The Kirwan Society

The Kirwan Society is for individuals who share the values of the Salem Athenaeum, are passionate about literature, the arts, humanities, and educational opportunities to advance personal knowledge and the common good.

Society members have a prominent role in securing the financial health of the Athenaeum and preserving its legacy as Salem’s first cultural organization.

With a cumulative contribution of $2,500 or more per year, Kirwan Society members will provide significant support to an energetic institution that has been a North Shore treasure for more than 250 years. 

The Kirwan Society benefits include:

  • Acknowledgement of your support in the Annual Report of the Salem Athenaeum
  • Invitation to unique programs or receptions with the opportunity to become better acquainted with one another
  • A private, Executive Director-led tour for you and up to 6 guests, by appointment

The Kirwan Society takes its name from the noted British chemist Richard Kirwan (KUR-wen), whose library of scientific texts was aboard a ship captured by a Beverly privateer in 1780. The library became the nucleus of the Salem Philosophical Library, which in turn became part of the Salem Athenaeum upon its founding in 1810.

In 1791, two Salem ministers let an 18-year-old apprentice named Nathaniel Bowditch use the Kirwan collection. It was from these books that Bowditch taught himself the science and math that enabled him to change marine navigation forever.

According to Bowditch’s son, the Philosophical Library at some point offered to return the books to their rightful owner. Kirwan is said to have generously refused, remarking that he was pleased they were being used to such excellent purpose.

To this day, Kirwan’s 116 volumes remain among the Athenaeum’s treasures, and can be seen and perused by curious Kirwan Society members.

How to Give

Secure on-line donations may be made via PayPal using a credit card or check.