Collegiate secret societies in North America
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There are many collegiate secret societies in North America. They vary greatly in their levels of secrecy and independence from their universities. As the term is used in this article, a secret society is a collegiate society where significant effort is made to keep affairs, membership rolls, signs of recognition, initiation, or other aspects secret from the public.
Some collegiate secret societies are referred to as 'class societies', which restrict membership to one class year. Most class societies are restricted to the senior class, and are therefore also called senior societies on many campuses.
- 1 Categorization
- 2 History
- 3 Significant individual institutions
- 3.1 The College of William & Mary
- 3.2 Georgetown University
- 3.3 Cornell University
- 3.4 Dartmouth College
- 3.5 Dickinson College
- 3.6 Georgia Institute of Technology
- 3.7 Harvard University
- 3.8 Norwich University
- 3.9 Pennsylvania State University
- 3.10 Princeton University
- 3.11 Rutgers University
- 3.12 University of Georgia
- 3.13 University of Michigan
- 3.14 University of Missouri
- 3.15 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- 3.16 University of Pennsylvania
- 3.17 University of Virginia
- 3.18 Virginia Polytechnic Institute
- 3.19 Wake Forest University
- 3.20 Washington and Lee University
- 3.21 University of Miami
- 3.22 Yale University
- 4 List of notable North American collegiate secret societies
- 5 Bibliography
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
There is no strict rule on the categorization of secret societies. Secret societies can have ceremonial initiations, secret signs of recognition (gestures, handshakes, passwords), formal secrets, (the 'true' name of the society, a motto, or a society history); but, college fraternities or "social fraternities" have the same, and some of these elements can also be a part of literary societies, singing groups, editorial boards, and honorary and pre-professional groups. Some secret societies have kept their membership secret, for example Seven Society and Gridiron, and some have not, like Skull and Bones (the Yale societies had published their membership lists in the yearbooks and the Yale Daily News).
One key concept in distinguishing secret societies from fraternities is that, on campuses that have both kinds of organizations, one can be a member of both, (that is, membership is not mutually exclusive). Usually, being a member of more than one fraternity is not considered appropriate, because that member would have divided loyalties; however, typically, there is not an issue being a member of a secret society and a fraternity, because they are not considered similar organizations or competing organizations.
An especially difficult problem is the degree to which any one society is an actual society or is simply an honorary designation. Phi Beta Kappa, for example, was a true secret society, until after its secrets were divulged, the society continued on. It claims today to still be an actual society that has meetings, conducts its affairs, and is a living social entity, however membership for most members consists of one evening's initiation, and no more, which would make the society completely an honorary one in most people's eyes.
Many such societies exist which operate as honoraries on one campus, and which may have been at one time actual meeting societies, and which are kept alive by one or two dedicated local alumni or an alumni affairs or Dean's office person, who see to it that an annual initiation are held every year. Some of these frankly state that they are honoraries, other seek to perpetuate the image of a continuing active society where there is none.
While there are some guideline criteria for the neutral observer to understand what sort of society any given organization is, much of the analysis reverts to what any one society has been traditionally understood to be. There are additional means, such as societies that were more or less explicitly established in emulation of some previous secret society, or using historical records to show that society X was created out of society Y.
There are several common traits among these societies. The pattern for many of these societies has been set by practices at Yale. For example, many societies have two part names which follow the pattern set by Yale's Skull and Bones or Scroll and Key. The Yale societies also limited their membership to 15 in a class year, and it is common to find similar numerical limits in many of these societies. Extensive mortuary imagery is associated with many secret societies, maintaining a pretense of great seriousness, and, again following Yale, clubhouses are often called "tombs."
The archetypical selection process for entry into a collegiate secret society began at Yale University by a process called tapping. On a publicly announced evening, Yale undergraduates would assemble informally in the College Yard. Current members of Yale's secret societies would walk through the crowd and literally tap a prospective member on the shoulder and then walk with him up to the tapped man's dorm room. There, in private, they would ask him to become a member of their secret society, of which the inductee had the choice of accepting or rejecting the offer of membership. During this process, it was publicly known who was being tapped for the coming year. Today, the selection process is not quite as formal, but is still public. Formal tapping days used to exist at Berkeley, and still exist in a much more formal setting at Missouri.
Several campuses distinguish societies called ‘Honoraries’ from secret societies. Where the society is considered to operate in name only, and membership is an honor given in recognition of some achievement, and that such a society is distinct from a secret society. However, functionally, such organizations can operate identically to secret societies, and historically, most honoraries operated on a secret society basis. Phi Beta Kappa is the most well-known such example, where it originally operated on a secret chapter basis, and it became the progenitor of all college fraternities, and at the same time, some time after its secrets were made public in the 1830s, Phi Beta Kappa continued on as an honorary. Virtually all the oldest honoraries were once clearly secret societies, and to the extent that they are distinct now is at least ambiguous.
Often considered the first secret collegiate society in North America, the Phi Beta Kappa Society, founded in 1776 by students at the College of William and Mary, was in fact antedated by other societies at the College established as long as a generation earlier. The society had a rudimentary initiation and maintained an uncertain level of secrecy. Those secrets were exposed in the mid-1830s by students at Harvard University acting under the patronage of John Quincy Adams. Since the 1840s, Phi Beta Kappa has operated openly as an academic honor society. The spread of Phi Beta Kappa to different institutions likely sparked the creation of such competing societies as Chi Phi (1824), Kappa Alpha (1825) and Sigma Phi Society (1827) many of which continue as American collegiate social fraternities (and, later, sororities) to the present day. Sigma Phi remains the oldest continuously running collegiate secret society, and has been rumored to have declined the founding members of Skull & Bones a charter prior to their becoming their own society. Yet there was also a second strain of development, when at Yale University, Chi Delta Theta (1821) and Skull and Bones (1832) were founded — ultimately serving as antecedents for what would become known as class societies.
Skull & Bones aroused competition on campus, bringing forth Scroll & Key (1841), and later Wolf's Head (1883), among students in the senior class. But the prestige of the senior societies was able to keep the very influential fraternities Alpha Delta Phi and Psi Upsilon from ever becoming full four-year institutions at Yale. They remained junior class societies there. There were sophomore and freshman societies at Yale as well. A stable system of eight class societies (two competing chains of four class societies each) was in place by the late 1840s.
Delta Kappa Epsilon is actually a highly successful junior class society, founded at Yale in 1844. None of the 51 chapters the parent chapter spawned operates as a junior society, but DKE did come from the class society system. Likewise, Alpha Sigma Phi started out as a Yale sophomore society and now has 68 chapters (although, again, none of Alpha Sigma Phi's chapters have remained sophomore societies).
The development of class societies spread from Yale to other campusses in the northeastern States. Seniors at neighboring Wesleyan established a senior society, Skull & Serpent (1865), and a second society, originally a chapter of Skull and Bones, but then independent as a sophomore society, Theta Nu Epsilon (1870), which began to drastically increase the number of campuses with class societies. William Raimond Baird noted in the 1905 edition of his Manual that, "In addition to the regular fraternities, there are in the Eastern colleges many societies which draw members from only one of the undergraduate classes, and which have only a few features of the general fraternity system." From Wesleyan, the practice spread more widely across the Northeast, with full systems soon in place at Brown, Rutgers, and other institutions.
Kappa Sigma Theta, Phi Theta Psi, Delta Beta Xi, Delta Sigma Phi, were all sophomore societies at Yale, and the two large freshman societies of Delta Kappa and Kappa Sigma Epsilon lived until 1880. Delta Kappa established chapters at Amherst, the University of North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Dartmouth College, and Centre College. Kappa Sigma Epsilon had chapters at Amherst, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Dartmouth. Other class societies existed at Brown, Harvard, Syracuse, Colgate, Cornell, and other Northeastern institutions.
Theta Nu Epsilon spread to about 120 colleges and universities, but many of its chapters operated as three-year societies where operating as a class year society was inappropriate.
It is from this class society historical base and the desire to emulate the most well-known of all the class societies, Skull & Bones, that senior societies in particular began to spread nationally between 1900 and 1930. Junior, sophomore, and freshman class societies also are to be found at campusses across the country today.
Significant individual institutions
The College of William & Mary
The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, was home to the first known secret collegiate society in the United States, the F.H.C. Society (founded in 1750). The initials of the society stand for a Latin phrase, likely "Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio" or "Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque" (two renderings of "brotherhood, humaneness, and knowledge"), but it has long been publicly nicknamed the "Flat Hat Club". William & Mary alumnus and third American President, Thomas Jefferson, was perhaps the most famous member of the F.H.C. Society. Other notable members of the original society included Col. James Innes, St. George Tucker, and George Wythe. Jefferson noted that, "When I was a student of Wm. & Mary college of this state, there existed a society called the F.H.C. society, confined to the number of six students only, of which I was a member, but it had no useful object, nor do I know whether it now exists." The best opinion is that the society did not survive the British invasion of Virginia at the end of the American Revolution. The society was revived in 1916 (at first, as the Flat Hat Club) and revived again in 1972.
William & Mary students John Heath and William Short (Class of 1779) founded the nation's first collegiate Greek-letter organization, Phi Beta Kappa, on December 5, 1776, as a secret literary and philosophical society. Additional chapters were established in 1780 and 1781 at Yale and Harvard. With nearly 300 chapters across the country and no longer secret, Phi Beta Kappa has grown to become the nation's premier academic honor society. Alumni John Marshall and Bushrod Washington were two of the earliest members of the society, elected in 1778 and 1780, respectively.
Although the pressures of the American Civil War forced several societies to disappear, many were revived during the 20th century. Some of the secret societies known to currently exist at the College are: The 7 Society, 13 Club, Alpha Club, The Orange Society, Bishop James Madison Society, Flat Hat Club, The Society, The Spades, W Society, J1W Society and Wren Society.
In 1903, a group of Jesuits are said to have convened due to rising concerns that Georgetown was losing its Jesuit values as it gained national prominence. The Jesuits formed an all-male secret society called the Society of Stewards to work anonymously and in the shadows to ensure that the core traditions that established Georgetown as a Jesuit university are kept safe. Since then, the Society of Stewards has been known to tap promising student leaders in their junior and senior year to join them in order to uphold Georgetown's Catholic identity amidst American secularization. While not much is known about the secret society, a Georgetown student newspaper leaked details of their existence in 1988 which sparked outcry from students who protested that the society promoted elitism and exclusivity. Rifts have since then formed. In the early nineties, the Society of Stewards split in two over ideological reasons, one group claiming to be the "true line" of stewards, while the other taking up the name the "Second Society of Stewards." The original group dwindled and died out during the 1990s, but leaks and exposes throughout the past decade show that the Second Society of Stewards is still very much active and at the forefront of the Georgetown community. At their purported meeting place in the dark cellars of Healy Hall, the words "Circuli Crux Non Orbis Prosunt" are grafitied in blood red along the walls.
Cornell University has a rich history of secret societies on campus. Andrew Dickson White, the first President of Cornell University and himself a Bonesman, is said to have encouraged the formation of a "secret society" on campus. In the early years, the fraternities were called the "secret societies," but as the Greek system developed into a larger, more public entity, "secret society" began to refer only to the class societies. In the early twentieth century, Cornell students belonged to sophomore, junior, and senior societies, as well as honorary societies for particular fields of study. Liberalization of the 1960s spelled the end of these organizations as students rebelled against the establishment. The majority of the societies disappeared or became inactive in a very short time period, and today, the two organizations which operate on campus are: Sphinx Head (founded in 1890) and Quill and Dagger (founded in 1893).
Dartmouth College's Office of Residential Life states that the earliest senior societies on campus date to 1783 and "continue to be a vibrant tradition within the campus community." Six of the eight senior societies keep their membership secret, while the other societies maintain secretive elements. According to the college, "approximately 25% of the senior class members are affiliated with a senior society." The college's administration of the society system at Dartmouth focuses on keeping track of membership and tapping lists, and differs from that of Yale's, though there are historical parallels between the two colleges' societies.
The Raven's Claw is an all-male senior honorary society at Dickinson College. It was founded in 1896, making it the first society unique to Dickinson College. Membership is limited to seven senior men who are selected by the seven previous members. The new members are chosen based on a variety of factors, these include: campus leadership, a solid academic record, and athletic participation. New members are inducted in a "Tapping Ceremony" which is held on the "Old Stone Steps of Old West." The ceremony is traditionally conducted during commencement weekend. They are called "claws" or "white hats", denoting the white caps they wear around campus to signify unity and loyalty. While the members of the group are known, the majority of their actions and traditions are concealed. The group prides itself in serving the Dickinson College and Carlisle, Pennsylvania communities through discreet service activities. The group's alumni organization is also responsible for founding one of the college's largest scholarship funds and the McAndrews Fund for athletics.
Founded in 2001, The Order of Scroll and Key is a senior honor society at Dickinson College which recognizes seven senior men each year. Every member is tapped at the end of their junior year on the basis of their dedication to the College and the surrounding Carlisle community. Their current membership includes fraternity presidents, community advisers, community service leaders, as well as many other individuals. Their alumni have gone on to be successful community leaders, businessmen, artists, etc. The Order of Scroll and Key works to benefit numerous area charities and philanthropies, and in recent years has supported Carlisle C.A.R.E.S., Safe Harbor, and Sadler Health Clinic, among others. As one of Dickinson's distinctive "hat" societies, members can always be recognized by the gray hats that they wear.
Wheel and Chain is Dickinson College's Senior Women's Honorary Society. Founded in 1924, members are elected in the spring of their junior year on the basis of participation in campus activities, service to the college and community, leadership skills and personal character. Membership is limited to ten senior women. New members are inducted in a "Tapping Ceremony" which is held on the "Old Stone Steps of Old West" in April. In May, each incoming Wheel and Chain class ceremoniously rings the bell in Denny Hall during Commencement ceremonies. Colloquially known as the "blue hats", members are known to the public; however, the society's activities remain secret.
Georgia Institute of Technology
The Anak Society is the oldest known secret society and honor society at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1908, Anak's purpose is "to honor outstanding juniors and seniors who have shown both exemplary leadership and a true love for Georgia Tech." The society's name refers to Anak, a biblical figure said to be the forefather of a race of giants.
Although not originally founded as a secret society, Anak has kept its activities and membership rosters confidential since 1961. Membership is made public upon a student's graduation or a faculty member's retirement. The Anak Society's membership comprises at least 1,100 Georgia Tech graduates, faculty members, and honorary members.
The society has been influential in the history of Georgia Tech. Anak played a major role in establishing several of Georgia Tech's most active student organizations – including Georgia Tech's yearbook, the Blueprint; Georgia Tech's student newspaper, The Technique, and Georgia Tech's Student Government Association – as well as several lasting Georgia Tech traditions. The society also claims involvement in a number of civil rights projects, most notably in peacefully integrating Georgia Tech's first African American students in 1961, preventing the Ku Klux Klan from setting up a student chapter at Georgia Tech.
Final Clubs are secretive about their election procedures, and they have secret initiations and meetings. However, there is little secrecy about who is a member. They are larger than secret societies generally are (approximately forty students per club). Guests are admitted under restrictions. However the Porcellian, AD, Fox and Fly clubs are somewhat stricter than the others, having rules against admitting non-members to most areas of their buildings. "Punch Season" and the "Final Dinner" is analogous to "Tap" at Yale.
Final Clubs at Harvard include the Porcellian (1791, originally called The Argonauts); The Delphic Club (1846); Fly Club, (1836), a successor of Alpha Delta Phi; The Phoenix - S K Club (1897); Owl Club, originally called Phi Delta Psi, (1896); The Fox Club (1898); and the Spee Club.
There are also five female clubs: The Bee, The Sabliere Society, The Pleiades Society, La Vie, and The Isis.
Harvard also has three fraternities, Sigma Chi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and three sororities: Delta Gamma, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Kappa Alpha Theta. These organizations are semi-secret in nature, have secret initiation processes and meetings but a more transparent process for gaining membership. All three sororities and the Sigma Chi fraternity also have rules against admitting non-members to many parts of their buildings.
Approximately 10% of men and 5% of women are in final clubs. Approximately 7% of men and 15% of women are in Greek letter organizations. Additionally, an unknown number of students are in other secretive on-campus groups.
Finally, Harvard Lodge is a university Masonic lodge, founded in 1922 by Harvard Law School Dean/Professor Roscoe Pound, members of the Harvard Square & Compass Club, and members of the Harvard Masonic Club (which included Theodore Roosevelt). It is the oldest academic lodge in North America, its membership is restricted to males with a Harvard affiliation, and it operates in the building of Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, overlooking Boston Common.
Norwich University banned all secret societies in the late 1990s, citing controversy regarding hazing and abuse of students. Prior to the ban Norwich was home to a handful of long standing secret societies such as the Rough Riders, the Night Riders 192, Skull and Swords 572. Also was home of the Alpha chapter of the Theta Chi Society now known as Theta Chi Fraternity.
Pennsylvania State University
There are currently three well-known societies at the Pennsylvania State University: Parmi Nous (1907), Lion's Paw (1908), and Skull and Bones (1912). Penn State has seen a number of different honorary societies with varying levels of publicity and activity. In 1907, the first "hat" society, so-named because of such organizations' emblematic headwear, Druids, was formed; similar societies expanded and included dedicated groups for women (e.g. Chimes, Scrolls) and men (e.g. Blue Key, Androcles) based on class standing and extracurricular involvement. These groups were temporarily governed by a "Hat Society Council" which was made up of representatives from each organization from 1948 to 1958. Hat societies were involved in University life passing down traditions (called "freshmen customs") for first-year students, forming honor guards for football players as they went on to the field, and recognizing leaders, scholars, and athletes in the Penn State community. The three remaining senior societies no longer operate as publicly but continue to serve the University in a variety of functions. Lion's Paw is closely associated with conservation efforts at Mount Nittany in State College, PA.
Additionally, Princeton has fraternities; the most visible is a chapter of St. Anthony Hall, Delta Psi. The 21 Club, an all-male drinking society, is also a notorious Princeton secret society. Princeton also has a long tradition of underground societies. While secret society membership is relatively public at some schools, Princeton's historical secret society rolls are very secretive because of Woodrow Wilson's ban on clandestine organizations and his threat to expel secret fraternity members from Princeton. One such society is Phi (pronounced fē), a society dating to 1929 when members of the Whig society splintered off after the merger of the Whig and Cliosophic debating societies. Phi's membership is secretive and difficult to discern, because no more than 10 active "Phis" exist at one time: Phis usually receive offers at the end of their 3rd year. As an adaptation to Princeton's stringent anti-society rules, each active class does not meet the preceding class that selected it until the 1st of June (after their first Reunions and before graduation). 1.6... is the Golden Ratio, hence the name Phi.
As one of the oldest colleges in the United States, Rutgers University has had several secret societies on campus. Documented societies date as far back as 1872 with the establishment of the Sword and Serpent. At the turn of the 20th century, Rutgers had developed two full sets of class year societies based on the Yale model, down to the freshman societies such as the Chain and Bones and Serpent and Coffin. The senior class societies at Rutgers included the Brotherhood of the Golden Dagger (1898–1940), Casque and Dagger (1901) and Cap and Skull (1900).
Of these, only Cap and Skull is still known to be in operation; however, after a reorganization in 1982, it has become university-sanctioned and had shed much of its secrecy. Today, it is more generally an honor society although members still engage in the society's long-standing traditions. In its early days, members of Cap and Skull had also engaged in later "attacks" of the infamous Cannon War with Princeton. Cap and Skull class year pictures were often taken with members standing around the buried cannons. Today, less than one-half percent of Rutgers students are tapped for Cap and Skull membership.
University of Georgia
The University of Georgia is home to a chapter of the Order of Omega, an honor society which selects the top 3% of Greek Fraternity students for membership. A group unique to UGA is the men's secret society known as the Order of the Greek Horsemen which annually inducts five fraternity men, all leaders of the Greek Fraternity system. Likewise, the highest achievement a male can attain at the University is claimed by the Gridiron Secret Society. Palladia Secret Society was founded in the early 1960s as the highest honor a woman can attain at the University of Georgia. Palladia inducts approximately 12 women each fall and has an extensive network of alumni, including administrators at the University of Georgia and prominent female leaders across the state. One of the debate societies on campus is said to have a secret society associated with it. The Panhellenic sororities also have a secret society known as Trust of the Pearl, which inducts five accomplished sorority women each spring.
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan Ann Arbor hosts three secret societies: Phoenix, Order of Angell, and Vulcan Senior Engineering Society. Phoenix and Order of Angell were once under the umbrella group "The Tower Society", the name referring to their location in the top of the Michigan Union tower. Michigauma (Order of Angell) was all male while Adara (Phoenix) was all female.
Phoenix, (formerly known as Adara) holding to astrological roots, formed in the late 1970s by the women leaders on campus. In the early 80's they joined the tower society and occupied the 6th floor of the tower just below Michigamua. Phoenix, alongside Order, is now co-ed.
Order of Angell, known as "Order", is an evolved version of a previous society Michigauma. It was inspired by the rituals and culture of the Native Americans of the United States. Since its creation in 1902 the group is credited with creating Dance Marathon, one of the largest charitable events at the University of Michigan and construction of the Michigan Union for which it was granted permanent space in the top floors of the tower which they refer to as the "tomb". In 2007 the group changed its name to Order of Angell.
Vulcan Senior Engineering Society, known as "the Vulcans", occupied the 5th floor of the Union tower though were not formally a part of the tower society. They draw their heritage from the Roman god Vulcan. The group which used to do its tapping publicly is known for its long black robes and for its financial contributions of the University of Michigan College of Engineering.
University of Missouri
In 1895, the Alpha Theta Chapter of the Theta Nu Epsilon sophomore society was founded under the guidance of faculty member Luther DeFoe. DeFoe also served as a mentor to the founding members of the QEBH senior men's society, which was founded in 1898. Mystical Seven was founded in 1907 and has become the second most well known society on campus. Some have suggested that Missouri's Mystical Seven was modeled after Virginia's Seven Society, which had been established just a couple years earlier. Other secret societies followed, including Society of the Hidden Eye for junior/senior men, LSV for senior women, Thadstek for freshman/sophomore men, Tomb and Key for freshman/sophomore men, and Kappa Kappa whose membership composition was unknown. During this period of rapid expansion of secret societies, a network of sub-rosa inter-fraternity organizations also established itself on campus with no purpose other than socializing and mischief making. This network, known commonly as the "Greek Underworld" included organizations such as Seven Equals, Kappa Beta Phi, Sigma Phi Sigma, Kappa Nu Theta, and Sigma Alpha Beta.
Mizzou is currently home to at least six secret honor societies that still participate in annual public Tap Day ceremonies at the end of each spring semester. QEBH, Mystical Seven, LSV, Alpha Xi Chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa, Friars Chapter of Mortar Board, and Rollins Society each use the Tap Day ceremony at the conclusion of the year to reveal the members who were initiated over the past year. Missouri is one of few remaining institutions in which the local Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board chapters carry out much of their work in secrecy. In addition to Tap Day activities, several of the societies maintain a public presence during some athletic events. QEBH is the caretaker of the Victory Bell, along with Nebraska's Society of Innocents, awarded to the winner of the Missouri–Nebraska Rivalry football game each year. The Friars Chapter of Mortar Board exchanges a gavel with Nebraska (The Black Masque Chapter of Mortar Board) at each MU-UNL football game, symbolizing the rivalry between the Universities. Mystical Seven and Oklahoma's Pe-et Society were likewise entrusted with the Peace Pipe trophy that was awarded to the winner of the biennial Missouri-Oklahoma football match. Omicron Delta Kappa previously served as caretaker of the Indian War Drum trophy awarded to the winner of the annual Border War football game between Missouri and Kansas.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill contains the archives of the Order of Gimghoul, a secret society headquartered at the Gimghoul Castle. The order was founded in 1889 by Robert Worth Bingham, Shepard Bryan, William W. Davies, Edward Wray Martin, and Andrew Henry Patterson, who were students at the time.
The society is open to male students (rising juniors and higher), and faculty members by invitation. The society centers itself around the legend of Peter Dromgoole, a student who mysteriously disappeared from the UNC campus in 1833. The founders originally called themselves the Order of Dromgoole, but later changed it to the Order of Gimghoul to be, "in accord with midnight and graves and weirdness," according to the university's archives.
Tradition has it that the order upheld the "Dromgoole legend and the ideals of Arthurian knighthood and chivalry." From all accounts, the order is social in nature, and has no clandestine agenda. Membership is closed and information about the order is strictly confidential, as is access to archives which are less than 50 years old.
The Order of the Gorgon's Head, another secret society at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was founded in 1896 by Darius Eatman, Edward Kidder Graham, Ralph Henry Graves, Samuel Selden Lamb, Richard Henry Lewis, Jr., and Percy DePonceau Whitaker. Membership has always been limited to male members of the junior, senior, professional, and post-graduate classes along with male faculty members. Inductees may not be members of other societies. Officers include Princeps (chief officer), Quaestor, and Scriptor. The purpose of the Order is to promote friendship, good will, and social fellowship among its members. The Order of the Gorgon's Head was one of two "junior orders" established at the University in the 1890s. The two orders had written agreements that they would not attempt to recruit freshmen or sophomores. Each order had a lodge (the Gimghouls later built a castle), where members gathered for meetings and events. Each had secret rituals based on myths. Those of the Order of the Gorgon's Head centered on the myth of the Gorgons, three monstrous sisters prominent in ancient Greek and Roman lore.
The University's library also contains the archives of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies. The Societies were founded in 1795 by some of the first students to attend the University, and are the oldest public school societies in the nation. While at first maintaining strict secrecy in their proceedings, the Societies' meetings are now generally open to the public; however, the Societies reserve the right at all times to call an "Executive Session", at which point all non-members are escorted from the chambers. All undergraduates may attempt to join one of the two societies by petitioning, but only a select few are admitted, upon mutual agreement between current Society members.
Most recently, in 2011, the Daily Tar Heel reported the first of two donations to campus entities by a secret society named Infinity. In 2011, the society gifted $888.88 to the Eve Carson Scholarship fund, which honors the late Student Body President Eve Carson. In 2012, the society gifted $888.88 to the Student Enrichment Fund, a student-created fund allowing students to apply for grants to attend off-campus events such as speeches, conferences or other academic or extracurricular opportunities. The significance of the digit '8' comes from the symbol for infinity that resembles an eight on its side.
University of Pennsylvania
At UPenn, secret societies are smaller than their Greek counterparts, and tend to vary in degree of secrecy. There are three senior honorary societies. The Sphinx Senior Society and the Friars Senior Society were both founded at the turn of the 20th century, while The Mortar Board Senior Society was founded in 1922. None of these societies were intended to be secret, in that their undergraduate and alumni membership were and continue to be publicly known, they share many of the characteristics of undergraduate secret societies of the time; they tap a diverse group of campus leaders to become members during their senior year, organize social and service activities throughout the year, and maintain an extensive network of successful and notable alumni. Alumni of Friars, for example, include Harold Ford Jr. and Ed Rendell; the Sphinx alumni roster boasts Richard A. Clarke and John Legend. In addition, there are several other groups called "secret societies". These groups generally denote a social club that is independent of any official organization. For this reason, the society is not regulated by the university and is not accountable to a national organization.
University of Virginia
Secret societies have been a part of University of Virginia student life since the founding of the Eli Banana society in 1878. Early secret societies, such as Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A., had secret initiations but public membership; some, such as the Hot Feet, now the IMP Society, were very public, incurring the wrath of the administration for public revels.
The first truly "secret society" was the Seven Society, founded circa 1905. Two decades before, there had been a chapter of the Mystical 7 society at Virginia, which may have been an inspiration. Nothing is known about the Seven Society except for their philanthropy to the University; members are revealed at their death. A few other societies that flourished around the turn of the 20th century, such as the Z Society (formerly Zeta), who were founded in 1892, the IMP Society, reformulated in 1913 after the Hot Feet were banned in 1908, and Eli Banana, are still active at the University today.
New societies have periodically appeared at the University during the 20th century. The most notable are the P.U.M.P.K.I.N. Society, a secret group that rewards contributions to the University and which was founded prior to 1970; and the Society of the Purple Shadows, founded 1963, who are only seen in public in purple robes and hoods and who seek to "safeguard vigilantly the University traditions". Many of the secret societies listed contribute to the University either financially or through awards or some other form of recognition of excellence at the University.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Known nationally as Virginia Tech, VPI has chapters and circles of both Omnicron Delta Kappa and Phi Beta Kappa which both allow applications throughout the academic school year.
In the early 1900s a group of cadets modeled a senior society based on Yale University's Skull and Bones. Both the membership and initiation was kept hidden, as the university had banned all secret college societies and associations. As time passed, this Skull and Bones society absorbed the less prominent and public Scorpions Club, and merged names to become Skull and Scorpion. This senior secret society taps nine member of VPI's Corps of Cadets each spring before their senior year during a time known as Military Weekend. in the late 1960s the society changed its name officially to the Order of the Pylons, in order to more accurately represent its military history, as well as the recognize the recent monument that had been erected on VPI's campus. members are referred to as The Nine, and are tapped to represent each pylon, as well as the centerpiece of the memorial, the cenotaph a marble block engraved with the names of VPI's Medal of Honor recipients.
Wake Forest University
Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC has at least one secret society, known as the Order of 23. The Order is purported to have 22 student members and a faculty advisor. The society has existed since the university relocated to Winston-Salem in 1956. The goal of the society is to foster school traditions and spirit, and at Freshmen orientation every year, the society welcomes all new students by dropping leaflets from the Wait Chapel catwalk. The Order of 23 taps male and female students who are juniors (rising seniors). Membership in the 23s is secret until graduation, when all members wear a medallion over their graduation robes, which reveals their place in the society.
Another known secret society on campus is the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Club. Presumably named for the characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Club (or RGC) is purported to have been active on campus since 1961. Membership in the RGC is completely secret, even after graduation.
Washington and Lee University
Founded in 1880, the Sigma Society is one of Washington and Lee's "oldest, continuous social organizations." While membership information is not necessarily anonymous, the group's purpose and inner workings remain a secret. The group has long had a connection to President George Washington, though the extent of that relationship is unknown to the public at large. Similarly, the acronym P.A.M.O.L.A. R.Y.E. - which can seen inscribed on buildings and in classrooms throughout the Lexington area - also bears an unknown significance to the group. The group has largely gone underground since undergoing a public spat with the University in 1994 when University officials paid the Sigmas $15,000 after it tore down the Sigma cabin. As noted by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Associate Justice to the Supreme Court Lewis Powell, Jr. is one of the group's most prominent members.
The membership and organizational structure of the Cadaver Society are largely unknown. Cadaver has been in continuous operation since its founding in 1957. The Cadavers have a bridge that bears their name, connecting the main campus to Wilson Field, as well as their symbol in many prominent places throughout the campus. The society has been criticized for their secrecy and many of their activities which include running around dressed in all black and masks late at night as well as drawing their symbol all over campus. They have been known to run through the Sorority houses, talking in high voices and attempting to wake everyone in the houses up.
University of Miami
Iron Arrow Honor Society Iron Arrow Honor Society, founded in 1926 in conjunction with the University of Miami's opening, is the Highest Honor Attained at the University of Miami. Based on Seminole Indian tradition, Iron Arrow recognizes those individuals in the University of Miami community who exemplify the five qualities of Iron Arrow:
The term "Secret society" at Yale University encompasses organizations with many shared but not identical characteristics. The oldest surviving undergraduate secret societies at Yale parallel various 19th century fraternal organizations.
In the traditional Yale system societies were organized by class year. There were two, (then three), senior societies, three junior societies, two sophomore societies, and two freshman societies. All the societies were independent, all had their own traditions, and each class-year pair or trio shared common traits appropriate to their class year; the freshmen societies were rambunctious and owned little real property, the sophomore and junior ones were progressively more elaborate, (the sophomore ones regularly maintained live theater in their halls), and the senior ones were extremely small and elite, and with quite expensive property and celebrations.
Each of the societies had a link to a society in the class year before it and after it; that is, members of one freshman society would all get elected to the same sophomore society year after year, and so on, so that there were two or three parallel sets of linked societies. From time to time, there would be a coup, and one society would break the pattern, forcing the other societies to likewise change election strategies, or cause the creation of a new society. Delta Kappa Epsilon, a junior society, was created in reaction to a botched election process to the junior class societies in 1844.
This process held from the 1840s to the 1910s. This system kept Yale out of the more typical intercollegiate college fraternity system, although some regular college fraternities were created out of the Yale system. Yale-type class societies also extended across northeastern colleges.
|Senior||Skull & Bones||1833–present|
|Senior||Scroll & Key||1841–present|
|Senior||Book and Snake||1863–present|
|Senior||St. Elmo (secret society)||1889–present|
|Senior||Aurelian Honor Society||1910–present|
|Senior||Mace and Chain||1956-1960s, 1990s-present|
|Senior||Phoenix (Cage and Feather)||1990s-present|
|Senior & Graduate||Linonian Society||1753–1872, 1945–present|
|Junior||Alpha Delta Phi||1836–1873, 1888–1935, 1990–present|
|Junior||Psi Upsilon||1839–1934, 2004–present|
|Junior||Delta Kappa Epsilon||1844–1935, 1982–present|
|Sophomore||Kappa Sigma Theta||1838–1857|
|Sophomore||Alpha Sigma Phi||1846–1864|
|Sophomore||Phi Theta Psi||1864 - ?|
|Sophomore||Delta Beta Xi||1864–1875|
|Freshman||Kappa Sigma Epsilon||1840–1880|
|Freshman||Gamma Nu||1860 - ?|
This system has not survived the introduction of regular fraternities and other changes. The senior class societies continue prosper today without any of the lower class societies. A similar system was introduced at Wesleyan University in nearby Middletown, Connecticut, but with a pair of societies in each class year and dual memberships between class societies and college fraternities, so that most class society members were also fraternity members. The older societies survived because of their endowments, real estate, and the vigor of their respective alumni organizations and their charitable Trusts.
In the past century, the size of Yale has allowed for a wider variety of student societies, including regular college fraternity chapters, and other models, so that it can be difficult to categorize the organizations. And there are societies like Sage and Chalice and St. Anthony Hall which cross ordinary categories.
There are typical attributes of the Yale societies. They are often restricted by class year, especially the senior class. They usually have fifteen members per class year. They "tap" their members, mostly on the same "Tap Night," and a member is off-limits to recruitment by another secret society, (i.e. reciprocal exclusivity) The normal pattern now is that a group of secret societies places an advertisement in the Yale Daily News in early spring that informs students when Tap Night is taking place and when students should expect to receive formal offers (usually 1 week before official Tap Night). Tap Night is typically held on a Thursday in mid April; the most recently held Tap Night was April 15, 2010.
From 1854-1956, "'Sheff'," the Sheffield Scientific School was the sciences and engineering college of Yale University, and it also had a fraternal culture that differed in some respects from the humanities campus.
Many societies have owned meeting halls, with different accommodations. Following the example of Skull & Bones, the halls are often referred to as 'tombs'. A series of articles on Dartmouth and Yale secret society architecture provides an overview of the buildings. Societies that own tombs or halls are sometimes known as 'landed' societies. The three oldest landed societies are Skull and Bones (1832), Scroll and Key, (1841) and Wolf's Head, (1883). The surviving landed Sheffield societies are Berzelius (1848) and Book and Snake (1863), St. Elmo (1889), and the Aurelian Honor Society (1910). St. Anthony Hall (1867) calls itself a "final society". Three newer societies that own property include Elihu (1903) – whose building is the oldest of the senior society buildings at Yale – Manuscript Society (1952), and Mace and Chain (1956). Yale's Buildings and Grounds Department lists the societies with halls in its online architectural database.
There may be any number of unknown or underground secret societies at Yale. Any group of students may self-constitute themselves as a society at any time. Certainly there have been many which did not last long enough to leave any significant records. Indeed, the Yale Rumpus has in recent years published names of students it believes are in various secret societies. According to the Rumpus, in addition to the secret societies listed in this Wikipedia page, numerous other societies (such as Phoenix ("Cage and Feather"), Nathan Hale, WIPS, L&C, Looking Glass, Spade and Grave, Boar and Rampant, Ox, Truth and Courage, Linonia, Llama and Cardigan, Red Mask, Crab and Bell, Ceres Athena, Gryphon, Fork and Knife, Ink and Needle, etc.) are either active or have been active recently. They typically meet in off campus apartments, fraternity common rooms, classrooms, and other available spaces. Some groups have enough resources to rent a permanent meeting space. Given the extracurricular zeal and competition for society spots evident in the Yale student body culture, a definitive list of secret societies that exist on the campus (or on any campus) can change year by year.
List of notable North American collegiate secret societies
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- Flat Hat Club.
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- Wm. Raimond Baird (1905). Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities. A descriptive analysis of the fraternity system in the Colleges of United States, with a detailed account of each fraternity. The Alcolm Company. p. 428.
- Wm. Raimond Baird (1905). Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities. A descriptive analysis of the fraternity system in the Colleges of United States, with a detailed account of each fraternity. The Alcolm Company. p. 429.
- Milfeld, Becca (2004-11-04). "Shhh! The Secret Side to the College’s Lesser Known Societies". Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "F.H.C. Society," University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary
- Hastings, William T. (1965). Phi Beta Kappa as a Secret Society with its Relations to Freemasonry and Antimasonry Some Supplementary Documents. Richmond, Virginia: United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. pp. 38–39.
- Flat Hat Club
- "Phi Beta Kappa: The First Fraternity". Sigma Chi/Brief History of Fraternities. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "Phi Beta Kappa Society – History". Phi Beta Kappa homepage. Retrieved 2008-07-09.[dead link]
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- Johnson, Chase (2008-04-08). "Peeking Into Closed Societies". The Flat Hat.
- "After 100 Years, Still Professing a Will to Serve". The Washington Post. 2003-05-19. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
- "Miranda's Plight". Washington Monthly. 2004-03-09. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
- "Stewards Uncovered, Will Dissolve". The Voice. 1988-02-08. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
- "Alumni Donation". Washington City Paper. 1999-03-05. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
- "Steward Ties Surface in Scandal". The Hoya. 2004-03-19. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
- "Controversial Catholics…and the third coming of The Georgetown Academy". The Voice. 2008-10-23. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
- "The Secret Life of A.D. White". The Cornell Daily Sun. 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
- Bishop, Morris (1962). A History of Cornell. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 343.
- "Dear Uncle Ezra". 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
- "Senior Societies". Trustees of Dartmouth College. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
- Scott Meacham (1999). "Halls, Tombs, and Houses: Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth". Retrieved 2008-05-10.
- Secret societies at the College include Dragon Society, Sphinx (senior society) and Fire and Skoal. Gomstyn, Alice (2001-05-18). "Secret societies remain veiled in mystery". The Dartmouth. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
- Dickinson College Office of Communications. Dickinson College. Retrieved 2011-02-28
- The Order of Scroll and Key. Dickinson College. Retrieved 2011-02-28
- "The ANAK Society". The ANAK Society. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
- Edwards, Pat (1997-04-18). "Ramblins". The Technique (Georgia Institute of Technology). Retrieved 2007-12-21.
- Tully, Jessica (29 April 2011). "Student leaders raise questions over secret societies' reach". The Daily Collegian. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- "Honor Societies Select Only Outstanding Students". The Daily Collegian. 20 September 1964.
- This is Penn State: An Insider's Guide to the University Park Campus. University Park, PA: Penn State Press. 2006. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-271-02720-3.
- Kay, Leslie (30 April 1965). "Top Penn Staters Honored By University Hat Societies". The Daily Collegian.
- "Men's Hat Groups Initiate 150 Yearly". The Daily Collegian. 11 September 1955.
- Bronstein, Ben. "About Lion's Paw: Mount Nittany". Lion's Paw Alumni Association. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- "FIGHT ON CLASS SOCIETIES.; Rutgers Follows Princeton's Lead Against Club System". The New York Times. 1917-01-20. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Greek Life Forms & Policies
- "Michigamua Image Gallery". Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- "Michigamua Exposed". Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- West, Elliot (2006-10-31). "Halloween: Secret Society In Chapel Hill Owns Gimghoul Castle". Raleigh Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
- "Gimghoul Castle". Retrieved 2008-05-04.
- "Inventory of the Order of Gimghoul Records, 1832-2006 (bulk 1940-1997)". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
- "The Legend of Gimghoul". Ghost Stories of North Carolina. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
- "Secret society donates to Eve Carson Scholarship". The Daily Tar Heel. Retrieved 03/10/2011.
- "Secret society donates to Student Enrichment Fund". Retrieved 04/24/2012.
- Oppenheim, Gabe (2006-08-11). "The Jekyll and Hyde of ZBT". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
- Ghiselli, Margherita (2003-01-14). "Mystique of secret societies no secret among college students". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
- Bruce, Philip Alexander (1921). History of the University of Virginia: The Lengthening Shadow of One Man IV. New York: Macmillan. pp. 97–99, 338.
- Bruce, Philip Alexander (1922). History of the University of Virginia: The Lengthening Shadow of One Man V. New York: Macmillan. p. 283.
- Dabney, Virginius (1981). Mr. Jefferson's University: A History. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. pp. 305–306. ISBN 978-0-8139-0904-2.
- Bruce, IV:100.
- "P.U.M.P.K.I.N.'s To Make Yearly Roll". Cavalier Daily. 1970-10-30.
- Dabney, 502.
- Dabney, 501.
- Steer, Jay (1968-09-11). "Noted For Eccentricity, Mysteriousness: Societies Beneficial to University". Cavalier Daily.
- Sigma plaque located outside of the Science Library, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia
- “History of W&L Secret Clubs,” Ring-tum Phi, 4 October 1966, p.2.
- “Sigma Initiation Washington’s Birthday,” Ring-tum Phi, 2 March 1910, p. 4.
- Powell's inclusion in the Sigma Society is acknowledged by Chief Justice William Rehnquist: Rehnquist, William H "A tribute to Lewis F. Powell, Jr.". Washington and Lee Law Review. 01 Feb, 2011. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3655/is_199901/ai_n8829121/.
- "Four Years at Yale," Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg, ’69, (New Haven, Conn.: Charles Chatfield & Co.), 1871, pgs. 87 - 105.
- "Tombs and Taps: An inside look at Yale's Fraternities, Sororities and Societies". Light & Truth: the Yale Journal of Opinion and Investigative Reporting 8 (1). 2001. Archived from the original on 2002-03-06. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- Francis-Wright, Tim (2001). "These are Charities? The Seamy Side of Yale's Most Exclusive Clubs". Bear Left! 1. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- "Juniors get tapped, then get crunk". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2010-04-19.
- Branch, Mark Alden (2001-03). "Yale's Lost Landmarks". Yale Alumni Magazine.
- Branch, Mark Alden (2001). "Yale's Lost Landmarks: Delta Kappa Epsilon "Tomb," 1861-1927". Yale Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- "An Irrepressible Urge to Join". Yale Alumni Magazine. 2001-03.
- "Buildings and Grounds". Yale University Office of Facilities. Retrieved 2008-05-09.[dead link]
- Dartmouth list of senior societies. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
- Good, Jonathan (2000-04). ""King Arthur made new knights": The Founding of Casque & Gauntlet". Dartmouth Library Bulletin.
- Pressley, Sue Anne (May 19, 2003). "100 Years and Still Professing a Will to Serve". Washington Post.
- Sinderbrand, Rebecca (March 5, 1999). "Manuel Miranda is always ready to lend Georgetown University conservatives a helping right hand". Washington City Paper.
- Sinderbrand, Rebecca (April, 2007). "Miranda's Plight". Washington Monthly.
- Longwood Magazine Winter 2001
- [Knapp, Peter J., and Anne H. Knapp. "A Century in Retrospect." In Trinity College in the Twentieth Century: A History. Hartford, Conn.: Trinity College, 2000. 46.]. Retrieved 2013-4-10.
- Reminiscences of a Well-Rounded Man, 1926-31: Malcolm F. McGregor. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
- Frost, Jacqueline (Summer 1999). "Order of the Golden Bear". Berkeley Magazine.
- "Torch and Shield New Coed Society: University Women Form Club Rivaling Golden Bear of Men Students". San Francisco Call. Feb. 23, 1908.
- Women at Cal, A Class of Their Own: The Bancroft Library (last updated Oct. 19, 2011)
- Brownstein, Sandra. Revival of the 'Society of the Golden Rose'?.
- Peter, Kessler (2005). "Eris Quod Sum, Ergo Bibamus". Boalt Hall Transcript.
- Sigma Sigma at the University of Cincinnati. Retrieved 2009-04-13.
- Cincinnatus Honorary Society Nearly Naked Mile Website. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
- Men of METRO directory listing at the University of Cincinnati. Retrieved 2009-04-14.
- "Ma-Wan-Da Home". Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- "Senior Skull Honor Society". University of Maine Alumni Association. Retrieved 2008-05-30.[dead link]
- "Honors Societies". University of Missouri–Columbia Department of Religious Studies. Archived from the original on 2008-05-18. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
- "OU College of Engineering at a Glance". Retrieved 2008-12-08.
- "Bisonhead at UB". Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- "Sphinx Senior Society of the University of Pennsylvania". Archived from the original on 2008-05-24. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- "Friars Senior Society of the University of Pennsylvania (Home Page)". Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- "Mortar Board Senior Society of the University of Pennsylvania". Retrieved 2009-11-25.
- Kingkade, Tyler (April 18, 2013). "Pitt News Fires Editor For Secret Society Conflict Of Interest". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 7, 2013.
- "The Beginnings of the Society: Friar Society History". Friar Society (Home Page). Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- "Skulls of Seven Home". Student Life, Westminster College. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "The Skull (Home Page)". Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- "Virtual Tour: Skull Tomb". WPI Virtual Tour. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- "How the Secret Societies Got That Way", Yale Alumni Magazine (September 2004)
- "Halls, Tombs and Houses: Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth"
- "Four Years at Yale" A late 19th century contemporary account of fraternal societies at two Connecticut Universities: Yale & Wesleyan (courtesy of Google Books)
- The Peter Dromgoole legend