Aurelian Honor Society
Established in 1910, the Aurelian Honor Society is the fifth oldest landed secret society at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a member of the Ancient Eight, which also includes Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, and other "Sheff Societies" such as Book and Snake, Berzelius and St. Elmo. Most societies refer to their spaces as 'tombs' but Aurelian's is officially known as The Rooms, quarters constructed specifically for the use of the Aurelian Honor Society. There was some controversy regarding the use of these rooms in Spring 2012, but as of Spring 2013 the delegation has resumed its traditional meetings in the Rooms.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Yale University had two separate undergraduate colleges, each with separate facilities, administrations, and student bodies. One of these, the Sheffield Scientific School, suffered from student divisiveness due to an active Greek system that separated fraternities from each other, and those who were not in fraternities from those who were. In the spring of 1910, Lindell T. Bates, recognizing the fragmentation of the student body and lack of unified leadership, founded the Aurelian Honor Society for seniors "who would not labor under unnecessary handicaps which separated the existing clubs from the student body". Membership in this Society would be offered to outstanding "Sheff" students of good scholarship and extracurricular achievement. In addition, the Society was to elect three honorary members annually. The purpose of this non-secret organization was to formulate mature undergraduate opinion on those matters affecting the vital interests of the Sheffield Scientific School, both internally and in its relations with the rest of the University.
Name and Emblem
The name was chosen in honor of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose career and philosophy represented those ideas for which the organization wished to strive.
These ideals are symbolized by the Society's emblem: a seven-pointed star surrounded by a wreath. The wreath represents a reward of merit, and the star stands for a single body (originally seven members) radiating light in the seven principal lines of college activity—Scientific, Athletic, Literary, Oratorical, Executive, Scholarship, and Religious.
The Constitution of the society reads: "The object of this Society is to encourage and promote high character, gentlemanly conduct and the molding of one's career to a life to the community, and to bring the active members into contact with the honorary members who shall have been selected with the view that their careers shall be a source of inspiration".
The first official meeting was held on June 6, 1910. The minutes from this meeting and subsequent meetings are collected in books in The Rooms. At each meeting, a paper was read by a member on issues of undergraduate life. These papers have been collected and preserved by the Society's Historian and can now be found locked in a large safe that safeguards other treasures of the organization. Examples of topics discussed by the Society ranged, depending on the time, from how to secure more athletic managers at Yale for Sheff, to questions we still face today, such as the publish-or-perish problem for professors or how to maintain Yale's traditions.
As a result of these discussions, Aurelian has been on the forefront of fundamental changes in the University, urging, for instance, the adoption of the honor system, participating in the creation of the freshmen counseling program, and being the first society to accept members from all schools within the University upon institution of the unified college system. Aurelian strives to continue this tradition through discussion with honorary members, faculty, and administrators on topics relevant to the university community and the broader world.
Besides discussing issues of the University, Aurelian has, since its inception, overseen a variety of important philanthropic activities in support of the University: a scholarship loan fund (which has recently been revived, now administered by the financial aid office), an undergraduate science contest, the Chester Harding Plimpton award ($100 in gold and the bas-relief medal, the original medal once hung on the wall in The Rooms), a public lecture series, and the prep-school cup award (predecessor to the present book awards). In 1935, the Society voted to give the University $250 to make a film of "Life at Yale" to be sent to alumni meetings throughout the country. The Society also enjoyed many social activities: supper parties in The Rooms, graduate teas after the big games in the fall, a luncheon on Class Day for graduates and their families and occasional theater and athletic events. It holds one of the largest endowments amongst societies at Yale. For many years, the New York alumni invited the Aurelian undergraduates to the Yale Club for a reception.
After the unification of Yale College and the Sheffield Scientific School, and through the tumultuous era of the 1960s, the Aurelian Honor Society's role in University governance declined. Nevertheless, Aurelian continued to be a supra-senior society, drawing its membership from throughout the University and other societies. Largely due to the sponsorship of Aurelian alumnus Loomis Havemeyer (author of the history of the Society, and whose photo hangs in the main room), Aurelian continued to meet for Tuesday lunches with faculty and honorary members. When Yale went co-ed, Aurelian followed suit, making it one of the only societies to do so at their first opportunity. However, following the death of Loomis Havemeyer, and in the midst of widespread criticism of "elitist, exclusive" organizations, the Society failed to perpetuate itself in 1975. Its reincarnation in 1981, with the help of Dick Shank, then Registrar of Yale College and a successor of Loomis Havemeyer's, cast Aurelian in a different mold. The Society still seeks to attract members from all walks of student life and maintains contact with the faculty. In this way, Aurelian still maintains the leadership role on which it was founded, emphasizing a sense of history and inquisitiveness that sets the trends, if not for faculty and administrators, for other societies. This legacy persists in its annual speakers program, and monthly lunches with members of the faculty and administration. Past guests of the Society include Four Star American General Stanley A. McChrystal and American politician Howard Dean.
Contemporary membership is based on an election process coordinated by the incumbent delegation.
However, membership in Aurelian originally did not preclude membership in a senior society but rather supplemented it, bringing together the best people from various fields to promote the high ideals in service to the University. A quote from the Yale Daily News of April 29, 1933 read: "The Aurelian Honor Society aims to promote contact and communication between members, to exert an organized force for cooperation with the administration and helpfully to consider problems affecting the University." At the 25th anniversary of Aurelian, the president of Yale said that the Society had reached a foremost position at Yale through its years of unceasing work to help solve administrative, educational, and social problems. In recognition, the University gave Aurelian its own luxurious quarters when "The Rooms" were constructed in 1932.