The Hesperia Literary Society was founded at UND in Fall 1907 in response to increasing enrollment and the demand for another literary and debating society. Dr. Orin G. Libby was chosen as the faculty advisor and suggested the name Hesperia, Latin for "the land in the West," a reference to the Western prairies. The purpose of the organization, according to its 1920 constitution, was to "better its members in the art of Public Speaking, and in methods of procedure in public assemblies." Male students were allowed to tryout for the organization by presenting a short talk on a topic of their choice during a meeting. If a majority (amended to a four-fifths majority in 1923) of the society approved, that student was granted membership.
At Hesperia meetings, which were usually held weekly, members participated in debates and speeches. Business of the organization was also discussed and aspiring members were allowed to try out. Visiting speakers also appeared at some meetings. The society engaged in intra-campus debating contests with other literary societies, including the Philomathians, the Forum, Ad Altiora, Adelphi, A.D.T., and Kappa Psi Omicron. Members were also selected to represent the university on its intercollegiate debate teams.
Among Hesperia's notable alumni, future North Dakota Governor George Shafer received accolades as a well-known debater. In 1916, when he was serving as states attorney of McKenzie County, he began offering an annual prize of $20 to the Hesperia freshman who made the most progress in debate. Min Hin Li, who served as President of Hesperia in 1919-1920, had an annual extempore contest named after him.
The last references to Hesperia as an active organization appeared in a March 1940 issue of the Dakota Student newspaper and in the Dacotah annual of the same year. In the 1941 Dacotah, A.D.T. was cited as the "lone remnant of the days when literary societies were the campus rage." Also in the 1941 A.D.T. entry, Hesperia is referred to as a "dormant brother organization that seems to have gone the way of most other literary societies."
The Hesperia Literary Society Records consist of two copies of the 1920 Constitution, one of which is imprinted "LIBRARY-UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA" and contains a set of amendments adopted April 18, 1923 in an envelope affixed to the back cover. The other constitution is unmarked and contains the same amendments bound into the volume.
Also included is a ledger dated 1916-October 1934, which contains society minutes, membership rosters and competition results. Pages 279-290 and 293-300 are missing. Included in the ledger are three pieces of correspondence from Hesperia alumni: two letters from North Dakota Governor George Shafer and one from Hillsboro attorney Charles H. Shafer, all dated May 1931.
Several photocopied historical documents are also included, dating from 1907-1941. They include articles regarding the organization's origins, events, and several yearbook entries. The articles are from the Dakota Student newspaper and the Dacotah annual.