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hargrett library :: past exhibits :: demosthenian literary society

"To Improve the Mind is Highly Commendable"
Two Hundred Years of the Demosthenian Literary Society
The Literary Society Tradition at the University of Georgia

February 3-February 26, 2003

image of Demosthenian medal


The founding of the Demosthenian Literary Society on February 19, 1803, in the frontier settlement of Athens, marks the birth of a UGA tradition that has lasted for 200 years, the student literary society. This exhibit explores the rich combination of debate, oratory, ceremony and humor that has offered students an opportunity meet socially while challenging and improving their minds and speaking skills.

image of Demosthenian medal

Although Demosthenian's bicentennial birthday is the central theme, the exhibit also features the slightly younger Phi Kappa Literary Society, founded February 22, 1820. For good measure, artifacts of the Temple of the Skull & Bones of the Mystical Seven are displayed, along with the only known relic of the lost Kruphians. The records accumulated by all these venerable societies document the concerns, opinions and fancies of two centuries of UGA students.

Materials are drawn from the extensive Demosthenian and Phi Kappa collections of University Archives in the Hargrett Library and the Hargrett Library's photographic archive. An additional display is mounted in the entry lobby of the Main Library and an online image version of the exhibits is planned for the near future.

image of Demosthenian medal

Some highlights of the exhibit include:

  • Letters to the societies signed by Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Martin Van Buren, Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, James Knox Polk, John Tyler, Emilio Pucci and others.
  • A letter written during the Fort Sumter crisis by Judah Benjamin, Attorney General of the Confederate States of America, to decline Demosthenian's invitation to speak in Athens when, "we know not what a day may bring forth."
  • Minutes and other record books of the societies featuring exquisite penmanship and cryptic doodles, such as the mysterious bearded lady of 1857.
  • Minutes & issues of "The Caldron" produced by UGA's branch of the Mystical Seven, the Temple of the Skull & Bones.
  • Social invitations ranging from hand-letter parchment of 1806 through the ornate printing of the Victorian era.
  • A Demosthenian gavel reportedly carved from the wood of the famous "Toombs oak."


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