Skip to main content

Prismatic Club of Detroit Records

Identifier: UR001269

Scope and Content

Series 1: Administrative files, 1867-2007. This series includes officers’ files and correspondence, minutes and record books, some legal and financial documents. Series 2: Presentations and speeches by members, 1867-2007. Series 3: Event documents, 1867-2007. Annual dinner invitations and programs, event announcements and ephemera, some correspondence. Series 4: Graphics and photographs, 1867-1981. Club photographs, photographs and photocopies of some presidents’ portraits, sketches and cartoons. Series 5: Club and member publications, 1869-2006. Club newsletters, member publications, various documents, some correspondence, one artifact. Various documents, proofs and correspondence re club history books. Series 6: Member biographies and biographical forms, 1867-2006. Note: two boxes in this series are restricted, accessible with Prismatic Club permission. Dates noted on folders correspond to year when the member joined the Prismatic Club. Series 7: Audiovisual materials, 1872-2002. One box of photographic negatives. One box of slides containing images of club presidents’ portraits and some club events. One drawer of oversize club books with texts and drawings, and other loose drawings and documents.


  • 1867 - 2007
  • Majority of material found within 1867 - 1879
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 2000


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research, with the exception of two boxes (Boxes 49 and 50) containing members' presentations after 1999. Access can be obtained from Prismatic Club officers.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


On January 10, 1867, five Detroit gentlemen, led by Samuel R. Bartlett, met to form the Prismatic Club. Patterned after a Massachusetts literary society, The Social Circle of Concord, the Prismatic Club, still active in 2017, is the oldest club of its kind in Detroit and one of the oldest in the United States. The men-only club has a cultural, social and literary focus. Members come from a wide range of professions and careers. They have included many prominent Detroiters and Michiganders including elected officials, university presidents, businessmen, attorneys, physicians, artist and architects, clerics, historians and teachers, librarians and archivists. The club also elects selected honorary members from other parts of the country. Members give presentations weekly on a variety of topics, including history, medicine, engineering, genealogy, art, literature and gastronomy--any subjects encouraging the exchange of ideas. The club presents several annual social events, notably a members’ annual dinner and a number of programs to which women are invited. Since 1928, the Prismatic Club has had its clubhouse at the former home of member Levi L. Barbour at 80 Eliot Street in Detroit. The club has commissioned portraits of club presidents since 1877 and therefore has one of the best portrait collections of the area’s civic, social, business and community leaders. Two books of Prismatic Club history have been published: Prismatic of Detroit: Prismatic Club 1866-1966, by Philip P. Mason and Paul T. Rankin (1970), and Prismatic of Detroit: Prismatic Club 1969-1996 (1997).


46.5 Linear Feet (25.5 MB, 6 OS, 1 AV drawer)


The Prismatic Club, a literary social club, was founded in Detroit in 1867. This collection includes administrative and officers’ files, minutes, newsletters and club event documents, as well as members’ presentations, publications and biographical forms. There are some photos and graphics, mainly cartoons and sketches by members. Photo negatives and slides of the club’s portrait collection and some events are in the Reuther Audiovisual Department.


Arranged in 7 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-19, 38, 39), Series 2 (Boxes 20-30, 49, 50), Series 3 (Boxes 31,32), Series 4 (Boxes 33, 34, 51-55), Series 5 (Boxes 35-37, 46-48), Series 6 (Boxes 40-45), Series 7 (Boxes 56-57). Boxes grouped by series, not necessarily in numerical order. Folders are generally in alphabetical order within series.


Initial accession from the Prismatic Club to the Reuther Library was in 1962. There have been subsequent additions to the collection.

Existence and Location of Originals

An original letter from Brigham Young to the club president has been removed from the records and moved to the Reuther Library vault. A copy of the letter is in Box 48, Folder 22. An original 1894 medalion was removed from the records and placed in the Reuther Library vault. A photocopy of the medalion is in Box 48, Folder 23.

Other Copies

Copies of some text and graphic materials may be available at the Prismatic Club, 80 Eliot Street, Detroit, MI. The contents of Box19a has been digitized and placed into the Hold. Digital_part/UR001269/Box19a.

Related Materials

Wayne State University Presidents’ Collections (Frank Cody, David D. Henry, Clarence B. Hilberry, William R. Keast); Richard T. Frankensteen Papers; Arthur F. Lederle Papers; John Dorsey Papers


Photo negatives and slides of the club’s portrait collection and some events are in the Reuther Audiovisual Department.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Aimee Ergas on June 1, 2017. Original processing done and draft finding aid written by John Fillicaro.
Guide to the Prismatic Club of Detroit Records
Processed by Aimee Ergas; original work by John Fillicaro.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA