Literary Societies

Some of the first organized clubs at Guilford, and numerous other colleges and universities during the late Victorian Age were Literary Societies. 
Starting at Guilford around 1888, there were two societies for men: 
Henry Clay (or "The Clays," with the colors purple & white) 

...and Websterian (or "The Webs," with the colors silver & sky blue).

For the women there was: Philomathean (or "The Phils," with colors brown & white)

...and Zatasian (or "The Zays," with colors blue & gold).


These “Societies” were the official organizations on campus and nearly every student was a member of one of the clubs.  
As Guilford has never allowed Greek letter fraternities or sororities, these literary societies may have functioned as such, sharing with them esoteric features like secret mottoes, handshakes, and initiation ceremonies. Meetings were held on Friday night of every week in each group's “Society Hall,” - usually a corner of the library or a classroom. Each society had it’s own member’s pin or badge, flags, banners and secret traditions, and held meetings under parliamentary procedure - all resembling a Greek system. The primary function of the societies was to train young men and women in oratory and public affairs. For many years at Guilford they were centers of student activity, intellectual and otherwise. Most, if not all, campus leaders were members of one of the societies. 

Society meetings were a time for training in debate, oratory, vocal and instrumental music, and essay writing. Yearly debate contests between clubs were common, competitive and fiercely attended. “Hosting Banquets” were held, similar to modern mixers, with the 1929 Zatasian girls hosting Websterian boys for a three act play in Memorial (now Duke Hall) followed by a buffet in Founders (then a women's dorm).

“...the menu consisted of creamed chicken and timbals, olive and date nut sandwiches, coffee, ice cream, and cake, and mints.” 
(The Quaker, 1929, pg. 46).

The Societies' lasting legacy at the school was publishing the Guilford Collegian, in 1888. Chiefly a literary magazine (resembling today's Greenleaf Review), having little campus, local or world news, The Guilford Collegian would evolve into campus weekly paper, The Guilfordian, by 1914.

"The Lits" began to wane in popularity by the early 1930s. It appears that the women's societies outlasted by a few years the men's - which suffered a decline in membership - until they were all pretty much extinct by 1933. A yearbook entry from that year states:

"...Early in the year, the Zatasian and Philomathean literary societies were duly buried with proper respects because of their voted uselessness..."

(* All pics from The Quaker)