Month: April 2015


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Literary societies are one of the oldest student organizations in America, and are considered the forerunners of modern-day fraternities and sororities. Traditional literary societies were founded to promote scholarship through literary exercises and debate. Modern fraternities and sororities focus on the personal development of their members, often promoting social growth above scholarship.

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from the 1908 Hack Yearbook

Centenary College is no exception to this age-old tradition. When the college first opened, its students created four literary societies, one within the institute’s first week! Students named it the Whitney Lyceum in honor of President Whitney. His Friday afternoon declamation exercises challenged students to improve their public speaking skills, which inspired the society. Within months came another society, the Philomathean Society, which merged into the Zeta Chapter of the Alpha Phi Fraternity in 1885. Both were gentlemen only. The ladies had their own societies: Diokosophian was in 1875, and the Evergreen Society (later called Peithosophian) in 1880. Dr. Whitney’s ideas of social training were quickly adopted by all four societies. Utmost in importance to all societies was the inclusion of earnest, purposeful young men and women.


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Societies met every Saturday night in their respective meeting room to carry out literary exercises and read their society paper, which contained both serious and humorous articles. They hosted Anniversary Programs, or “Ann’s”, events that consisted of musical numbers, speeches, debates, and dramatic performances. Ann’s were open to the public, and were attended by students, faculty, Hackettstown residents, and alumni! After chapel the audience would visit each society hall to enjoy their presentations and have discussion until dinner was announced. In a way, these programs were informal class reunions. Each society created a motto for itself that was fiercely guarded by its members – other societies could know only the initial letter of each word. Even 50 years after graduating, members refused to divulge their society’s motto.

Amazingly, these societies were completely student controlled. They were not under the direct supervision of the President, nor did they request support from faculty or staff members, yet each ran like a well-oiled machine. Members were expected to behave in an appropriate manner at all times, and could be punished or expelled from their society for irresponsible or foolish behavior. They were respectful of faculty, and earned the respect of the faculty through their professionalism and enthusiasm for learning.

Eventually, students started to spend more time on their societies, Ann’s in particular. Ann’s became such a diversion that in one instance students asked their professors to make exams as light as possible. To alleviate cost and stress, Ann’s were merged – Whitney Lyceum with Diokosophian, and Peithosophian with Alpha Phi. By 1907 all four societies held one combined Ann. In 1910, the college said goodbye to the men and their societies, and hello to a new girl’s society: Callilogian Society. Over the next few decades the objectives of the societies transformed from academic to social. By the time the fourth society, Kappa Psi Delta, was created in 1961, traditional literary societies were almost completely phased out. The trophy contest, in which societies wrote essays in competition for the right to display a statue called “The Lady”, was possibly one of the last traditional academic events held by the societies.


diok-whit ann

from the 1904 Hack Yearbook

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts to learn more about each literary society!


The importance of President Whitney’s influence on Centenary can best be expressed through testimonials by those who knew him and his work:

“The discipline of the Institute is peculiar and striking. It is a system of directed and guarded self-government…We are not surprised at the success it has won here. As a result of this system we notice the manly and womanly bearing of the pupils, and the development of self-control in their characters…Somehow Dr. Whitney seems to love every student and every student to love him.”

1885 report by the Committee of Examiners, a scholarly group which audited schools

“Dr. Whitney, to whose wise direction and executive ability much of this is due, has made Centenary Collegiate Institute his monument.”

                    The Hackettstown Gazette, June 1891

President Whitney and the Class of 1891

President Whitney, top row right of center, and the Class of 1891. There seemed to be an old tradition that students posed for their class photo with an item, purpose unknown. 

“We were all proud of Dr. Whitney, and his influence as a deep thinking and spiritual leader has remained with us through the years.”

                   Flora Green, the first girl to register at C.C.I.

“The outstanding memory of my three years at C.C.I. is Doctor Whitney. What a man! Every student was uplifted by his splendid leadership and his patient willing service. He inspired the highest and best in us.”

                                          The class of 1884

“The clear consenting voices of all who speak or write, express appreciation of Dr. Whitney.”

            Leila Roberta Custard, author of Through Golden Years


Portrait of President Whitney

“…The most remarkable single fact about [Centenary Collegiate Institute] was its extraordinary success from the beginning of its career. This was due in large measure to the magnetic personality of its president, the Rev. Dr. George H. Whitney, who gave distinguished and meritorious service to the school through a large period of years…it may be said without hesitation that no man ever did richer and truer service in the cause of Christian education and good citizenship than the greatly beloved and successful president of the Institute…”

                                                              1904 Hack Yearbook