The Buckeye Union

"Minutes of the Buckeye Union, Wellington, Lorain County, Ohio." Private collection. Photo by author.

“Minutes of the Buckeye Union, Wellington, Lorain County, Ohio.” Private collection. Photo by author.

I hope everyone is enjoying a restful summer. I am just back from a few weeks on holiday, and slowly returning to daily life. This post seemed like a gentle transition into new research and writing. I recently had the opportunity to examine the small volume pictured above. Like John Case’s daybook, it is a slender little quarter-bound book measuring eight inches long by six-and-a-half inches wide. From January 1858 to March 1859, this was the official record of a local club named the “Buckeye Union.”

Though the group referred to itself as a literary society, it also functioned as what we would today call a debate club. For each meeting, a question was proposed and members were divided into affirmative and negative responses. (Positions were initially assigned, but the membership later voted “that the speakers be allowed to speak on the side which they may choose.”) Discussion topics included pressing social issues of the day such as whether capital punishment ought to be abolished; whether slavery ought to be abolished, or the Union dissolved; whether intemperance killed more than the sword; and whether “the Indians have more cause to complain of the whites, than the Negroes” (3-9-1858). More abstract topics such as whether steam power had been a greater benefit to mankind than printing technology, or whether all laws ought to be obeyed, right or wrong, were also disputed.

In addition, the group held “exercise” meetings, in which members were asked to offer short essays or poems of their own composition–the literary mission of the society. The titles are wonderful. “Do you take the Papers; a Dialogue” was offered by Leverett Webster and Henry Houghton on February 9, 1858. Luther Herrick described, “Three Days in the Life of Columbus,” two weeks later. On March 15, 1858, Alice Houghton performed, “The Frog. A Comic Song.”

Inscription on the endpaper of Buckeye Union minute book. Private collection. Photo by author.

Inscription on the endpaper of Buckeye Union minute book. Private collection. Photo by author.

Members included almost as many women as men, though it took several months before a motion was approved “that the ladies be invited to participate in the discussions, and business of the society” (3-9-1858). Thirty-six individuals signed the Buckeye Union’s formal constitution. Many of their family names will be familiar to regular readers of the blog. I thought it would be worthwhile to include them in full; this is the order in which they are recorded in the minutes, with males and females in side-by-side columns.

  • Lucius Herrick
  • Orrin Betts
  • Chas. T. Clifford
  • Albert C. Houghton
  • Frederick H. Phelps
  • Luther Herrick
  • Leverett Webster
  • Chas. E. Manchester
  • Edward F. Webster
  • Henry W. Houghton
  • Roswell C. Adams
  • John Serriage
  • Andrew J. Clifford
  • Edwin W. Houghton
  • Clinton Fisher
  • Philander Smith
  • E. C. Beach
  • Frank Case
  • Charles Bowers
  • Henry W. Webster
  • Frank Warren
  • Francis Serage
  • Franklin Clifford
  • Laura Hamilton
  • Alice M. Houghton
  • Ellen Lyons
  • Julia Spear
  • Harriet Clifford
  • Mary Serriage
  • Lois Adams
  • Adaline Clifford
  • Mary Lyons
  • Angeline Clifford
  • Angelia R. Houghton
  • Laura Clifford
  • Hattie Warren

Young Hattie Warren–she was only fifteen or sixteen years old at the society’s formation–would later become Wellington’s first female physician, Dr. Harriet Warren. Her future colleague, Dr. John Houghton, did not settle in Wellington until after his graduation from Baldwin University in 1860, but was clearly entering a community filled with familiar faces; Houghtons alone made up almost 15% of Buckeye Union membership.

Though I have not been able to research every member of the society, I am particularly curious to know if all the females were young and unmarried. Presumably, a married woman with children and household duties would have less time for leisure pursuits outside the home. Harriet Warren was a teenager, as were twins Adeline and Angeline Clifford (born 1842) and their older sister, Harriet (born 1840). Interestingly, Harriet Clifford married fellow Buckeye debater Frederick Phelps in 1863.

The society was a winter diversion; attendance, and the writing preparation necessary for participation, was not practical during the warmer months of the agricultural growing season. In March of both 1858 and 1859, the group formally adjourned until the following November. “[T]he memory of the pleasant evenings we had spent together in pursuit of knowledge, rendered us almost unwilling to bow to stern necessity” (3-23-1858). But if the Buckeye Union reconvened in the late autumn of 1859, the minutes do not reflect that. Fifty-four handwritten pages are followed by an equal number of blank leaves.


2 thoughts on “The Buckeye Union

  1. Bruce D. Frail

    It would be interesting to study the relationships of the members, how many were married to each other at the time, how many of them would marry other members later in life and where life would take these members. Seems it was a sort of intellectual social club, not an uncommon way for people to learn about others now, but rare in that time frame.

  2. Armchair Historian Post author

    I share your curiosity about the relationships–romantic and familial–among the membership. I also wonder if closer study might reveal that such clubs were not as uncommon as we might think, even in the period. I am reminded of the recreational group called the Deutscher Schueler Verein, i.e. German Student Club, which met monthly at private Wellington residences for “music, declamation and conversation all in German” in the early 1880s. Other examples may yet be found.


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