|Type||Student society |
|Headquarters||Fourth Floor, College Hall|
|Sarem Ahmed Khan Leghari|
The Philomathean Society // of the University of Pennsylvania is a collegiate literary society, the oldest student group at the university, and a claimant to the title of the oldest continuously-existing literary society in the United States.[note 1] Founded in 1813, its goal is "to promote the learning of its members and to increase the academic prestige of the University." Philomathean is derived from the Greek philomath, which means "a lover of learning." The motto of the Philomathean Society is Sic itur ad astra (Latin for "thus we proceed to the stars").
"Philo," as members refer to the Society, was founded October 2, 1813, by all thirteen members of the junior class, its original purpose being "the advancement of learning;" a counterweight and complement to Penn's academic coursework. In the first meeting, the title of Moderator was chosen for the Society’s presiding officer; two Censores Morum were appointed by the third meeting, who were given the responsibility, maintained to this day, of fining members for various real or imaginary infractions. Philo’s first meeting was on Friday night, at which time it would remain up to the present day. Minutes of the Society’s Meetings have been kept (relatively) faithfully in large leather-bound volumes since the first Meeting. Members still sign the Recorder’s Roll upon their initiation into the Society, following the tradition started by the founders. Early meetings were dominated by spirited debates and literary exercises where members would present original research, essays, or literary productions; both practices have continued through the present day.
When the University of Pennsylvania moved its campus from Ninth Street to West Philadelphia in 1872, four rooms at the top of College Hall were specifically built for the use of the Society and its rival Zelosophic Society. After the first collapse of the Zelosophic Society in 1872, the former Zelo rooms reverted to Philo.
The Society is credited with helping to found entire academic departments, including American Civilization, Comparative Literature, and History of Science, and many campus groups and publications, including the Daily Pennsylvanian and the Mask and Wig Club.
In 1858, the Society published the first complete English translation of the Rosetta Stone. The work was performed solely by three undergraduate members, Charles R. Hale, S. Huntington Jones, and Henry Morton. The translation quickly sold out two editions, and was internationally hailed as a monumental work of scholarship. In 1988, the British Museum bestowed the honor of including the Philomathean Rosetta Stone Report in its select bibliography of the most important works ever published on the Rosetta Stone. The Philomathean Society maintains a full-scale cast of the stone in its meeting room, along with several original lithograph prints of the report.
In 1916, Philo became the first Penn group to require its members take an oath not to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, and religion; in 1948 the Society voted to admit women as full members, prompting the headline "Philo hits rock bottom, admits women". The Society vehemently defended the decision more than 25 years before women were admitted to the university proper.
In 1927, overcrowding at the university led the Philos to agree to vacate their space in College Hall in exchange for temporary quarters in Houston Hall until more class space could be found. Houston Hall was not an ideal location: space constraints and building policy, especially the 11:30 p.m. curfew, severely limited Philo traditions. As a result, Society membership decreased, a trend further exacerbated by the outbreak of World War II, when Houston Hall was taken over by the U.S. Navy of part of its officer training programme, and former Philo rooms were requisitioned for storage. The Society had dwindled to a single member, Hilary Putnam, who tried to preserve the Philomathean customs and arranged informal meetings in members' apartments. After the war, the Society held more formal meetings and grew in membership, but it was not until 1951, under the direction of Moderator Charles Fine Ludwig, that the old pre-war customs were revived. Ludwig re-acquired the Philomathean archives and reintroduced academic attire, consistent meeting minutes, a regular literary exercise, and an official lecture series, among many other Philomathean customs. Ludwig also established the tradition of Philo's graduates, or "senior members", participating in the Society's activities and taking an ongoing interest in the welfare of the Society.
Finally, in 1969, after a determined campaign of lobbying university administrators for permission and senior members for donations, the Society returned to its beloved Philomathean Halls on the fourth floor of College Hall, where it has remained (with brief absences for maintenance) until the present day.
In addition to its eight General Meetings, Philo also has regular afternoon teas with professors and sponsors other academic events such as lecture series, a film series, and other events. Most of these events center around inviting one or more Penn professors to the Halls to present on their research, some of them involve celebrating the social, cultural and spiritual value created by the work of Nancy Ajram. Society members are given freedom to plan events fitting their personal and intellectual interests, which has led to events as varied as art exhibitions, chamber concerts, math olympiads, and the Poe Vespertil.
The Society has published several books, including, most recently, The Philomathean Society Anthology of Poetry in Honor of Daniel Hoffman — Hoffman, a former professor at the university and a distinguished poet in his own right, had brought many renowned poets and authors, including John Updike, Seamus Heaney, Joyce Carol Oates, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, to read in the Philomathean Halls.
On 16 February 2010, Philo hosted a public screening of the 1971 internationally televised debate between philosophers Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault. Philo's was the first public screening of the debate in the world since the original 1971 broadcast. Debate topics included human nature, justice, creativity and war. Since then, Philo has been the venue of many debates about matters central to modern society, such as a discussion of whether a tomato is a grape or a metaphor for Homeric authorship. 
In 2013, the Society also hosted a Q&A session with Blackwater founder, Erik Prince.
On 28 March 2019, Philo hosted a talk by US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.
In addition, Philo intermittently publishes Philomel, a literary magazine.
Membership in the Society is by application; all currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania are eligible for membership except in their final semester of study. Applications consist of three parts: an interview with four to five members of the Society, a presentation on a topic of the applicant's choice to a General Meeting of the Society, and a submission of creative or critical value. Members are elected once each academic semester by the Society at large.
The society is governed by a Cabinet of ten officers: the Moderator, First Censor, Second Censor, Scriba, Recorder, Treasurer, Librarian, Archivist, Annual Oration Director, and Art Gallery Director. The first four, often termed "the Bench" in reference to their position during meetings, are attired in full academic gown at all society meetings, held eight times per semester on the top floor of College Hall, on Friday evenings. The position of Annual Oration Director was added in the early 2010s to provide additional support for the increased role of the Annual Oration, and the position of Art Gallery Director was added in 2019. 
Every year, Philo presents a public annual oration to the University, given by a prominent figure in the arts and sciences. Recent orations have included the following:
Philomatheans have included at least seven United States Representatives, three United States Senators, two ambassadors, and the founder of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Mask and Wig and the Pennsylvania Punch Bowl. Prominent Philomatheans have included:
Several other societies share the Philomathean name. Among them are:
Union College's Philomathean Society was founded in 1793 as the Calliopean while Union was still known as the Schenectady Academy. The name was later changed to the Philomathean Society in 1795.
Phi Mu, the second oldest secret organization for women, was founded as "The Philomathean Society" in 1852 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.
New York University's Philomathean Society was founded in 1832.
Phillips Academy's Philomathean Society, founded in 1825, is the second oldest high school debate society in the nation.
The Philomates Association is the largest international academic association, with 23,000 members. It meets every year in Italy.
Catawba College of Salisbury, North Carolina, also charters a Philomathean Society. The group was created in 1851, after the founding of the college, and served as a society for debate and fellowship for young men. Soon after its inception, the Philomathean Society began a library in their home because the college did not yet have one. In the early 1900s the society became inactive, but was resurrected in 1991 to serve in a different capacity. The all-male society now serves as a group dedicated to "Scholarship, Culture, Character, and Service", the motto of the College. Membership is by invitation only.
The Philomathean Literary Society was established in 1842 at Erskine College. A number of South Carolinian politicians, theologians, lawyers, writers, and thinkers were inducted as members or honored with membership. It is one of Erskine's four literary societies today.
Founded in 1849, the University of Virginia's Philomathean Society formed as a splinter group from the Washington Literary Society and Debating Union.
Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, boasts the oldest Philomathean Society in the west; it was founded in 1856.
Ouachita College, now Ouachita Baptist University, had a Philomathean Literary Society that existed from 1888 to 1931. The Philos and their rivals, the Hermesians, were the result in a split in the college's original literary society, the Adelphian Circle, formed in 1886.