UR is home to an obscure literary club: The Pundits.
Founded in 1854, the group is informally known as the Club.
The group’s first meeting was held in the home of Lewis Henry Morgan. The Club’s most prolific contributor was UR President Martin Brewer Anderson; he delivered 37 papers over a period of 33 years.
The Club has neither bylaws nor a constitution. The position of secretary is held by the only administrative member, John Garrett, who is a partner at Nixon Peabody, LLP.
“I’m a youngster at age 60,”Garrett said, pointing to the fact that the club is primarily composed of an older demographic.
According to a 1960 Times-Union article, the Club is the nation’s oldest literary club in terms of continuous meetings. The Club’s size changes yearly, ranging from about 18 to 24 members. The Club meets about 12 times per year during the academic year, amounting to approximately one meeting every two weeks. Roughly 50 percent of the Club’s demographic are directly connected to the University.
The other half boast large roles in the Rochester community. Some have been president of Eastman Kodak, superintendent of the Rochester City Schools, and CEO of Rochester Gas & Electric. The Club’s members seek to hear from the best minds in Rochester, particularly from the sectors of business, finance, health, and academia.
According to Garrett, the Club aims to pull members from different areas, disciplines, and walks of life.
“[Besides the UR-affiliated members], the other half of the group are from all sorts of walks of life,” he said. “There are artists, there are lawyers, there are bankers.”
Traditionally, the group eats dinner and listens to other members deliver papers afterwards. Members choose where to host meetings, and the papers that members deliver do not have to fall into the presenter’s area of expertise. Recently delivered papers included “Wm.’s Ghosts, Shakespeare’s Paranormals” by former Eastman Dean Douglas Lowry in March 2010, and “Quarks and Gulons” by physics professor Adrian Melissanos. According to Garrett, there is currently one professor in the Club.
The group encourages its members to write and present papers that are of interest to them but are not in his specific area of knowledge. The Club invites guests to speak at their meetings at a frequency of twice per year.
Prominent guests have included Secretary of State John Hay, former Postmaster General Wilson Bissel, Siberian traveller George Kennan, and architect Fredrick Olmsted.
William Carey Morey wrote a book entitled “Reminiscences of the Pundit Club,” in which he details the founding and history of the club: “[The first] meeting could hardly be called a highly satisfactory result of the previous expectations, since of the nine invited guests, but four responded.”
By the end of 1855, the Club’s second year, eight new candidates were elected, bringing the total number of members to 17, a number which, in Morey’s day, was considered the Club’s norm.
The Club customarily invites University presidents to become members. Some have accepted, and some have not.
Morey noted that there was an “inseparable and continuing correction between the Club and the highest responsible officer of the University.”
“I declined membership after I learned that no woman has ever been a member,” University President Joel Seligman said.
To this day, women are not permitted to join, but there are various women’s clubs — such as the Wednesday Club — that have historic roots in the Rochester community. Commonly heard names on campus -— such as Danforth, Lattimore, Kendrick, Eastman, deKiewiet — were all individuals connected to the University and members of the Club or, at some point in time, delivered a paper to the Club.
Ultimately, Garrett stressed the academic nature of the club.
“There is not an agenda,” he said. “It’s like writing a term paper and presenting it to the rest of the group,” adding that “It is an extraordinary group of people.”
Schaffer is a member of
the class of 2016.