Document 8: Bylaws of the Young Ladies Literary Society, 12 April 1859 to 10 April 1863, Records of Young Ladies Literary Society, Notebook titled: O.C.- Coll Dept - Students - Young Ladies Literary Society, Student Life Record Group 19/3/4, Box 1, Oberlin College Archives.

Document 8: Bylaws of the Young Ladies Literary Society, 12 April 1859 to 10 April 1863, Records of Young Ladies Literary Society, Notebook titled: O.C.- Coll Dept - Students - Young Ladies Literary Society, Student Life Record Group 19/3/4, Box 1, Oberlin College Archives.


       The Young Ladies Literary Society, founded at Oberlin College in approximately 1835, was the first college women's debate society in the country.[15] It was a forum devoted to women's scholarship and especially to their public speaking, a skill women were forbidden to practice in front of mixed audiences in the early days of Oberlin's experiment in coeducation. Should the Young Ladies Literary Society be seen as conservative? Its members did not attempt to speak outside the exclusively female space of society meetings. However, as these bylaws illustrate, the YLLS provided women the opportunity to gain needed experience as lecturers and leaders, gaining skills that would later facilitate the rise of the women's rights movement. Moreover, by 1859, the group had established a concrete system of organization and governance, laid out in the following document. Antebellum Oberlin women clearly learned systems of political organization within the safe sphere allotted them. For an example of the productions of the Ladies Literary Society, please see Frances Hazen, "Young Women," Document 15 in this project.

       By-laws of the young Ladies Literary Society.

Sect. 1st The regular meetings of this Society shall be held on the Wednesday Evening of each week during the College year commencing one hour after Chapel Prayers.
Sect. 2nd The order of exercises shall be.

1st Calling the Roll

2nd Prayer or singing

3rd Reading minutes of the last meeting

4th Critics Report

5th Reviews

6th Essays

7th Declamations

8th Orations[A]

9th Discussion

10th Miscellaneous

11th Assignments

12th Adjournment

Sect. 3rd The minutes of the last meeting being read and accepted by the Society shall be copied upon the Records.
Sect. 4th The members of this Society shall be arranged alphabetically in two divisions performing exercises each alternate week, four being appointed on discussion an equal number of the remainder of each division shall be appointed for each of the remaining exercises.
Sect. 5th The President and Recording Secretary shall be excused from the performance of their appointment during their term of Office.
Sect. 6th No member shall be allowed to speak in the Society without first rising and respectfully addressing the President, to this the President shall respond, after which and not before the member may proceed.
Sect. 7th No member shall speak more than once on a question of miscellaneous business except by permission of the President and consent of the Society.
Sect. 8th The Critics report shall consist of an Essay the topics of which shall be general suggestions and particular criticisms upon the members performing exercises at the last meeting.
Sect. 9th The President shall be authorized to call special meetings whenever she may deem proper.
Sect. 10th The Recording Secretary shall receive the excuses for absences and failures, shall impose or remit the fines and report to the Treasurer those unexcused with their fines annexed the next week after their occurrence.
Sect. 11th The Treasurer[B] shall read at four regular meetings of the Society the names of those meriting fines, and after being thus read they refuse to pay their dues they may expelled by a vote of two thirds of the members present.
Sect. 12th Any member not answering to their[C] name at the calling of the Roll shall be subject to a fine of five cents any member absent during an entire evening to a fine of ten cents and any one failing in any duty imposed on them to a fine of seventy-five cents.
Sect. 13th Two-thirds of the active members of this Society shall constitute a Quorum for the transaction of business.
Sect. 14th A plurality of votes shall be sufficient for the election of all officers excepting Editress who shall be chosen by majority.[D]
Sect. 15th This Society shall have one yearly Lecture during the spring term of the College year the arrangments being made during the fall term by the Board of Directors.[E]
Sect. 16th No member shall hold two offices at the same time provided those elected annually be not inelligible to any other office in the Society.
Sect. 17th All discussions on points of order shall be settled in accordance with Cushing's[F] [a later hand substituted Burleigh's[G] Manual].
Sect. 18th Any By-law may be set aside for an evening by concurrence of a majority of those present, but no one may be repealed or amended except by a vote of two thirds of the active members.
Sect. 19th Every amendment shall be strictly recorded by the Recording Secretary.

                [In a different hand on the next page] Wednesday April 10th 1861, the Society voted to adopt the following by-law.

Sect. 20th The questions for discussion in connexsion [?] with the names of the [discussants?], shall be presented to the Society by the Secretary one week previous to its discussion.

[Signed] Names of Honory Members Aug. 10th 1859 Miss Mary Atwater Kate M. Bissell Nellie M. Gordon Frank Hazen[H] Nellie Hotchkiss Samantha Waters Ursula Waters [new hand] 15th 1860. Lydia Danforth Harriet Everson Ellen Sharon Ellen Price Helen Tuttle [new hand] 19th 1861 Ophelia Hungerford Sara Adams Louisa Drew Marcia West Sept. 11th 1861 Kate M. Beecher[I] [new hand] Sept 16th, 1862 Emily Gates Lizzie Easter Belle Phillips Louisa Chapin Henrietta Matson Addie Warren Rose Rinney Ella Johnston Hattie Martindale

A. A later hand added Selections after Orations as the 9th agenda item, and renumbered the remaining items in pencil.
Back To Text

B. A later hand changed Treasurer to Secretary.
Back To Text

C. A later hand changed their to her.
Back To Text

D. A later hand struck out excepting Editress who shall be chosen by majority and penciled in omit.
Back To Text

E. Later hand struck out the arraingments being made during the fall term by the and penciled in the arrangements being made by the.
Back To Text

F. Probably Luther Stearns Cushing, Manual of Parliamentary Practice: Rules of Proceeding and Debate in Deliberative Assemblies (Boston: Thompson, Brown, 1854).
Back To Text

G. Probably Joseph Bartlett Burleigh, The American Manual (Philadelphia: Grigg, Elliot, 1849).
Back To Text

H. Probably a nickname for Frances M. Hazen, author of the essay "Young Women" (Document 15).
Back To Text

I. Katherine Matilda Beecher (later Penfield), daughter of Asahel Beecher, mayor of Oberlin during the Civil War.
Back To Text

back to top