CMU Library Uncovers Presidential Letter
Libraries often are a treasure trove of long-forgotten but fascinating materials and information, a point reinforced recently by John Finley of Central Methodist University.
A letter from U.S. President Grover Cleveland signed in 1888, accepting honorary membership in Central's Aristotelian Literary Society, was discovered by Finley and is now on display in CMU's Smiley Library.
Dated Sept. 29, 1888 and sent on letterhead titled "Executive Mansion, Washington," the handwritten note to Central student and Aristotelian corresponding secretary Paul W. Yancey, reads:
"I have received your note informing me of my election to Honorary Membership in the Aristotelian Society of Central College, and desire to express my appreciation of the compliment paid by me in placing my name upon its rolls. Very truly yours, Grover Cleveland."
The letter was written just weeks before Cleveland lost the Presidency in his bid for reelection, though the New Yorker is unique among U.S. Presidents: he was elected to a second term in 1892, the only President to serve non-consecutive terms.
The Aristotelian Society was founded at Central on Oct. 1, 1868, one of two rival literary societies at the college. Its counterpart, Phi Alpha, ceased to exist in 1922 but the Aristotelian's continued until 1938.
Finley, CMU reference librarian and archivist, also discovered the bound minutes of Aristotelian Society meetings. The minutes from early October 1888 acknowledged the letter from Pres. Cleveland, and noted the group had to suspend its bylaws temporarily, to allow for its new "Honorary Member."
The next item of business was approval of funds to purchase a wastebasket for its secretary, followed by authorization to have the letter from Pres. Cleveland framed and displayed.
Frank C. Tucker's book "Central Methodist College: One Hundred and Ten Years" noted that literary societies were important and prestigious through much of the early history of Central. Tucker reported that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and author/humorist Mark Twain were other honorary literary society members at Central, and that their letters of acceptance once graced the walls of classroom buildings on campus.
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