Philanthropic Society

15 July 2011

At the SHC on Monday I spent a couple of hours looking through the minutes of UNC's Philanthropic Society for 1861-62, in attempt to find some material from University Archives to post on the blog. I did find some candidates--for instance, one entry recorded a report the society submitted to its governing board detailing the poor condition of its hall. In particular, the society members were incensed over the lack of lighting which caused them to stumble about, was "injurious to those who keep their eyes open," and prohibited them from seeing if members were attentive or asleep during the meetings, even those who "sat very near." Their complaint was related in such a dry but ruffled-feathers way I found it humorous. The report, however, was grounded as they recounted their dwindling number of members due to the war (this was written in August, I think, of 1861). In memoriam entries appeared with greater frequency the further I read as more of the society's members were killed in battle. As with the letters and other documents I've been reading, these entries show the human cost* of the war, the loss of individuals with great intellects, characters, and futures.

It was quite interesting to read some of the society's debate topics, too, which covered a range of issues such as man and woman, the war, and certain leaders (Napoleon came up a couple of times). Each meeting the secretary would dutifully record the query and the members chosen to represent each side in three weeks' time. One query, which apparently resulted in "lively discussion," was "Which exerts the greater influence over man, wine or women?" Another asked whether it was ever moral for the Confederate army to fight on the offensive (the answer was no). Another asked whether the North and South would ever be reconciled over the issue of slavery (which, again, was "no," I believe). I really wish the secretary had recorded bits of the arguments.

Of particular interest to me were the many entries devoted to the upkeep of the library and archives. The society often bemoaned the poor state of the library, as patrons left books scattered over the tables and there was no budget allotted to get more books or to repair the bindings of the ones they had. There were also a good many "delinquent" patrons to deal with and fines to levy. Even as the library's resources change, some things, apparently, have remained timeless.

The blog's first entry about the Philanthropic Society introduces it in greater detail.

*don't really like the financial overtones of the metaphor when talking about human lives, but you get the idea

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