The historical basis for the name "final clubs" descends from a time when Harvard had a variety of clubs for students of each class year, with students of different years being in different clubs, and the "final clubs" were so named because they were the last social club a person could join before graduation. The clubs were founded in the 19th century after Harvard banned traditional fraternities in the 1850s.
There are currently eight all-male clubs at Harvard:
- A.D. (1 Plympton St.)
- Owl (30 Holyoke St.)
- Delphic (9 Linden St.)
- Fly, founded in 1836 (2 Holyoke Pl.);
- Fox (44 John F. Kennedy St.)
- Phoenix-SK (72 Mt Auburn St.)
- Porcellian – sometimes called the "Porc" or the "P.C.", founded in 1791 (1324 Massachusetts Ave.)
- Spee (76 Mt Auburn St).
And five all-female clubs at Harvard (year of founding):
- Bee Club (1991)
- Isis Club (2000 - no affiliation with the Islamic extremist rebel group of the same name)
- Pleiades Society (2002)
- Sablière Society (2002)
- La Vie Club (2008)
The Harvard men's final clubs trace their roots to the late 18th century, while the five all-female social clubs were founded more recently. Another women's organization, the Seneca, distinguishes itself as a "501(c)(3) nonprofit women's organization that is often misidentified as a final club." Several other clubs are also 501(c)(3) organizations and engage in some community service. The Bee was founded in 1991; The Seneca in 1999; Isis in 2000; Pleiades in 2002; Sabliere in 2002; and La Vie in 2008.
(The co-ed Signet Society, Harvard Crimson, Harvard Advocate and Harvard Lampoon also have selective membership, but their charters define them as something other than social organizations, based on their literary or artistic characteristics.)
Eight of the male clubs own real estate in Harvard Square. Clubhouses usually include dining halls, libraries, and game rooms. Most are staffed with chefs, stewards, and other paid personnel. Most serve lunch and dinner meals at regular schedules. The Delphic Club boasts a regulation-size squash court.
The Bee Club rents space from the Fly Club at 45 Dunster Street in a building that was previously the D.U. Club (the "Duck") before the D.U. Club's graduate membership merged with the Fly in 1996. In a controversial move, the Fly did not allow former D.U. undergraduate members to integrate, and subsequently the undergraduate D.U. membership formed The Oak Club.
La Vie Club rents a colonial style house on Garden Street. The Isis rents a portion of The Owl's premises. The Sabliere Society recently obtained property in the Square. The Pleiades Society recently obtained an apartment on Waterhouse Street.
In 1984, as required by Title IX legislation, the clubs opted to become fully independent, and since then have maintained themselves beyond university regulation. The clubs own real estate property in Cambridge, collectively assessed at over $17 million as of 2006.
Years ago Harvard College freshmen could join a freshman club, then a "waiting club," and finally a "final club." Of the final clubs still in existence, only the P.C. and the Fox were initially founded as final clubs. The Phoenix SK is the amalgam of three separate clubs: the Phoenix, the Sphinx, and the Kalumet. The Iroquois Club built the edifice now owned by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, at 74 Mount Auburn Street. Their dance studio is the former Iroquois dining hall. The original Pi Eta Club built the structure now occupied by Upstairs On The Square, and Grendel's Den.
Each fall the clubs hold "punch season," during which select sophomores and juniors are invited to a series of social events. After each event, more likely prospective members, or "punches", are invited back. After the last event, called a "final dinner", each club elects 10–30 new members who then choose among the clubs they have been asked to join. Being "punched" refers to receiving an invitation to the first punch event. Once the punch process has begun, the verb "to punch" can also refer to a prospective member's attending the clubs' events, e.g. "Is he really punching both the Delphic and A.D.?"
The clubs have an undergraduate membership of around forty apiece, amounting to over 10% of the eligible male undergraduates, and 5% of eligible female undergraduates. The clubs have varying entrance restrictions for guests. Some final clubs often hold parties and open their doors to women guests and male guests of members. Others, like the A.D., have only in recent history opened their doors to female guests of members and still do not allow male guests. Others rarely welcome non-members. The Porcellian does not allow non-members past "the bicycle room" in the building's foyer; the Delphic and Owl permit their guests access only to their basements or courtyards through separate entrances; the Fox has a basement room with a separate entrance for guests; The Phoenix-S.K. allows guests access to their dining room, courtyard, and, on special occasions, their lounge, through a non-members' entrance.
In January 2006 national attention focused on the Harvard final club system as a result of the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito. Alito came under criticism as a result of his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a conservative group that opposed affirmative action and the admission of women into Princeton. One of the leading Democrats highlighting this charge was Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Conservatives, however, responded by pointing out Kennedy's membership in the Owl Club of Harvard. As a result of the political fallout, Senator Kennedy left the club.
In August of that same year, Massachusetts Democratic Gubernatorial candidate (and now Governor) Deval Patrick came under fire for his membership in the Fly Club. Critics viewed Patrick's membership in the club as contradictory to his image as a champion of civil rights. Patrick countered that he had left the club in the early 1980s when he realized that it contradicted his values, although the club itself had Patrick's name on its roster as late as 2006.
In popular culture
- "Cambridge Massachusetts City Council Calendar No. 23 Monday, December 4, 2000" (archived 2001). "Consent Agenda #17, relative to a Preservation Easement for 2 Holyoke Place (Fly Club)."
- "SPEE CLUB, INC., Summary Screen", The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, William Francis Galvin, Secretary Of The Commonwealth, Corporations Division
- Cambridge Historical Commission, "City of Cambridge, Landmarks and Other Protected Properties", 2009.
- James K. McAuley, The Women's Final Clubs, http://www.thecrimson.com/series/the-punch/article/2010/10/7/club-founded-crimson-date/ (October 7, 2010).
- "LA VIE CLUB INCORPORATED Summary Screen", 2008, The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, William Francis Galvin, Secretary Of The Commonwealth, Corporations Division
- Beam, Alex, "Harvard's Vanishing Squash Courts", Vanity Fair, May 20, 2009
- "Patrick says he quit The Fly Club in 1983 - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. 2006-08-03. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
- Harrington, Rebecca M., "How the Final Clubbers Fool You - The Trend is Nigh", The Harvard Crimson, Thursday, March 2, 2006
- Hemel, Daniel J., "E-mails Offer Glimpse of Club: Isis e-mail archives reveal details of 'punch' process, relationship with Bee Club", The Harvard Crimson, Monday, October 24, 2005
- Phillips, Frank, "Patrick says he quit The Fly Club in 1983: Nine exclusive clubs at Harvard limit membership to men. A gubernatorial candidate's link to one renews debate on elitism", The Boston Globe, August 3, 2006
- "Kennedy Ends His Final Club Ties: Senator withdraws from Owl Club after conservatives criticized his membership", The Harvard Crimson, Tuesday, January 17, 2006
- The Oak Club, , Retrieved September 11, 2012
- Sachs, Stephen E., "What's Wrong With Final Clubs: The Public Interest", The Harvard Crimson, Tuesday, October 23, 2001