Summary Information
Title: The Franklin Literary Society Minutes
Collection Number: DAR.1937.05
Creator: Franklin Literary Society (Pittsburgh, Pa.).

Collection Dates: 1906-1921
Extent: 2.0 volumes

Language: English

Literary societies were common among universities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and professionals also formed these societies to promote learning among like-minded individuals. The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Franklin Literary Society is no exception, having originally been formed by prominent Pittsburgh intellectuals during the nineteenth century. The Franklin Literary Society Minutes consist of two volumes of minutes from 1906-1921. Included in the minutes are brief notes of visits to local institutions, such as the Allegheny Observatory, and comments about guest lecturers, their paper topics, and the ensuing discussions.

ULS Archives Service Center
University of Pittsburgh Library System
7500 Thomas Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
Date Published:

October 2008

Finding aid prepared by Kristin Justham and Kate Colligan.
Revision Description:
November 2009:
Controlled access terms revised (dar)


The Franklin Literary Society served as a forum for lectures and debate among its members, as each week a member or guest lecturer read an original paper, which was then discussed. The Pittsburgh Chapter, initially organized by Thomas H. Davis in August of 1868, underwent a rebirth after the turn of the century. In 1906, former members of the group revived the Franklin and began holding meetings until the chapter formally dissolved in 1922.

From 1911 onward Franklin meetings were held at the chapter's headquarters in the Frick Building. The typical format of meetings consisted of presentations by members or outside lecturers of interest, followed by discussion. Topics of discussion were diverse in nature, including: the guarantee of bank deposits; a study of American military tactics; Aaron Burr; birth control; and the legal status of a married woman in Pennsylvania, among others. The Franklin also hosted speakers, such as a Mr. Bregg, drama critic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, who, in February of 1918, spoke about "the influence of the present war on the Theatre." Dr. Z. T. Miller, a homoeopathist, lectured on the question of anti-vaccination.

One notable Franklin member, John A. Brashear, is renowned for inventing optical lenses for telescopes and directed the Allegheny Observatory from 1898 to 1900. Martin B. Leisser, an art teacher and painter and an active member of the group, founded the Pittsburgh Art Society. His friendship with Andrew Carnegie influenced the opening of an art school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. O.A. Peterson, a scientist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, also held membership in the Pittsburgh Chapter. In 1893, Peterson unearthed the remains of dinosaurs in the Uinta Basin, south of the present-day Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. He went on to discover deposits of Miocene mammals in 1905 in what is now the Agate Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska.

The diverse professions and accomplishments of the aforementioned individuals offer a glimpse at the breadth of knowledge and achievement found among the members of the Franklin Literary Society.

Collection Scope and Content Notes

The minutes of the Franklin are found within two bound volumes, arranged chronologically. Included within the minutes is a brief history of the Pittsburgh Chapter, from its early days to its re-formation in 1906. No meeting entries are recorded for the period of late 1906 to late 1908. Lists of members and meeting attendees, elections of officers, bookkeeping notes, and motions passed are kept in handwritten form through 1910, at which time the entries are typewritten.

For the most part, a brief overview of topics presented at meetings and the ensuing discussion is noted, though occasionally, greater detail of the papers presented at the meetings is given. The volumes also contain assorted notes of thanks, artwork, newspaper clippings, and copies of letters written by members of the Franklin.

It appears that shortly after founding member Thomas H. Davis's death in late 1921, meetings occurred less frequently. The Franklin disbanded at some time in 1922, and the minutes reflect sporadic meetings and membership decline for that year.

Subject Terms

  • Classical literature -- Appreciation -- Pennsylvania
  • Literature -- Societies, etc.
  • Literature, Modern -- Appreciation -- Pennsylvania

Corporate Names
  • Franklin Literary Society (Pittsburgh, Pa.).

Personal Names
  • Brashear, John A. (John Alfred), 1840-1920
  • Davis, Thomas H.
  • Leisser, Martin B., 1846-1940
  • Peterson, O. A.

  • Pittsburgh (Pa.)

  • Minute books

Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

No restrictions.

Acquisition Information:

Gift to the Darlington Memorial Library in 1937.

Custodial History:

This collection was located in the Darlington Memorial Library in the University’s Cathedral of Learning until 2007 when it was moved to the ULS Archives Service Center for processing, storage, preservation and service. However, it remains in the custodianship of the ULS Special Collections Department.

Preferred Citation:

Franklin Literary Society Minutes, 1906-1921, DAR.1937.05, Darlington Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Kristin Justham and Kate Colligan in December 2006.


No copyright restrictions.

Related Material:

Allegheny Observatory Records, 1850-1967, UA.5.1, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

Brashear Association Records, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1891-1978, AIS.1979.17, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

Collection Inventory

Box 1
Volume 1 Meeting Minutes, 1906-1914
Volume 2 Meeting Minutes, 1915-1921