Archives > Historical Features > Exhibits > 19th Century

Extracurricular Life

In 1852, the College community was small and composed of quite young students, most of whom lived at home with their parents, within walking distance of Penn's Ninth Street campus. There were no dormitories, no athletic facilities, and no concept of student life as it came to be in the twentieth century. Students engaged in various activities with like-minded young men, but not necessarily in the context of the College.

The College was just beginning to form an identity outside of the classroom. The Philomathean and Zelosophic societies had been promoting learning outside the classroom for several decades, but fraternities were just beginning to appear, and organized sports had yet to become established on campus in any sustained way. Student gatherings were still largely informal - even alumni reunions. It was an unusual event when Joseph G. Rosengarten, A.B. 1852, called a class meeting at his house at 16th and Chestnut Streets on November 30, 1858, with Morris J. Asch, Charles H. Hutchinson, Benjamin Lee, Richard Ludlow and George S. West in attendance.

Societies of learning

The national honor society of Phi Beta Kappa would not have a chapter until 1892, but graduating seniors were named to Phi Beta Kappa as early as 1831, the year John Wylie Faires appeared as Phi Beta Kappa on the commencement program.

The Philomathean Society, founded 1813, and Zelosophic Society, founded 1829, were the first student organizations of any sort on campus. Because both groups were dedicated to the advancement of learning, they were quickly approved by the University administration and provided with meeting rooms in College Hall. During the mid-eighteenth century these two societies focused their activities on organizing debates and speakers on campus. This is not surprising since oratory skill was particularly important for clergy, lawyers and politicians and students vied for the honor of being chosen to speak at offical College events.

Philomathean Society
Members from the Class of 1852: Edward W. Appleton, Samuel E. Appleton, Morris J. Asch, Albert D. Bache, Henry C. Cave, Dorsey Cox (moderator), Brinton Coxe (moderator), Richard J. Dunglison, Alfred Elwyn, Albert Hewson, James B. Hodge, Charles H. Hutchinson, Francis A. Lewis, Benoni Lockwood (moderator), Samuel B. W. Mitchell, Isaac Norris, Andrew A. Ripka, Sample, William L. Wells

Zelosophic Society
Members from the Class of 1852: William F. Biddle, John T. Carpenter, Henry A. Duhring, John A. Harris, Thomas J. Himes, Benjamin Lee, Francis A. Lewis, Richard Ludlow, Matthew H. Messchert, George Patton, Joseph G. Rosengarten, Charles F. Taggart, George S. West

Phi Beta Kappa
Members from the Class of 1852: John T. Carpenter, Charles H. Hutchinson, Benjamin Lee, Joseph G. Rosengarten


Greek organizations first appeared at the College during the undergraduate years of the College Class of 1852. These fraternities were not provided quarters by the College and had to rent their own meeting rooms nearby. About half the members of the class joined up, while others (particularly those with inclinations to became ordained clergymen) avoided associating themselves with these secretive, exclusionary societies.

Delta Phi (St. Elmo, Penn chapter founded 1849)
Members from the Class of 1852: Dorsey Cox, Brinton Coxe, John A. Harris, Benoni Lockwood, Richard Ludlow, William L. Wells

Phi Kappa Sigma (Penn chapter founded 1850)
Members from the Class of 1852: Morris J. Asch, James B. Hodge, Charles H. Hutchinson, William McC. McKeen, Samuel B. W. Mitchell, Andrew A. Ripka

Zeta Psi (Penn chapter founded 1850)
Members from the Class of 1852: William F. Biddle, Henry A. Duhring, Francis A. Lewis


In the mid-nineteenth century, sports organized at the college level were still unusual. Since the Ninth Street Campus was cramped and students did not live on campus, College men in search of exercise and athletic competition often found athletic opportunities elsewhere. Starting in 1831, the University arranged for College and Academy students to pay a reduced annual fee for instruction in Mr. Roper's gymnasium. By the 1850s, students were often seen sparring and fencing at Tom Barrett's gym around the corner from Penn's campus. Cricket, rowing and baseball were the first organized team sports on the Penn campus, but during the college years of the Class of 1852, none of these existed in any organized form. Cricket was going through a lull, and rowing and baseball were just beginning to attract the interest of students.

Cricket was the first sport to inspire Penn students to band together to play teams from outside the College. In 1842 students from the College, led by William Rotch Wister, enthusiastically organized a Penn cricket team in 1842, playing on a field in New Jersey. But by the time the Class of 1852 appeared on campus in 1848, the organizers had graduated and interest in an all-College team had waned. Students still pulled together an occasional match between classes, but there was no longer an organized team representing the College.

Rowing had grown in popularity during the first half of the nineteenth century, with races held in Philadelphia at least as early as 1832, but Penn students did not organize around this sport until the founding of the University Barge Club in 1854. Competitions between class crews also began about this time.

Baseball was catching on across the country during the decade before the Civil War, and it is possible that students put together a pickup game now and then. A Baseball Club existed on campus at least by 1864; the earliest games were between clubs or fraternities, with an all-University team playing outside baseball clubs or other schools emerging in 1867.