Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History

Academics

1857

Psyche Literary Society formed

The Psyche Literary Society was organized by Lucy Larcom in October 1857.  Originally a literary and intellectual discussion group for any interested students, it later became the senior honor society. Larcom described the origins of the society:

"Psyche" came first to Norton through the woods up the Mansfield road....  A group of girls belonging to the class in English Literature were invited to accompany their teacher one afternoon upon a walk.  There was a purpose in the teacher’s mind, which she unfolded when they came to a pleasant stopping-place, quite secluded from listeners.  This place was the shadow of a rock in the woods, over the wall, near the entrance to the right hand fork of the road.  The girls perched themselves upon the rock, or sat upon the moss under the trees; while the teacher suggested the formation of a little society among themselves, with the above appellation.  (We christened the rock "Psyche Rock.")  Its object was not to give the girls additional work,—being the most advanced among the scholars, they already had as much as they could do,—but it was meant, like THE RUSHLIGHT, to awaken and keep awake their interest in what was going on in the literary world,—to freshen their own thoughts, and to cultivate the habit of expressing themselves well in conversation, as the little paper did in writing.  It was not literature alone, but art and nature, too, that the name "Psyche" suggested—Any theme relating to nature or to art or to the deeper spiritual truths hinted by the butterfly emblem would fairly come within "Psyche’s" range….

Psyche Society's Badge, a golden butterfly, spotted and streaked with black enamel, was designed by the members. The emblem was changed about 1899 from the butterfly to a diamond shaped pin.  Upon a center of black enamel the word Psyche was inscribed in gold.  An edge of gold outlines the diamond, to typify the richness of life. This sombre design was later modified, adding a border of pearls.

During its first year, a constitution and by-laws were written, stating that “The object of this Society shall be a more thorough mental development on the part of its members by the study of Æsthetics and general literature.” As emblems, members chose heliotrope—signifying "devotion" —and the evergreen periwinkle, meaning—"early friendship". Psyche members paid twenty-five cents in dues, and had to send written excuses for absence from a regular meeting, to be read before the society. By 1858, membership had risen to thirty-five, and the society held its first strawberry social.

Meetings were held twice a week, when the subjects discussed included Plato, early English Literature, Shakespeare, American writers, Greek tragedies, the art of Florence, and sacred and legendary art, Tennyson, Browning, and Homer.

Lecturers engaged by Psyche included Wendell Phillips, Lucy Larcom, Will Carleton, and Grace Greenwood.

In 1931, Grace Shepard wrote of Psyche,

Girls were more or less dependent upon these organizations for recreation, for breaking up the routine of study.  When they came to Wheaton, they remained here.  Going off for week-ends was unknown.  Movement about the town of Norton was restricted.  A half hour meeting for reading and sociability was a boon.  And the presence of faculty directors and presidents seems to have been a real joy to all and in no sense a deterrent.

About 1915, the society restricted its membership to the leading scholars of the college. Not all students with the scholarship qualification, however, could become members, but only those elected thereto by the society.  In 1930, the membership was restricted to those whose major work was English, with the still further qualification of an average of B in all English courses, and C in all other courses, but with a possibility of exceptions by faculty recommendation plus the unanimous consent of the members.  This policy was distinctly different from that which Lucy Larcom intended,—she desired a large and inclusive organization—but until Wheaton was recognized by Phi Beta Kappa in 1932, the oldest and most honored society in the college filled the need for some association of scholarly minded students.  Although it continued to devote its meetings to literary topics, and to bring to Wheaton lecturers of distinction, it dropped the word “Literary” from its title.  Like other clubs, it was restricted to five meetings a year.  In 1922, the dues were raised to two dollars.

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