and Underwood, the last one particularly had a very beautiful one, and all were interesting. The poem, by Miss Isora Wellington, I am unable to describe, as we could not hear it. The subject was ‘Silent Voices’, and she seemed to think it necessary to illustrate it practically, which she did with great effect. The essay by Miss Hawes was not heard distinctly, but what we heard was quite good. The paper by Miss Strong did not equal that of our brother Barrows, however she did very well with it.”

Fifty-seven years later, The Kimball Union reported on another public meeting, this time between the two societies and known as, “The Philadelphian-Minervian Debate.”

“The annual inter-society debate between the Philadelphian and the Minervian Literary societies, for the possession of the Block and Gavel, took place in the Academy Chapel, April 30, 1913. The question for discussion was: Resolved, That the Immigration Laws should have further restrictive qualifications. The Philadelphian society supported the affirmative and were strongly opposed by the Minervians. …It was a strenuous fight from beginning to end, and the fine work of the debaters was an excellent exemplification of the exceptional accomplishments of both societies along literary lines. Because of the evenness of the contestants, the thorough preparation of the case on behalf of both teams and the commendable presentation of both boys and girls, neither team seemed to have any distinct advantage over the other; in consequence the interest of the audience was at the highest pitch throughout the evening. Miss Cook and Mr. Chutter were the best in the main speeches, Miss Cunningham came back strong in the rebuttals, and Mr. Rodey was very impressive. Miss Burr was decidedly persuasive in her rebuttals and exhibited exceptional ability in picking out inconsistencies in the opposition’s case. Mr. Wildey, the last speaker of the evening, came back ‘with hammer and tongs,’ and much of the ground gained by the Philadelphians may be attributed to his perpetual fight in the rebuttals. … The judges of the debate … returned their decision in favor of the affirmative, and as a result the Block and Gavel is in the possession of the Philadelphian society for the coming year. – H. J. Chase ’14 – The Kimball Union, Spring Number 1913.”