About the Philomathean Society
The Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania exists for those who feel that college should be about more than getting a degree. Our mission is to increase the learning of the members and the academic prestige of the University.
Founded in 1813, the Society has pursued its mission of learning outside the classroom in whatever ways struck its membership best; a common answer to the question “what is Philo?” is “whatever Philos want it to be.” Over the centuries it has maintained its student autonomy.
Thus, Philos have at one time or another embarked on major works of scholarship (like producing the first English translation of the Rosetta Stone), advocated for the creation of the Comparative Literature, Religious Studies, and American Civilization departments, launched campus publications (the longest-lived of which is the Daily Pennsylvanian, its scenier brother 34th Street, and its dumber sibling the Punch Bowl), and staged major dramatic productions (the Masque of the American Drama involved every undergraduate then enrolled at Penn).
Today the Society regularly organizes and hosts talks, lectures series, intimate professor teas, as well as poetry readings, film screenings, dramatic performances, art shows, debates, exhibits, and special classes. All efforts are run, planned, and organized completely by Philos. The Society’s flagship event is the Annual Oration, where Philo invites an public intellectual to speak to the public. Past Annual Orators have included Jane Goodall, Ayn Rand, the President of Haiti, Margaret Mead, Tony Auth, Hans Morgenthau, Jared Diamond, Judith Butler, Daniel Dennett, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Miller, and Richard Dawkins. Most of Philo’s events and activities take place in our historic Philomathean Hall. All events are free and open to the public.
Philo’s structure, activities, and future are determined by its undergraduate and graduate student membership. Members elect a Cabinet each semester led by a Moderator who, among other things, chairs Philo’s general meetings held on alternate Fridays at 8:30pm. Membership in Philo is eternal; it continues long past one’s time at the University. For more about joining Philo, see our page on membership.