Oldest Item in the Archives: The Voice of Phi Sigma


The oldest item we have here in the College Archives is an issue of “The Voice of Phi Sigma” from 1879. Although Phi Sigma wasn’t directly involved with Columbia College, they are dedicated to public speaking and is the oldest organization of its kind in Illinois. The “Voice of Phi Sigma” collection honors Columbia’s early passion for oratory arts and what Columbia still strives for today.

Phi Sigma originally consisted of a group of six men who met up at Beard Brothers Books at 453 West Madison (now 1308 W Madison) on April 25, 1878. In March of 1882, five women joined the group. Its purpose was, “to devise ways to aid in the study of literature and history and to afford an opportunity for practice in debate.”

The group debated about book reviews, Greek poets, Norse legends, philosophy, history, drama, the Greek Church, realism, idealism, Reformation, mythology, immigration, sociology, psychology and much more. They also wrote stories and poems.

Though the paper from this 1879 Volume II issue has yellowed, the content is as lively as ever. I was so intrigued by its content that I spent a good chunk of the day reading the entire thing. The first thing I read was the obituary of a Mr. Brigg, which begins by saying, “It is with extreme grief that we record in this issue the sudden demise of our esteemed enemy.” It went on to say that this Mr. Brigg fellow was in “the prime of troublesomeness when the sickle cut him down.”

I don’t go around reading obituaries, but this is one of the most fascinating epitaphs I’ve ever stumbled upon. The writer in me wants to know why they were enemies. I’ll leave out all the possibilities running through my mind. Who writes an obituary for their enemy? What a way to word the fact that he died!

At the beginning of the document, editor F.E. Whitman answers questions from correspondents. A correspondent from Milwaukee asked, “Is it right for a temperance man to drink whiskey?” At this time, the Temperance Movement was going through its second wave (1872 – 1893). To this question, Whitman responds, wittily, “Well, no it is hardly right. Hardly unless he likes it. That makes a difference and even then it is hardly right unless he likes it very much.”

Also in this issue are statistics about how many people in the United States are followers of each religion and an in-depth look at mythology. It is full of intelligence, mystery, and humor.

This issue will soon be posted on our website. Stay tuned and we will let you know when you can read it for yourself. In the meantime, take a look at the cover here: http://www.colum.edu/archives/exhibits/digital-exhibits/archives-bts.php

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