Psyche Literary Society Formed

The Psyche Literary Society was organized by Lucy Larcom in October 1857. Originally a literary and intellectual discussion group for any interested students, it later became the senior honor society.

During its first year, a constitution and by-laws were written, stating that “the object of this society shall be a more thorough mental development on the part of its members by the study of aesthetics and general literature.”

Meetings were held twice a week, and the subjects discussed included Plato, early English literature, Shakespeare, American writers, Greek tragedies, the art of Florence, sacred and legendary art, Tennyson, Browning and Homer.

Lecturers hosted by Psyche included Wendell Phillips, Will Carleton and Grace Greenwood.

Larcom described the origins of the society:

It was meant, like The Rushlight, to awaken and keep awake their interest in what was going on in the literary world — to freshen their own thoughts, and to cultivate the habit of expressing themselves well in conversation, as the little paper did in writing. It was not literature alone, but art and nature, too, that the name ‘Psyche’ suggested — any theme relating to nature or to art or to the deeper spiritual truths hinted by the butterfly emblem…”.

As emblems, members chose heliotrope, signifying devotion, and the evergreen periwinkle to represent early friendship. Psyche’s members paid twenty-five cents in dues and had to send written excuses for absence from a regular meeting to be read before the society. By 1858, membership had risen to thirty-five, and the society held its first strawberry social.

Psyche Society’s badge, a golden butterfly, spotted and streaked with black enamel, was designed by the members. The emblem was changed in 1899 from the butterfly to a diamond-shaped pin. Upon a center of black enamel, the word, “Psyche,” was inscribed in gold. An edge of gold outlines the diamond to signify the richness of life. This sombre design was later modified, adding a border of pearls.

In 1915, Psyche restricted its membership to only those elected by the society and, in 1922, the dues were raised to two dollars.

In 1930, the membership was restricted to those whose major work was English, with the further qualification of an average of B in all English courses and C in all other courses. However, exceptions could be made for those recommended by faculty who also received the unanimous consent of the members. This policy was distinctly different from that which Lucy Larcom intended. She desired a large and inclusive organization, but until Wheaton was recognized by Phi Beta Kappa in 1932, the oldest and most honored society in the college filled the need for some association of scholarly minded students. Although it continued to devote its meetings to literary topics and to bring to Wheaton lecturers of distinction, it dropped the word, “literary,” from its title. Like other clubs, it was restricted to five meetings a year. 

In 1931, Grace Shepard wrote of Psyche:

Girls were more or less dependent upon these organizations for recreation, for breaking up the routine of study. When they came to Wheaton, they remained here. Going off for week-ends was unknown. Movement about the town of Norton was restricted. A half hour meeting for reading and sociability was a boon. And the presence of faculty directors and presidents seems to have been a real joy to all and in no sense a deterrent.”