The Byron Society of America, originally called The American Committee of The Byron Society, was founded in New York City on Byron ‘s birthday, January 22, 1973, by Marsha M. Manns and Professor Leslie A. Marchand, with the support of sixteen distinguished Romantic scholars who served as the founding members. The Byron Society had been re-founded in London on January 22, 1971, and The American Committee, which was established as an unincorporated literary organization, was the first of thirty-nine independent national committees that now constitute the International Byron Societies. In 1973, The American Committee distributed the inaugural issue of the Byron Journal to its growing individual and institutional membership and published the first of its Byron Society Newsletters.
John Clubbe, who served as chair of the Society from 1974 through 1999, spoke at the fledgling organization’s first MLA meeting in December 1973 about the many activities planned in London and Greece to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Byron’s death in Greece in 1824. During that sesquicentennial year, the Society became an Allied Organization of the Modern Language Association. Membership grew quickly, and in 1976 the Society established an original board of directors that met annually in conjunction with the MLA Conventions each December. In 1977, a West Coast Branch of the Society was organized under the leadership of Janice P. Smith that provided meetings and a newsletter for members living in San Francisco and Los Angeles. By that time, the International Byron Society was well established and offered annual conferences and tours hosted by member countries. The American Byron Society, as it was now called, hosted the 1979 International Conference on the theme of “Lord Byron and His Contemporaries” at the University of Delaware.
In 1992, Manns (the Society’s executive director from 1973 through 1994) and Marchand, with the support of board member Charles E. Robinson and member Joseph Byron Yount, III, entered into discussions with the University of Delaware that resulted in the founding of the Byron Society Collection at the University of Delaware and provided institutional support for the operation of the American Byron Society. In 1995, the operation of the Society was moved to the University of Delaware and Robinson became the Society’s executive director. Concurrently, a more formalized board of directors was created, and the Society was renamed the Byron Society of America and was approved as a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Delaware once again hosted the International Byron Conference in 2001, and the vigorous board developed and funded new programs, such as the annual Leslie A. Marchand Memorial Lecture and the Travel Grant Program for Young Scholars, and the Byron Society Collection significantly expanded its holdings.
In 2006, the Byron Society returned to New York, embarking on a program of membership development through public outreach programming while it began a search for the Byron Society Collection’s new home. Among the programs undertaken were: a talk by Lord Kenneth Baker at The Grolier Club; a pre-release screening of “The Duchess” with a talk back by Amanda Foreman and Jonathan Gross (including JASNA and BAFTA members); Ben Markovits readings at MLA, The Salmagundi Club and the Center for Fiction; Matthew Pearl in conversation with Markovits about writing literary fiction (Boston), and an Austen/Byron conference at Union Theological Seminary. During this period, Robin Hammerman was appointed the Society’s Director of Membeship and Academic Services; among her numerous contributions, she was instrumental in the Society’s becoming an affiliate of the College English Association. BSA also sponsored its third international Byron conference in Boston (2010) and saw Marchand lectures at DePaul and the Boston conference. A conference commemorating the 200th anniversary of Childe Harold’s publication was organized by Gross at DePaul.
After an extensive search, the Byron Society Collection was deeded to Drew University Library’s Special Collections in 2010. The agreement with Drew provides for a six-member Collection Advisory Group appointed jointly by the Collection’s Co-founder (Marsha Manns) and the Dean of the Library. The Advisory Group consults on cataloging, exhibitions, fundraising and new gifts, and conferences and events.
The Byron Society of America celebrated its fortieth year in 2013 with the exciting news that it plans to position itself for the future by helping to define what a literary society looks like in a digital age. In the fall of 2013, the Society moved its base of operation to Virginia under the leadership of BSA’s President Andrew Stauffer, University of Virginia. Peter Graham is serving as Vice-President, and a digital project team with leadership co-located at University of Virginia and Virginia Tech is undertaking the collaborative digital endeavor. The new leadership team has interesting plans and creative opportunities for BSA’s membership that will soon be unveiled.
The Byron Society of America, with the support of its board and membership, looks forward to new opportunities to promote the study of the works and life of Lord Byron as it re-positions itself for the twenty-first century.