Pertaining to letters or literature; respecting learning or learned men; as, literary fame; a literary history; literary conversation. Versed in, or acquainted with, literature; as, a literary man. Social pertains to society; ready or disposed to mix in friendly converse; companionable. Consisting in union or mutual converse. A society is the persons, collectively considered, who live in any region or at any period; any community of individuals who are united together by any common bond of nearness or intercourse; those who recognize each other as associates, friends, and acquaintances; specifically , the more cultivated portion of any community in its social relations and influences; those who give and receive formal entertainments mutually. The relationship of men to one another when associated in any way; companionship; fellowship; company. Connection; participation. — Webster, 1882
At the literary last Friday evening the question for debate was, “Resolved that the women of America have the right of suffrage.” The question was decided in favor of the negative. Probably there were no ladies acting as judges. – Lake Preston Times, December 29, 1881
While there may have been a Literary Society organized the winter after the Hard Winter, as there were in Lake Preston and Iroquois, early years of the Kingsbury County News were not archived, so there is no record to consult. The first mention of a literary meeting appears in the January 27, 1883, Leader, which began publication earlier that month: The Literary Society met at the Schoolhouse the previous Saturday, with good attendance in spite of bad weather. The stove didn’t work well so they had to cut the program short because it was cold. There was music, a declaration by Mr. Tinkham, a reading by Mr. Ely, the newspaper read by Mr. Smith.
Two weeks later, the paper reported that the literaries were a success, suggesting that they were a new undertaking in De Smet, but perhaps only meaning that year, not in general. The paper also mentioned that meetings were moved from the first schoolhouse to the larger Congregational Church, which had been built the previous year, with first services held in August 1882. The interior of the church sanctuary today is shown at right. It was here the literaries were held.
Although Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that the meetings consisted of activities such as a spelling bee, charades, musical performances, and skits, with the occasional debate thrown in, the first session seems to have been only a couple of months in length, and were mainly debates, such as: “Resolved that the expenses of the government should be paid by taxes.” At a late February meeting, there was a boy’s choir performance followed by a debate over the power of education in Kingsbury County as opposed to that of wealth. Education won. By March 10, “The literary society has suspended operations, and its eloquent ones may bottle up their gas until another winter.” [De Smet Leader]
Sadly, the Literary Society seems to have been short-lived in De Smet, although they were continued in neighboring towns. There was a cry for the group to be active the next winter, the newspaper reporting that “it would be a pity indeed if the county seat could not sustain such a thing. Wake up, all hands, and let us set the oratorical flame to burning… We shall die of stagnation if we have to put in the winter without any public amusement.” [Leader, November 10, 1883] There were no meetings in 1884 or 1885, but debates seem to have held at temperance society meetings. In 1889, the high school class reinstated the society in order to “accustom themselves to literary work.”
Literary Society / Literaries (LTP 18-19, 23; PG)