The Philodemic Room in Healy Hall is a historic space on Georgetown’s main campus, and home to weekly debates of the Philodemic Society, one of the oldest student debating societies in the United States and the oldest secular student organization at Georgetown. The room also hosts Georgetown community members and visitors for meetings and special events.
In partnership with the Philodemic Society, Georgetown is engaging in a process to re-imagine this space, following research and the presentation of a report by the Philodemic Society’s Committee for Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. Processes to engage our community in careful consideration of the built environment and memorialization, including spaces like the Philodemic Room, are part of the university’s ongoing commitments in slavery, memory, and reconciliation.
University community members are encouraged to learn more about the room’s history and the current process to develop a new interpretive framework – within the context of its historic character – that honors our community’s values and contributes to acknowledgement and truth-telling about our university’s history.Back to Top
The Philodemic Society Committee for Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation
The Philodemic Society is an undergraduate debating organization established at Georgetown University in 1830. In 2018, members of the Philodemic Society formed the Committee for Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation to research and document the historical connections of the Society to racism and discrimination and how those connections manifest in the Philodemic Room, the longstanding home for the Society’s debates. The Committee launched an ongoing effort within the Philodemic Society to acknowledge and address the history of their Society and to reconcile with it. The Committee’s work culminated in a 2019 report with research on individuals memorialized within the Philodemic Room and recommendations for historical acknowledgement and reconciliation. The report was discussed and voted on by the Society’s membership, and shared with the university.
Read more about the Philodemic Society Commitee for Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation.Back to Top
The Philodemic Room
The Philodemic Room is one of many historic spaces within Healy Hall, and is adjacent to the Office of the President. Original blueprints of Healy Hall indicate the space was originally planned as a debating room and it has continued to serve this function through use by the Philodemic Society. The room was built during the construction of Healy Hall, 1877-1879, but the decorative finishes were not fully added until 1900. Brother Francis Schroen, S.J., painted the space in his signature style that provided a deep enhancement of the room decor. Included within the painted detail work of the ceiling are 12 names of historical debaters and speakers in the United States to emphasize the room’s intention and use. The Rostrum is centered on the north wall of the Philodemic Room and elevated above the finished floor.
Historical photos indicate changes to the room’s decor over time, including lighting, furniture, wall paint schemes, floor and wall coverings, a drop ceiling and architectural elements of the rostrum.
Thirty-four photos were hung around the perimeter of the room and set within the decoratively painted wainscot. Eleven paintings were hung above the wainscot. As part of the design and reimagination process, these portraits and paintings have been transferred into storage until a final design has been developed. Historic research conducted as part of the current project provides a brief biographical overview of each individual formerly depicted in the room as well as Father James Ryder, S.J., founder of the Philodemic Society, and discussion of the connections between named individuals on the ceiling.Back to Top
The Reimagination of the Philodemic Room
The Philodemic Society and Georgetown worked collaboratively to identify an architectural partner to provide design services and to facilitate a process to engage members of our community to reimagine the Philodemic Room. SmithGroup brings deep experience in historical preservation and cultural resources to ensure the historical character of the room is maintained while the interpretive framework and elements of memorialization are carefully considered. The overall project goal is to create a welcoming and functional space in a redesign of the Philodemic Room that can adequately support meetings, events, and other functions by the Philodemic Society and the university community that is reflective of the values of these communities.
The process to reimagine this space is grounded in engagement, with opportunities for community members to provide feedback. SmithGroup facilitates engagement through discussion sessions with university community members, community forum webinars, and online surveys to gather feedback that help to inform the project. In fall 2021, the project began engaging members of the community in discussions about the conceptual approach for the room’s interpretive framework to help shape design ideas.
While the process to consider the room’s future design progresses, the photos and portraits in the room have been transferred to storage managed by the Library Archives. This step helps to prepare for future work, including restoration and maintenance matters, and implementing any new design elements. As part of the design process, this step can help our community visualize and carefully consider how best to reflect our university’s values in the future design. Pieces that are included in the new design can be brought back into the room when the new design is finalized and implemented.
In April 2022, the project hosted a second community webinar to share project updates and an overview of design ideas that have been developed with input from the university community. After reviewing the April community webinar, university community members are invited to provide their perspectives on the ideas presented for the room’s future interpretive design through a post-webinar survey. Please try to submit responses by Friday, May 13.Back to Top
Frequently Asked Questions
How can university community members learn more about this project and provide feedback?
This website provides a range of information about the project–including a timeline of the decor in the room, the report of the Philodemic Society, and opportunities for engagement. It will continue to be updated through the project with new information.
Additional information was provided in a webinar from December 2021, and an online survey was available for university community members to provide reflections on topics explored during engagement sessions.
In April 2022, the project hosted a second community webinar to share project updates and an overview of design ideas that have been developed with input from the university community. After reviewing the April community webinar, university community members are invited to provide their perspectives on the ideas presented for the room’s future interpretive design through a post-webinar survey. Please try to submit responses by Friday, May 13.
How does this project relate to Georgetown’s work in Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation?
Since the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation completed their charge and issued their Report, the University has worked to implement the recommendations and continues to develop new initiatives focused on Descendant Engagement, Academic and Research Initiatives, and Public History and Memorialization.
The reimagination of the Philodemic Room is an important initiative within this broad context of truth-telling and memorialization at Georgetown to ensure that the built environment and physical spaces reflect the community’s values and a full acknowledgment of historical context. Other sites at Georgetown require this important work of acknowledgement and contextualization as well, and the process of redesigning the Philodemic Room can help to shape those future efforts.
Who regularly uses the room, and will that change?
The Philodemic Society hosts their weekly debates in the Philodemic Room on Thursday evenings. The room is also used by other university community members for meetings and special events. The room will continue to be used by all these members of the university community. Consistent with all campus spaces, the room will be used according to public health guidance of the university.
The Philodemic Room, and Healy Hall, are historic spaces. What does that mean for the project?
Georgetown engaged a firm with deep experience in historical preservation, as well as design, in order to retain the historical character of the room. The project scope includes assessing and restoring decorative finishes such as plaster, paint, and millwork. Even though we are considering the interpretive framework and memorialization elements of the room, and exploring options to make it more functional (e.g., technology and furniture improvements), all of those things would occur while also retaining the historical character of the space.
How will the Philodemic Society be reflected in the future design?
Georgetown is working in partnership with the Philodemic Society, and the future interpretive design will continue to reflect the character and values of the Philodemic Society. The Philodemic Society motto, “Eloquence in the Defense of Liberty,” has been a foundational value in the project.
What is the current look of the room?
During the design process, the room has undergone some temporary changes. The photos and portraits previously in the room have been relocated into storage managed by the Library Archives. Transferred pieces that are included in the new design can be brought back into the room when the new design is finalized and implemented. Before any pieces were relocated, the room was thoroughly documented in photography and digital scans.
While the process to consider the room’s future design progresses, this step helps to prepare for future work, including restoration and maintenance matters, and implementing any new design elements. In the design process, this step is also helpful as we carefully consider and visualize how best to reflect our university’s values in the future design.Back to Top