The Philaletheis Society

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The Philaletheis Society
Philaletheis Society logo.png
The Philaletheis Society's logo as of 2014
FormationDecember 2, 1865;153 years ago (1865-12-02)
Founder John Howard Raymond
TypeStudent theatre organization
Formerly called
The Philalethean Society

The Philaletheis Society (often shortened to Philaletheis or just Phil and founded as The Philalethean Society) is a student theatre group at Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, and the school's oldest student organization. Founded in December 1865, Phil began as a college literary society and its first leader was college president John Howard Raymond. Control of the organization was swiftly handed to the students and the group split into three chapters, each with a distinct focus. The group maintained its literary focus until the 1890s, by which point dramatic productions had taken over in popularity. The tradition of producing four and later three plays per year continued into the mid-twentieth century, but in 1958, the organization disbanded due to lack of interest. It was revived in 1975, first as an arm of student government and then as an independent student organization.

Vassar College private, coeducational liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States

Vassar College is a private, coeducational, liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, closely following Elmira College. It became coeducational in 1969, and now has a gender ratio at the national average. The school is one of the historic Seven Sisters, the first elite female colleges in the U.S., and has a historic relationship with Yale University, which suggested a merger with the college before coeducation at both institutions.

Poughkeepsie (town), New York Town in New York, United States

Poughkeepsie, officially the Town of Poughkeepsie, is a town in Dutchess County, New York, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 43,341. The name is derived from the native term Uppuqui meaning "lodge-covered", plus ipis meaning "little water", plus ing meaning "place", all of which translates to "the reed-covered lodge by the little water place", or Uppuqui-ipis-ing. This later evolved into Apokeepsing, then into Poughkeepsing, and finally Poughkeepsie.

College literary societies in American higher education were a distinctive kind of social organization, distinct from literary societies generally, and they were often the precursors of college fraternities and sororities. In the period from the late eighteenth century to the Civil War, collegiate literary societies were an important part of campus social life. College literary societies are often called Latin literary societies because they typically had compound Latinate names.


The group is run by an executive board that selects which plays to produce each year based on the proposals received from student-directors. Auditions are open to all Vassar students but those interested in directing must have previously completed a directing workshop through the organization.


According to alumna Maria Dickinson McGraw, the creation of a college literary society at Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, was proposed by students during the first week of the school's first year. [1] Later that year, on December 2, 1865, the Philalethean Society was founded, becoming the first student group at Vassar. [2] [3] It was organized and helmed by John Howard Raymond, president of the college. [3] [4] While Raymond was the organization's first leader, students in the organization quickly saw fit to transition to self-governance; Raymond "was not re-elected." [4] The Society's first student president was M. L. Dickinson, who also served as one of the several editors of the inaugural edition of Vassariana, the precursor the Vassar's weekly newspaper, The Miscellany News . [5] Named for the term philalethea, meaning "truth-loving", [6] the Society was split into three distinct chapters, each with a specialized focus. [7] The Alpha arm of the organization focused on literary works, the Beta chapter did dramatic exercises, and the Delta chapter was involved with musical pursuits. [8] Later, it added a fourth chapter. [9] Until the alumnae gymnasium—later Ely Hall—was built, the organization was headquartered in the Society Room on the second floor of the school's Calisthenium and Riding Academy. [10] [11]

John Howard Raymond American university president

John Howard Raymond was a United States educator. He was the first president of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and, as president and professor, also lent his hand to organizing Vassar College in its early years.

<i>The Miscellany News</i>

The Miscellany News is the student newspaper of Vassar College. Established in 1866, it is one of the oldest student newspapers in the country. The paper is distributed every Thursday evening during Vassar's academic year to locations across the College's campus, including dormitories, dining and athletic facilities, communal areas, as well as off-campus locations in the Town of Poughkeepsie. The paper welcomes contributions from all members of the College community—students, administrators, faculty, staff, alumnae/i and trustees—and has a regular staff of roughly 40 to 50 student editors, reporters, photojournalists, multimedia correspondents and designers. In addition to its print publication, the staff also publishes articles, videos, and photo essays daily on its Web site and blogs.

Ely Hall

Ely Hall is a two-story Richardsonian Romanesque classroom and laboratory building on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, US. The structure houses Vassar's Department of Earth Science and Geography, the A. Scott Warthin, Jr. Museum of Geology and Natural History, and the Aula, a spacious and frequently used gathering space.

The Society's first public meeting occurred in June 1866, with invitations sent to Vassar students reading "The pleasure of your company is invited to a literary entertainment." [12] The event included music, prayer, and the performance of original poems, songs, essays, and a drama piece. [12] Further meetings happened in December, at which point a scene from Henry VIII was produced, and again the following June, at which point Vassar students recited nine of William Shakespeare's monologues for female characters. [13] By 1871, the Society was sizable, consisting of 127 members. [8] It retained its original literary focus through the 1890s. [9]

<i>Henry VIII</i> (play) play by Shakespeare

Henry VIII is a collaborative history play, written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on the life of King Henry VIII of England. An alternative title, All Is True, is recorded in contemporary documents, the title Henry VIII not appearing until the play's publication in the First Folio of 1623. Stylistic evidence indicates that individual scenes were written by either Shakespeare or his collaborator and successor, John Fletcher. It is also somewhat characteristic of the late romances in its structure. It is noted for having more stage directions than any of Shakespeare's other plays.

William Shakespeare English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

An outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1914 A Midsummer Nights Dream, Vassar Philaletheis Society, May 1914.PNG
An outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1914

The college's 50th anniversary fell in 1915; by this point, the society had transitioned its focus exclusively to dramatic arts. [14] In 1890, when someone discovered that the term Philalethea was not proper Greek, the group changed its name to the more correct Philaletheis Society or Phil for short. [15] [14] While the group had originally performed four shows per year, by 1915 it was down to three plays annually including one outdoors that was usually a Shakespeare show, and indoor productions of contemporary dramas, comedies, and older works such as The Critic and She Stoops to Conquer . [9] [14] The year 1908 saw the abolition of the chapters and their plays, which had ostensibly come to serve as a proving ground for undiscovered Vassar women who wanted to take part in the larger productions sponsored by the entire Philaletheis organization. [16] The chapters' plays were prepared in just one week each leading to the criticism that their presentations were "hasty and patchy", and the establishment of competitive auditions for the main Phil plays rendered obsolete the model of chapter plays as proving grounds for new actresses. [16] The group had produced 147 full shows by this time. [17] A song in a marziale tempo, "Hail to thee, Philaletheis!", was published in 1908. [18]

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

<i>The Critic</i> (play) play written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The Critic: or, a Tragedy Rehearsed is a satire by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was first staged at Drury Lane Theatre in 1779. It is a burlesque on stage acting and play production conventions, and Sheridan considered the first act to be his finest piece of writing. One of its major roles, Sir Fretful Plagiary, is a comment on the vanity of authors, and in particular a caricature of the dramatist Richard Cumberland who was a contemporary of Sheridan.

<i>She Stoops to Conquer</i> comedy by Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy by the Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, first performed in London in 1773. The play is a favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in the English-speaking world. It is one of the few plays from the 18th century to have retained its appeal and is regularly performed. The play has been adapted into a film several times, including in 1914 and 1923. Initially the play was titled Mistakes of a Night and the events within the play take place in one long night. In 1778, John O'Keeffe wrote a loose sequel, Tony Lumpkin in Town.

Philaletheis had its offices in the 1913 Students' Building for many years. [19] The tradition of putting on three plays each year continued through the 1940s, including presenting the third and final play outdoors. [20] In 1950, Philaletheis was identified by the Miscellany News as one of the "Big Five" organizations, a quintet of student groups "which include[d] nearly every extra-curricular activity which [took] place on campus". [21] Each student became a member of each of the Big Five [lower-alpha 1] organizations upon their matriculation to the college. [22] In 1958, however, the group's focus had shifted and it now stood primarily as an organization through which freshmen could try out theatre arts before moving on to the drama department for more serious dramatic work. [23] Later that year, Philaletheis disbanded due to insufficient interest from students. [24]

Students Building (Vassar College)

The Students' Building on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S., houses the school's All Campus Dining Center as well as additional multifunctional student space on its second floor. Designed by Joseph Herenden Clark of McKim, Mead & White and built in 1913, the structure originally housed a variety of different student organizations and school functions. In 1973, it was converted into a campuswide dining hall; it underwent a second renovation in 2003 that returned multipurpose student functionalities to its upper floors.

Matriculation entering a university

Matriculation is the formal process of entering a university, or of becoming eligible to enter by fulfilling certain academic requirements such as a matriculation examination.


In 1975, a group of students interested in extracurricular theatre revived the Philaletheis Society after a 17-year absence. [24] Citing an interest in producing shows without being involved in the college's drama department (a requirement for involvement at the time), the rebooted Phil's first performance was Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap . [24] The next year, the Student Government Association (SGA) took over the organization, merging it with its extant Drama Funds Committee to create "the sole producing agent of independent student theatre on the Vassar campus". [25] By the 1980s, Phil split from student government while retaining its funding from the latter. [26]

Agatha Christie 20th-century English mystery and detective writer

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Christie also wrote the world's longest-running play, a murder mystery, The Mousetrap, and, under the pen name Mary Westmacott, six romances. In 1971 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contribution to literature.

<i>The Mousetrap</i> Murder mystery play by Agatha Christie

The Mousetrap is a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie. The Mousetrap opened in London's West End in 1952, and has been running continuously since then. The longest running West End show, it has by far the longest initial run of any play in history, with its 25,000th performance taking place on 18 November 2012. The play has a twist ending, which the audience are traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.

The group was struggling to find space to rehearse and perform by 1989. [27] The Students' Building where Philaletheis had once performed had been transformed into the All Campus Dining Center and the old performance space was neither replaced nor replicated elsewhere on campus. [27] To rememdy this, in 1993 and 1994, Vassar invested in the renovation of one of its disused buildings, a former functioning coal bin, into the Coal Bin Theater to be used by Philaletheis and the other student theatre and comedy groups that had been created by this time. [28]


Early in the Society's history, when its focus was still primarily literary, membership was considered by a committee for three days and then voted upon. [2] By 1908, that model had been abandoned in favor of an open system in which any student who paid an annual fee could be part of the group. [29] At that time, Philaletheis was governed by a six-member board consisting of a president and vice-president (both seniors), secretary, treasurer, and props manager (juniors), and an assistant props manager (a sophomore). [30] In 1951, the board was vastly expanded to include managers of scenery, lights, sound, makeup, publicity, and a number of other fields. [31]

The rebooted 1975 version of Philaletheis, as a committee of the SGA, was governed by the SGA's president. [32] Membership was by application for all positions. [32] Once the organization split from student government, it was run by a seven-member board and accepted proposals for shows, ranging from musicals to one-act plays. [26] Recently, the Society has accepted proposals for shows at the beginning of every semester, then the production board has voted on which shows to produce. [33] Each production then holds its own auditions for actors, with no experience required. [33] Directors seeking to produce a full-length show must first direct a shorter directing workshop, usually a scene running 15 minutes or shorter. [34] Directing workshops occur twice a year, early in fall and spring semesters. [34] For the 2015 fiscal year, the group's budget was $12,000. [35]


  1. The Big Five organizations included, in addition to Philaletheis, the Community Religious Association, the Weekend Activities Association, the Athletic Association, and the Political Association. [22]

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  1. Taylor & Haight 1915, p. 98.
  2. 1 2 Gurney 1915, p. 93.
  3. 1 2 Seeley 1871, p. 84.
  4. 1 2 Taylor & Haight 1915, p. 93.
  5. Farkas 2009, p. 20.
  6. Gurney 1915, p. 103.
  7. Seeley 1871, pp. 84–85.
  8. 1 2 Seeley 1871, p. 85.
  9. 1 2 3 Taylor & Haight 1915, p. 182.
  10. Wood 1909, p. 56.
  11. Horowitz 1985, p. 63.
  12. 1 2 Wood 1909, p. 57.
  13. Wood 1909, p. 58.
  14. 1 2 3 Taylor & Haight 1915, p. 100.
  15. Gurney 1915, p. 94.
  16. 1 2 Gurney 1915, p. 99.
  17. Gurney 1915, pp. 104–107.
  18. Vassar College 1908, p. 37.
  19. Van Lengen & Reilly 2004, p. 87.
  20. Steele, Mandy (May 28, 1949). "Philaletheis". The Vassar Chronicle. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  21. "Misc Explains CGA, Big 5, Minor Clubs' Activities on Campus". The Miscellany News . Summer 1950. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  22. 1 2 "V.C.'s Extra-Curricular Activities Are Varied And Open To All". The Vassar Chronicle. Summer 1955. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  23. Morrison, Pauline (October 11, 1958). "English Views Phil; Cites Policy Changes". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  24. 1 2 3 Glucksman, Mary S. (October 10, 1975). "Students Revive Drama Society". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  25. "Drama Group Revived Coalition Urges Reforms". The Miscellany News . April 9, 1976. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  26. 1 2 Smith, Evan (February 5, 1988). "A New Season About to Be Launched". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  27. 1 2 Pearlstein, Joanna R. (November 10, 1989). "Community Agrees on Student Space Crisis". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  28. Peskin, Joy (September 9, 1994). "Former Coal Bin Becomes Theater for Student Performance Groups". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  29. Gurney 1915, p. 100.
  30. Gurney 1915, pp. 100–101.
  31. "Philaletheis Changes Board And Policy". The Miscellany News . October 10, 1951. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  32. 1 2 "Philaletheis". The Miscellany News . October 7, 1977. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  33. 1 2 Scharr, Jillian (December 2, 2010). "Performance organizations vary in audition methods". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 16, 2014.
  34. 1 2 Daniels, Emma (February 3, 2011). "Workshops return with opportunities at all levels". The Miscellany News . Retrieved July 16, 2014.
  35. "Vassar Student Association Budget for FY 2015" (PDF). Vassar Student Association. 2015. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 23, 2015. Retrieved July 23, 2015.