The Society was founded in Lichfield in 1910, a year after the local bi-centenary celebrations of Johnson’s birth. Its members played a prominent part in the Birthday Celebrations (started in 1903 by the City Council) and they continue to do so. Their activities are focussed around the September Birthday Weekend but other events, lectures and outings are also organised and visits to places with Johnsonian associations have been an important activity for the Society from its outset. (see Events).
Ever since the end of the Second World War the Society has annually published its Transactions which is distributed throughout its world-wide membership. Each year a new president has been installed at the Birthday Supper in the Guildhall (see listings). The presidents have been chosen from many areas of public life reflecting the wide-ranging appeal of Samuel Johnson. Prominent scholars have included R. W. Chapman, L. F. Powell, Mary Hyde, J. L. Clifford, Mary Lascelles, Donald Greene and latterly Graham Nicholls. Figures from the world of broadcasting, the press, the church, industry, law, politics and literature include Lord Harmsworth, Frank Muir, John Wain, Malcolm Muggeridge, Robert Robinson, Richard Ingram, Enoch Powell, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Dame Beryl Bainbridge, biographer Adam Sisman, broadcaster, journalist and author John Sergeant, Lord Butler of Brockwell, writer and broadcaster Nigel Rees, and Professor Peter Martin.
The current president is novelist, biographer and critic Dame Margaret Drabble (pictured). Born in Sheffield, she attended school in York and read English at Newnham College, Cambridge. Before her first novel, A Summer Birdcage (1963), was published she was an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her third novel, The Millstone (1965), marked her acceptance by the literary world. She has written 18 novels, several screenplays and short stories as well as non-fiction and critical works. She has edited two editions of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. She was made a DBE in 2008.
In 1900 Lichfield City Council were presented with the house, in the Market Square, in which Johnson had been born. With its world-wide membership, the Johnson Society has been active in helping to preserve the Museum and has frequently assisted the City Council in the purchasing of Johnsonian items.
The Society takes part in other appropriate events and commemorations. Recent examples include sponsorship of drama workshops for local schools.
The Johnson Society is a member of the Alliance of Literary Societies.
The official name of the Society is The Johnson Society (Lichfield). It is a registered charity and its registered charity number is 1078243.