Clubs and societies: the Walpole Society

July 2012

James Kenneth Stephen (KCAS/39/4/1)
James Kenneth Stephen (KCAS/39/4/1)
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In the next three issues of Archive of the Month we'll have a special focus on the clubs and societies of King's. Debating societies have played an important part in the history of the college, so we start the series with one of the most prominent of those, the Walpole Society.

The society was founded in 1891 by James Kenneth Stephen (1859–1892), who was a Fellow of King's and a cousin of Virginia Woolf.

A minute book from 1910-1914 lists the rules of the society, including that 'All political, literary and social questions may be asked'.

But the minutes from a meeting on 3 November 1911 show that such freedom wasn't always granted. The tutor had asked the society change the motion 'That harlots should not be licensed', and instead the society discussed the motion 'That cats should not be licensed'.

Understandably, there was little enthusiasm for this debate and instead the meeting turned to a discussion of the students' right to free speech within the college. Members of the society proposed a protest ‘against any action being taken by the authorities to discourage a debate of a serious and vital nature seriously undertaken’.

The tutor at the time was H. Macauley. He had a 'lengthy interview' with Frank Birch, a leading member of the society, and relented. He wrote a letter to the society granting them freedom of speech, and the letter was pasted into the society notebook. Among those proposing a letter of thanks to the tutor for this was John Maynard Keynes, who was a Fellow of the college.

The images below provide links to images and PDF files of pages from the Walpole Society's minute book (KCAS/20/1/5).

Useful Sources

  • Wilkinson, L.P. (1980) A Century of King's, 1873-1972 Cambridge: King's College
  • John Maynard Keynes (Oxford DNB)
  • Walpole Society on Janus (Cambridge University's online catalogue)


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