Emerson Literary Society
Since 1882, ELS has operated on the Hamilton campus. From 1884-1995, the society operated a residence, open to all members. Since the closing of the house in 1995, ELS has maintained a presence at Hamilton, hosting social events and presenting public programs.
The society was founded in 1882, making it one of the oldest private societies on the Hamilton College campus. It was the first society to become co-educational when the College admitted women, and remains one of only two co-ed social societies on the campus.
Six weeks before Ralph Waldo Emerson's death, a group of Hamilton students honored his life's work by founding a non-secretive society based on his American philosophy. At first a fraternity (Hamilton College would not admit women for nearly 100 years), the fledgling organization sold stock certificates to build a house off the campus of the college in 1884.
Over the years, the house changed with the times and adapted Emerson's words into a modern context through practical application. Over 2,000 graduates of the small liberal arts college have associated themselves with the Emerson Literary Society in the 120 years that followed. In 1995, Emerson Hall and all other private society houses were closed by the College's Board of Trustees due to increasing pressure to decrease the role of private societies on the campus.
The profits from the sale of the house to the College were used to establish a board of trustees to manage the group's finances, as well as a yearly student scholarship and research grant. In 2004, the Emerson Literary Society began its "Tell Me What You Know" lecture series, which brings diverse speakers and points of view to the campus. In the past, NASA scientists, Hawaiian historians, graphic novelists, experts in Japanese tea ceremony, spoken word artists, and ultimate fighters have been speakers. ELS also sponsors many social events, such as the annual Smokin' Word and cabaret open mic nights and Rocky Horror Picture Show party. Even without a house, the Emerson Literary Society continues its tradition of forward thought and welcoming community.