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The Aleph Samach Seal, 1900.
|Purpose||Junior honor society|
Aleph Samach is a junior honor society at Cornell University, founded in 1893 on four pillars: leadership, loyalty, service, and honor. Unlike most collegiate secret societies, which have primarily senior membership, Aleph Samach is composed mostly of juniors. While senior members played an advisory role within the society, Aleph Samach's primary goal is "to promote the greater good of the Cornell community by connecting junior leaders, cultivating their leadership skills and developing their commitment to campus service."
Aleph Samach (sometimes spelled Aleph Samech) was founded in 1893 at Cornell University as an honorary society for men of the junior class. Aleph Samach can document its operational status as late as AY 1964-1965 and AY 1978-79 and AY 1980-81.
Like many societies at Cornell, it sought to recognize those men of distinct character who were emerging leaders on campus. The society remained strong in its early decades and was an influential organization on campus. Along with some of the other class societies, most notably Quill and Dagger and Sphinx Head, it promoted campus-wide agendas; some of the more notable results being the creation of what would become Slope Day. By 1896, The New York Times listed Aleph Samach as the junior class society at Cornell, alongside the Chancery (senior law), Sphinx Head (senior), Quill and Dagger (senior), and Theta Nu Epsilon (sophomore) societies. The turn of the century saw Aleph Samach integretated into the senior honorary societies system of campus-wide governance. Aleph Samach was a stepping stone to Sphinx Head and Quill and Dagger. The sophomore society, Theta Nu Epsilon, was a debauched institution. This led one Cornell fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, to bar membership in Theta Nu Epsilon. Aleph Samach, Sphinx Head, and Quill and Dagger, however, emerged in the first decade of the 20th century as the lead institutions of Cornell undergraduate governance. By 1917, the sophomore class was without an honorary society following the collapse of Theta Nu Epsilon’s successor, Dunstan. And the senior honorary societies, formerly the apex of Cornell student governance, had been dispossessed of their oligarchy by the Student Council. But Aleph Samach was still the uncontested honorary society of the junior class. After the creation of a unified Student Council following the First World War, the honorary societies nonetheless remained an active force. Aleph Samach joined with the Council, Sphinx Head, and Quill and Dagger in fall 1920 to petition the Cornell Board of Trustees to elevate the popular Acting President to the position of president until such time as the university chose a new head. In 1939, Aleph Samach was listed as a junior class co-honorary society with Cornell's Red Key Society.
Symbols and traditions
"Aleph" and "Samach" are letters of the Hebrew language. Most of the rituals of Aleph Samach are secret. A rare exception is the symbol of the society, the owl. Unfortunately, at some point in the society's history "the secret meaning of what the letters Aleph Samach stood for, the password, and the secret handshake had all been lost." One detail that has been recounted is that the title of the presiding member of Aleph Samach is Rabbi.
Members are tapped for membership in Aleph Samach in the spring of their sophomore year or fall of their junior year. Selection is based on participation in extra-curricular activities. Aleph Samach was an all-male institution. Cornell had a separate but equal honorary society for junior women, Raven and Serpent. During the “Club War” of 1913-1914, Aleph Samach allied itself with The Cornell Daily Sun, Sphinx Head and Quill and Dagger in an effort to suppress the growing influence of the following “social clubs” or drinking societies at Cornell: Majura, Beth l’Amed, Kappa Beta Phi, Bench and Board, Gemel Kharm, Yonan, Mermaid, Krug and Tafel, and the Climax. The three honorary societies and the Sun would not allow any member of the drinking societies to be tapped into their organizations. During the fall of 1913, Quill and Dagger took the largest hit in membership, as many members of the Class of 1914 were members of the drinking societies.
Notable Aleph Samach members
- Samuel R. Berger,
- Gib Cool
- Henry Livingston French
- John L. Senior
- Willard Straight
- E. B. White,
- "Hennings Attend Son’s Graduation", DeWitt News-Times (July 8, 1965) at 3; "Advertisement", Cornell Daily Sun (95:20)(Sept. 27, 1978) at 11; Cornell Daily Sun (97:29)(Oct. 7, 1980) at 11.
- Hewett, Waterman Thomas, Frank R. Holmes, and Lewis A. Williams. "Student Life." Cornell University, a History. [Whitefish, MT]: Kessinger Pub., 2007. 31-32. Print.
- "Student Body to Be Canvassed for Athletic Association", Ithaca Daily News (June 24, 1916) at 8.(listed as an honorary society alongside Sphinx Head and Quill and Dagger).
- By 1910, the sophomore honorary society was called "Dunstan".
- "Cornell University Topics; The Fencer's Club in the League - Greek Fraternities", N.Y. Times (March 12, 1896).
- "Editorials", The Caduceus of Kappa Sigma (May 1898) at 183.
- Oscar Dietrich von Engeln, Concerning Cornell (1917) at 279.
- "Appointment of Smith as President is Urged", Syracuse Post-Standard (Nov. 18, 1920) at 15; see also, "Educational News", Journal of Education (Nov. 25, 1920) at 533).
- "Locals", The Journal and Republican (Lowville, N.Y.)(Nov. 16, 1939) at 5.
- The Secret Society Exposes Itself. Cornell Daily Sun. 86, Issue 80. 12 February 1970. p. age 4.
- "New Paltz", The Kingston Daily Freeman (Nov. 10, 1930) at 6).
- Chilton's Jeweler's Circular (1937).
- "Senior Societies Elect Nine Men", Ithaca Daily News (Oct. 14, 1913) at 8.
- Jill Goetz, "Samuel R. Berger, Cornell University alumnus, is appointed national security adviser by President Bill Clinton"
- Cornell Daily Sun, Volume XIX, Issue 174, 3 June 1899, Page 1.
- White, Elwyn Brooks., Dorothy Lobrano. Guth, and Martha White. "Cornell and the Open Road." Letters of E. B. White. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2006. 17-19. Print.