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Adelphic Union Records

Identifier: MC-19

Scope and Contents

The Adelphic Union Records consist of meeting minutes, attendance and membership records, library catalogues, related correspondence, and programs for exhibitions.


  • 1795 - 1963

Conditions Governing Access

The Adelphic Union Records is open for research. Researchers are encouraged to contact Special Collections staff prior to a visit.

Conditions Governing Use

In consultation with Special Collections staff, reproductions may be made upon request. Some material in this collection may be subject to copyright.

Historical note

The Adelphic Union, a literary society, was established at Williams College between 1793 and 1795. The date of its official organization was recorded as November 5, 1795, and as the first extra-curricular organization at Williams, its membership claimed all of the students in the College. The Adelphic Union split into the Philologian and Philotechnian Societies when it outgrew its quarters in West College in 1795/6. The Philologian and Philotechnian were created due to the Union's increased size, not because the two societies subscribed to different ideals. According to the 1883 revised edition of the Philologian constitution, "The object of this society shall be the literary improvement of its members." The object of the Philotechnian Society, as stated in the 1873 version of its constitution, was "...the intellectual culture of its members." Membership numbers in the two Societies were fairly evenly distributed, with only slight fluctuations in popularity from one Society to the other. The Societies moved into East College when the building was completed and obtained separate halls for their meetings. Members contributed faithfully to funds that went towards books, furniture, and upkeep of their quarters. The Societies remained in East until a fire destroyed the building in 1841. After the fire, which destroyed many of their early records and books, the Societies moved into South College (now Fayerweather). The Adelphic Union and the Societies were known for their library collections, and the Union produced its first library catalogue in 1812. Originally, the Adelphic Union library consisted of about 100 books; the library later boasted 7,532 volumes. The collection was initially under the control of the Adelphic Union through joint participation of the two societies, but after 1841 each society maintained a library of its own. The book purchases of the two societies were strikingly similar, and popular subjects included history, travel, voyages, metaphysics, and fiction. In 1850 the Adelphic Union was incorporated under state law and a Board of Trustees was formed to oversee the libraries and other property of the Societies. In 1963 the corporation was formally dissolved, and the College obtained custody of the libraries. The Philotechnian and Philologian libraries are currently located in Williams College Archives and Special Collections. The rivalries between the Societies were at times intense. The Philologian and Philotechnian Societies alternated years of Presidency of the Adelphic Union and control over exibitions. The first Public Exhibition of the Adelphic Union was in 1796. The Societies participated in the exhibitions twice a year until 1829, at which time the spring exhibition was discontinued and the Societies began to hold their exhibitions only at Commencement of each year. The program of events usually included debates and orations on topics such as prohibition, emancipation, the worth of fiction, and the role of the United States in world affairs. They often invited well known figures to speak at these exhibitions, notably Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1865. In 1831 the Union took over The Adelphi, a literary publication, and the two Societies alternated authority over content and production. In this manner, the Union published about a dozen issues, each one an attempt to surpass the last issue, a product of the other Society in the Union. Attempts were made at starting rival societies to the Union. In 1843 the Clionian was formed and in 1844 the PhiloRhetorian; both died young. No other literary society in Williams history was as long lived as the Adelphic Union. For more information on student literary societies, see article by Rudolph, Frederick: "The Extracurriculum." The American College and University: A History, p. 137-145. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.


4.42 Linear Feet (2 manuscript boxes, 2 record storage cartons, 2 flat file box)

Language of Materials



The Adelphic Union Records consist of meeting minutes, attendance and membership records, library catalogues, related correspondence, and programs for exhibitions.


Organized into four series: I. Adelphic Union inclusive of Philologian and Philotechnian Societies, II. Adelphic Union and Philologian Society, III. Adelphic Union and Philotechnian Society, IV. Clinonian Society and Philorhetorian Society.

Physical Location

L2 Storage, F4b.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source unknown.

Related Materials

Medals from the Adelphic Union Societies may be found in the College Archives artifact collection. The Williams Athenaeum usually reported on the Literary Societies in every issue. Such reports included debate, dispute, and essay topics as well as other relevant news items.

Processing Information

Processed by Ambriel Floyd (Williams 1993), July 1991.
Adelphic Union Records
Nash, Katie
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Williams College Archives & Special Collections Repository

Sawyer Library
26 Hopkins Hall Drive
Williamstown, MA 01267