The Liverpool Philomathic Society, the "twin sister" of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, was founded in 1825 as a debating society for "the attainment of knowledge by discussion". The original rules were strict, confining membership to gentlemen "established in business on their own account", debarring "controversial theology" as a topic, and excluding written papers until 1855. In common with the Lit. and Phil., it was concerned to prove the compatibility of commerce and culture, and to upgrade Liverpool's cultural image. The exclusion of women, who were not granted membership until 1920, marked it out after 1900 as "one of the few remaining bulwarks against the flood of feminine invasion of men's privileges and prerogatives".
Meetings were held in the Liverpool Royal Institution from 1826 - a privilege extended to societies "whose objects are in perfect harmony with the design of [the RI]", and reciprocal debates were held with local societies with similar aims. The original members are thought to be: Robert M'Adam, President; C.T. Dunlevie and James Aikin, Vice-Presidents; Joseph Shipley, Treasurer; William Hurry, Honorary Secretary and W.A. Brown. The Society incorporated the Liverpool Chatham Society in June 1873, a move which helped to increase the slowly-growing membership, which stood at about 60 in 1846, 300 in 1879, and was reckoned to be over 400 at its highest level. Membership was aimed at men "who follow the busy vocations of life, whose time is devoted to commercial, and the more active professional pursuits" and included JPs, MPs, medical men, local government officials, and businessmen.
The standing of the Society in the nineteenth century was reflected in the prominent place it was afforded in Liverpool's Legion of Honour (1893), which asserted that "at the Philomathic meetings most of the well-educated Liverpool gentlemen now in public life have been frequent speakers". By 1907, however, the "Who's Who" of Liverpool published in Littlebury's Liverpool and Birkenhead official red book made no mention of membership of the Society amongst its list of "municipal, political, and university worthies". In a letter of 14 Jan. 1907, Glynn Whittle, a long-standing member, declared, "A blow has fallen on the prestige of the Philomathic Society ... the overwhelming grandeur of the University seems likely to wipe us out... We gave £100 to Univ. Coll. Just think of helping to endow a college, which snuffs us out!". During the First World War, members were allowed to introduce ladies as visitors, and membership was opened to women following the war and the partial franchise of women in 1918. The first woman to open a debate was the wife of the President, Mrs Martindale, in 1919. Despite this modernizing move, G.J. Hodgson, preparing for a debate on the Victorian age in 1922, could still declare the Society "the most Victorian thing I know!". The Society celebrated its centenary in 1926, and survived into the last third of the twentieth century. It was never formally wound up, but succumbed to the pressures of modern life on its members' time and lifestyles.