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Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RITArc-0029

Scope and Contents

The Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association (RAMA) collection contains a variety of materials related to the institution. Much of the collection is made up of historical documents describing the organization and its activities. This includes a list of lectures and events held by RAMA, information on Corinthian Hall, and documents outlining the organization's history. Although a bulk of the collection is from 1849-1874, there are several materials from the 20th century. These items are mostly articles or news clippings about the association or Corinthian Hall.

Additionally, the collection contains original materials from the association such as membership tickets, a secretary's book belonging to Ezra Andrews who was the Secretary of RAMA in 1861-62, a journal of the Board of Directors, copies of the library's catalog, a list of novels, and a membership register. There are also several governance documents specifically a copy of RAMA's constitution and a copy of an annual report from 1866.


  • Creation: 1849-1984
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1849 - 1984


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Biographical / Historical

The Rochester Athenaeum was established in 1829 with the "purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts." To this end, the organization established a library and sponsored various guest speakers and performers. Still, by 1838 the Athenaeum had already merged with several institutes. Some organizations, like the Rochester Literary Company, it simply absorbed; others it merged with out of necessity. The result was that by 1838 the dominant organization in Rochester was the Rochester Athenaeum and Young Men's Association (RAYMA), headed by newspaper man Henry O'Reilly. In two short years, RAYMA had over 2,500 volumes in its collection and 409 members.

Unfortunately for RAYMA, O'Reilly left Rochester in 1842. RAYMA found itself competing for members with another Rochester institution, the Mechanics Literary Association. Formed in 1836 by William A. Reynolds, the Mechanics Literary Association was geared toward a younger audience. In 1847, the Mechanics Literary Association merged with RAYMA to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association (RAMA), with Reynolds serving as its first president.

Reynolds's first order of business was to move RAMA's operations from State Street to a new location. To this end, he financed the construction of Corinthian Hall behind Reynolds Arcade, the original home of the Rochester Athenaeum. The building's construction sparked renewed enthusiasm in the organization so that soon RAMA had over 2,000 members. The hall not only housed RAMA's extensive library collection, but also hosted various lectures. Many of these lectures were given by notable individuals including Salmon P. Chase (politician), Charles Dickens (novelist), Frederick Douglas (social reformer), Ralph Waldo Emerson (writer), Horace Greeley (newspaper editor), and William H. Seward (politician).

Despite its initial success, RAMA eventually fell on hard times. With the opening of the West, Rochester's prosperity was slowing. Additionally, the cost of bringing in speakers was becoming increasingly expensive. In 1871, Reynolds was forced to sell Corinthian Hall. He provided RAMA with a new space in the back room of his bank, the Rochester Savings Bank. But, when Reynolds died in 1876, RAMA was forced to vacate the space. The financial situation of RAMA had become so dire that in 1877 creditors forced the sale of RAMA's library collection.

In 1891, RAMA was resurrected when it merged with the newly formed Mechanics Institute. The Rochester Athenaeum's initial charter from 1830 was updated to reflect its new name, the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute. This organizational name lasted until 1944, when the name was again changed to the Rochester Institute of Technology.


6.8 Linear Feet (8 folders, 3 lid boxes, 2 bound volumes)




Materials related to the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association, a predecessor of the Rochester Institute of Technology. The collection contains historical information on the organization, as well as membership tickets, a secretary's book, copies of the library's catalog, a member register, and a copy of the organization's constitution.


The collection is loosely arranged by series: Annual reports, Corinthian Hall, History, Lectures and events, Membership tickets, and Rochester Historical Society materials. Individual volumes are housed at the end of the collection including the secretary's book, constitution, library catalogs, journal of the Board of Directors, and the library register. While the secretary's book and constitution are housed in the document box, most bound volumes are housed separately.

Physical Location

C.S. South, Shelf 151 (Early records)
C.S. South, Shelves 153-154

Other Finding Aids

In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association collection

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Secretary's Book was a gift from Mrs. William B. Hale, donated in 1944.

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Lara Nicosia in November 2010.

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association collection
RIT Archives
Lara Nicosia
30 November 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA