From the late eighteenth-century to the Civil War, literary societies were an important part of campus social life. Usually societies, often with Latin-based names, were set up to foster competition and debate with societies being paired with another. For Wheaton College these societies began just as they were declining in the general culture. Literary societies were replaced on many campuses with fraternities and sororities, which were not allowed at Wheaton due to their having been secret oath-bound organizations. Since the society was the focal point of social life on campus, nearly every student participated in a society. Societies had their own halls where they met. An evening would include debate, speeches, poetry readings, and other literary work. Topics could include Classical history, religion, ethics, politics, and current events. The debates often covered controversial topics with the discussion of slavery being a regular topic in Wheaton's early years.
Wheaton had nearly a dozen and a half different societies at one point. All of the societies disbanded within a year or so of each other in 1958-1959. Many factors contributed to their decline and disappearance including changes in the curriculum and modes of entertainment.
See also: Hollatz, Edwin Arthur. "The Development of Literary Societies in Selected Illinois Colleges in the Nineteenth Century and Their Role in Speech Training ." Northwestern Univiersity (Ph.D. dissertation), 1965.
For specific societies select the sub-page link(s) below.