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HUD 3803.2500

Speaking Club (Harvard University). Early records of the Speaking Club, 1770-1813: an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUD 3803.2500
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Speaking Club (Harvard University)
Title: Early records of the Speaking Club, 1770-1813
Date(s): 1770-1813
Quantity: .24 cubic feet (4 volumes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: These early records of the Speaking Club, a private student club established at Harvard College as a forum for practicing oratory, contain information about club rules and regulations, signed declarations of its members, lists of speakers and their topics, meeting minutes, votes, orders, financial accounts, and other routine administrative information. The records also include information about the library kept by the Club for its members. These early records are only a subset of the existing records and date from the Speaking Club's founding in 1770 until 1813.

Acquisition information:

The collection was deposited by the Institute of 1770 (a subsequent iteration of the Speaking Club) on October 7, 1876.

Processing Information:

This collection was not previously cataloged. It was processed in July 2010, resulting in the creation of this finding aid by Laura Morris.
Preservation and description of the Early records of the Speaking Club was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Researcher Access:

The Early records of the Speaking Club are open for research.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Online access:

All of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Preferred Citation:

Speaking Club (Harvard University). Early records of the Speaking Club, 1770-1813. HUD 3803.2500, Harvard University Archives.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives

Historical Note

The Speaking Club was founded at Harvard on September 6, 1770. It was a private club and students were allowed to join by invitation only, after having been "sounded" by current members. The goal of the society was to provide an opportunity for its members to practice and refine their oratorical skills and elocution. The club has undergone numerous mergers with other clubs and name changes in the years since its establishment. On March 8, 1773, it merged with another student organization, the Mercurian Club, but maintained the name of Speaking Club. In 1801, the members decided to change the club's name to the Patriotic Association, to maintain the privacy of the supposedly "secret" nature of the club (i.e. that it was a club for speaking). It was later renamed the Social Fraternity of 1770. In 1825, after uniting with the Hermetic Society and the Akribologoumenoi, the club was renamed the Institute of 1770. In 1848, the Institute of 1770 merged with the I.O.H. (Imitatores Omnium Honestarum), another secret society founded for the purpose of debating and practicing elocution. The club's final merger was with the Hasty Pudding Club in 1924.



This collections consists of four bound volumes, which are arranged chronologically. The entries within each volume, however, are often not in strict chronological order.

Scope and Content

The early records of the Speaking Club at Harvard consist of four volumes filled with entries on a range of subjects. The volumes contain lists of club rules and regulations, declarations signed by club members, lists of the topics spoken about, meeting minutes (in sections designated as "journals"), votes, orders, and financial records. The volumes also contain information about the library kept by the club for its members, noting the titles purchased. It should be noted that entries are not always in chronological order, and that some sets of similar entries are divided among several sections of the volume (i.e. entries end abruptly but are resumed later in the volume).
A substantial portion of each volume is dedicated to meeting minutes, or "journals." These minutes include little information about the topics of oration at the meetings, but rather describe the various fines and other punishments assessed for absences and other offenses towards the club, votes, the assignment of committees to address various concerns (including the formation of a committee of two responsible for returning the club podium to Cambridge from Concord following its removal during the American Revolutionary War), the material needs of the club (the podium, candlesticks, curtains, a place to convene in secret, books for the library), the election of officers, and other routine administrative matters. All of the volumes also contain financial entries, noting cash received from fines and other sources and cash paid for books and other necessities.
Volumes 1 and 2 of this collection include significant information about the subjects of the orations at each meeting; Volumes 3 and 4 do not include this information in separate entries, although similar information is sometimes alluded to in meeting minutes. The notations about subject matter in volumes 1 and 2 include lists of speakers' names and the titles and/or sources of their orations. The members spoke on a range of topics, sometimes based on original compositions and sometimes on readings of others' works. Among the noted subjects of the performances were "On the pernicious practice [of] drinking tea" (October 9, 1770), "Picture of a Tory" (December 10, 1770), passages from Shakespeare's plays (the soliloquies of Hamlet and Macbeth were popular), "A poetical essay on a certain provincial Governor" (March 17, 1772), "An elegy written when a long course of ill health threatened the Author with a consumption" (June 9, 1772), "On Liberty" (March 16, 1773), "On Slavery" (April 6, 1773), "On quack doctors" (March 1, 1774), "The speech of a free Negro to the revolted slaves in the West Indies" (April 4, 1775), "A prophecy of the future glory of America" (March 26, 1778), "The Dying Negro" (February 26 and September 30, 1784), and "[George] Littleton's speech upon the Jew bill" (March 23, 1786). Beauty, women, happiness, death, fame, laughter, gardens, astronomy, and religion were also popular topics for orations, as were Edward Young's Night thoughts on life, death, and immortality, James Burgh's The Art of Speaking, Cato, John Milton, Socrates (presumably based on works by Plato), John Hervey, Alexander Pope, William Enfield, Cicero, General Wolfe's speech to his army, and a range of other sources. Speakers also performed extracts from periodical publications, including The London Magazine,The Spectator, The Guardian,The Entertainer, and The Preceptor.
According to the minutes, there was a notable decline in the quality of the oratory during the first decade of the nineteenth century, and attendance diminished. A so-called Warning Committee was established on August 19, 1805, and a March 18, 1806 entry describes that evening's meeting as "rather dull and languid." On December 1, 1806, it was noted that "the usual performances [...] were few in number and displayed little of the fire & persuasive force of eloquence." By August 17, 1812, though, the quality of the orations appears to have improved. In an entry made that day, the records state, in reference to Orville Holley, the evening's first speaker: "he thundered -- he lightened in the true Demosthenean stile."


This document last updated 2015 January 8.

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