The Peithologian Society was a secret undergraduate debate society at Columbia University. It was founded in 1806, four years after Columbia's first secret literary society, the Philolexian Society, by freshmen who were disenfranchised by Philolexian's requirement that its members be upperclassmen. Its emphasis on debate, composition, and rhetoric was similar to Philo's literary aims, and the two societies shared other superficial characteristics as well. Philo adopted light blue as its official color, while Peithologian adopted white (Columbia later appropriated the two hues as its own official school colors). Whereas Philolexian's symbol was a rising sun, Peithologian's was a star. Its Latin motto was "Vitam Impendere Vero" meaning, roughly, "To devote one's life to truth."
Eventually, Peithologian became so popular that on July 9, 1821, Columbia's trustees resolved that "for the accommodation of the Philolexian and Peithologian Societies, a suitable building be erected." Peithologian flourished as a society in its own right, dropping its freshman status and opening itself to all undergraduates. Indeed, some students, like John Lloyd Stephens, belonged to both Peithologian and Philolexian. In general, though, the two groups maintained a rivalry that was friendly at best and highly charged at worst. In his famous diary, George Templeton Strong recorded that a Philolexian gathering was disrupted by "those rascally Peithologians"; firecrackers and stink bombs, tossed into the midst of each other's meetings, were usually the weapons of choice.
Although Peithologian's alumni included such prominent names as Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler (Class of 1882), Nobel laureate Hermann Muller (Class of 1910), and publisher Alfred A. Knopf (Class of 1912), both it and Philolexian suffered declining membership after the turn of the century. The society ceased to exist around World War I, although several undergraduates revived it after World War II.
- WikiCU Peithologian Society
- Columbia Student Life: The Curriculum and The Extra-Curriculum, 1754 - 2004.
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