17th November 1875 Foundation day of The Theosophical Society

By Julian Ochoa

17th  November 1875 is known a founders day, on this day Coronel Olcott delivered the inauguration speech of The Theosophical Society which was chosen as the date of the foundation of the society. 

However, the procedures to setting up the society had started earlier that year. Sylvia Cranston highlighted this memorable event in the Biography of Blavatsky:

On September 7, 1875, sixteen or seventeen persons joined HPB in her room at 46 Irving Place to hear a lecture by George H. Felt, an engineer and architect, on “The Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.” The talk was enthusiastically received, and Olcott wrote on a slip of paper: “Would it not be a good thing to form a society for this kind of study? He handed it to William Q. Judge to pass to HPB, who nodded assent. Judge moved that Olcott be elected as chairman, and he in turn, moved that judge be appointed secretary. The meeting was then adjourned until the following evening. 

A report of the first meeting appeared in a New York news paper and was reprinted in Emma Hardinge Britten`s Nineteenth Century Miracles, for which this is taken: 

“One movement of great importance has just been inaugurated in New York, Under the lead of Colonel Henry S. Olcott, in the organisation of a society, to the known as the Theosophical Society. The suggestion was entirely unpremeditated, and was made on the evening of the 7th inst. In the Parlors of Madame Blavatsky, where a company of seventeen ladies and gentlemen had assembled to meet Mr. George Henry Felt, whose discovery of the Geometrical figures of the Egyptian Kabbalah may be regarded as among the most surprising feats of the human intellect. The company included several persons of great learning and some of wide personal influence. The managing editors of two religious papers; the co-editors of two literary magazines;  an Oxford LL.D.; a venerable Jewish scholar a traveller of repute; an editorial writer of one of New York morning dailies; the president of the New York Society of Spiritualists; Mr. C.C. Massey, an English visitor (Barrister-at-Law); Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten and Dr. Britten; two New York lawyers besides Colonel Olcott; a partner in a Philadelphia publishing house, a well known physician (Dr. Seth Pancost) and, most notable of all Madam Blavatsky herself, comprised Mr. Felt`s audience….”

Among those present, but not mentioned in the foregoing report, were William Livingston Alden, an editorial writer for the New York Times; John Storer Cobb, editor of the New Era, organ of reformed Jews; and Charles Sotheran, scholarly editor of the American Bibliopolist and a high-ranking mason.” [1]

On September 8th 1875 a meeting occurred where another lecture by Mr. Felt was delivered, the process of formation of the  Society was formalised. 16 people were present, notes of the meeting were taken. A body for the formation of the society was formed, Olcott was made President and W.Q Judge Secretary, A committee was formed which was put in charge of drafting the by-laws and Constitution.[2]

On the 13th of September another meeting was held where another lecture by Mr. Felt was given, more people was added to the list of founding members,  and on this day after extensive discussions and research the name of the society was formalised as The Theosophical Society.[3]

The first formal meeting of the Theosophical Society was held on October 16th 1875 where the by laws,the constitution and elections of officers was discussed, 18 members were present.[4]

On October 30th 1875 another formal meeting was held where the election of officers of The Theosophical Society were elected and the preamble and by-laws were formally adopted.[5]

The first elected officers of The Theosophical Society were as follows:

President: Henry S. Olcott

Vice Presidents: George Henry Felt and Dr. S. Pancoast M.D. 

Correspondent Secretary: Madame Blavatsky 

Recording Secretary: John Storer Cobb

Treasurer: Henry J. Newton

Librarian: Charles Sotheran

Councillors: Reverend J.H. Wiggin and Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, R. B. Westbrook, Dr. C.E. Simmons M.D., and Herbert D. Monachesi. 

Counsel to the Society: William Quan Judge.

November 17 1875 was chosen as founders day as on that particular day Henry S. Olcott gave the inauguration address to all the founding members, new members of the society and the public in general. What must be noted is that the formal foundation of the Theosophical Society was not the creation of one or two people, but it was the work of many people, as it can be seen by the records. In every meeting there was an average of 16 people in attendance, people from academia, religious groups, Doctors, Lawyers, and high-ranking freemasons. Even though the Elder Brothers were not physically present their Chela was elected Correspondent Secretary, she was the foundation stone of the society, the rest of the founding members were part of the initial ground work of this great institution that today can be found in almost every country. 

Reference List

[1] Cranston, S. “The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky Founder of The Modern Theosophical Movement,” Path Publishing House, Santa Barbara California, (1993) Pg:143-4. 

[2] Theosophy Wiki, (2020) “The Theosophical Society”, Theosophy Wiki https://theosophy.wiki/en/Theosophical_Society (2021).

[3] Ibid. 

[4] Theosophy Wiki, (18.05.2021) “Founding of The Theosophical Society”, Theosophy Wiki https://theosophy.wiki/en/Founding_of_the_Theosophical_Society (2021). 

[5] Ibid.