Calliopean Society

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Calliopean Society
Calliopean Society Emblem.jpg
19th-century Calliopean Society emblem
Formation 1819 (1819)

The Calliopean Society is a literary and debating society founded at Yale College in 1819[1] by a group of members of Linonia dissatisfied by the result of an election for the presidency of the latter society. Its name refers to Calliope, first and wisest of the muses, the muse of epic poetry, and daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory). A literary society of the same name is said to have been formed in Bermuda in 1790 by George Tucker, at that time under the tutelage of Josiah Meigs, who later became Professor of Moral Philosophy at Yale.[2]

Calliopean was distinguished at Yale from its rival societies Linonia and Brothers-In-Unity by possessing a much larger portion of its membership originating from the Southern states. Increasing sectional tensions prior to the American Civil War caused Calliopean to suspend its activities. It was subsequently revived and has repeatedly again lapsed into hibernation, its periods of inactivity typically coinciding with major wars.

Calliopean was most recently revived in the early 1950s,[3] as part of an intellectual conservative movement of resistance to a conformist liberal consensus prevailing at Yale in the aftermath of the New Deal.

For a bit over a decade from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, the Calliopean Society functioned as the lead organization and intellectual center of Conservatism at Yale, conducting a program of debates and meetings featuring guest speakers, and maintaining its own library. M. Stanton Evans, Class of 1955, later a syndicated columnist and conservative activist, was one of the presidents of Calliopean during that period.

In the mid-1960s, when the Party of the Right of the Yale Political Union (POR), whose membership commonly overlapped with Calliopean, took over as the center of conservative organizational activity in the university community, Calliopean officership became an honorific distinction passed down among prominent libertarian leaders of the POR.

Calliopean was then remodeled into a Senior Honorary Society, on the models of the Aurelian Honor Society and the Torch Honor Society. Membership was limited to members of the Yale College senior class, but officers (appointed by the president) could be chosen from any class. Membership was also annually awarded each spring by the Calliopean president and director (on a non-political basis) as a form of recognition of exceptional qualities of spirit, intelligence, and talent on the part of members of next fall's Yale senior class.

Calliopean became increasingly active during the 1970s during the presidency of Martin D. "Chip" Gatter, Class of 1973, holding annual parties and special events in unusual locations in accordance with a cryptic constitutional provision permitting official meetings to be held only "on street corners and in dark alleys" and adopting a program of promoting "intellectual diversity at any cost".

For many decades, the Calliopean Society had no physical location, listing itself as located at "1985 Yale Station, New Haven, Connecticut 06520". Its 1985 box number had been chosen to refer to the inevitable victory of the West over the collectivist totalitarianism described in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

During much of the 1970s and 1980s, Calliopean was given by the university use of the attic space in Bingham Hall equipped with an old observatory dome.

The Calliopean Society is commemorated on the Yale University campus by Calliope Court, one of three small courtyards within Branford College.



  1. ^ "Elms and Magnolias: The 19th Century". Yale University Library. 1996-08-12. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  2. ^ McLean, Robert C. (1961). George Tucker Moral Philosopher and Man of Letters. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. p. 4. 
  3. ^ Evans, M. Stanton (1961). Revolt on the Campus (PDF). Chicago: Henry Regnery Company. pp. 8–9.