Brothers in Unity

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Brothers in Unity is a literary and debating society at Yale University founded in 1768. Given its private nature, the group has also been labeled a secret society.

The Society of Brothers in Unity
Brothers in Unity Seal.png
Legal statusActive
New Haven, Connecticut
References to Brothers in Unity can be found throughout Yale's campus, including several within the courtyards of Branford College
Brothers in Unity shares several memorials with the Linonia Society
Brothers in Old Campus
The Linonia and Brothers in Unity Room in the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale



The Society of Brothers in Unity at Yale College was founded by 21 members of the Yale classes of 1768, 1769, 1770 and 1771.[1] The founders included David Humphreys, who is noted in the society's public 1841 catalogue as the "cornerstone" of the founding class.[1] The society was founded chiefly to combat existing class separation among literary societies; prior to 1768, Yale freshmen were not "received into any Society", and junior society members were forced into the servitude of seniors "under dread of the severest penalties".[2] Humphreys, a freshman of the class of 1771, persuaded two members of the senior class, three junior class members, two sophomores, and 14 freshmen to support the society's founding.

Early activity[edit]

Immediately after its conception, the society's unorthodox class composition was allegedly challenged by other literary groups at Yale College.[2] According to its catalogue, Brothers in Unity only became an independent institution after persevering "an incessant war" waged by multiple traditional societies who did not support the concept of a four-year debating community. It is speculated that this struggle initiated the Brothers' near 250-year rivalry with Linonia, which previously did not initiate freshman members. Within a year, however, Brothers in Unity became fully independent, its popularity influencing other societies to reconsider their exclusion of first year students. The Yale College freshman class of 1771 yielded 15 members of Brothers in Unity, while Linonia accepted four; the first noted point in which underclassmen were publicly accepted into a Yale society.[1] The Brothers adopted the motto E parvis oriuntur magna between 1768 and 1769.


Between its founding and 1841, the society is said to have followed the template of other debating societies, although operating under "Masonic secrecy," according to 19th century Yale historian Ebenezer Baldwin.[3] In conjunction with Linonia and the Calliopean Society, Brothers in Unity was noted by Baldwin to discuss "scientific questions" and gravitate towards "literary pursuits." This is substantiated by the Brother's own public documentation, which denotes that the society sought "lofty places in science, literature, and oratory" fields, as well as general "intellectual improvement."[1]

The Brotherhood, between the years of 1768 and 1841, claims membership of 15 Supreme Court Justices (seven of which Chief Justices), 6 United States Governors, 13 Senators, 45 Congressional representatives, 14 presidents of colleges and universities, two United States Attorney Generals, and a United States Vice President - John C. Calhoun (1804). In its catalogue, the Brotherhood also asserts: "Every President of the United States, with the exception of two, has had in his cabinet one of our members, and the governor's chair of our own state has been filled for twenty years with Brothers in Unity."[1] 26 Yale valedictorians after the position's 1798 founding are attributed to the Society.

Brothers in Unity Members Ties

Membership to the Brothers and the Linonian Society divided the students of Yale College beginning in the turn of the 19th century. Both held expansive literary collections, which they used to compete against each other. Between 1780 and 1841, the Brothers claimed right to more volumes than Linonia, although these assertions are disputed[1][4] The two societies' rivalry extended to their membership. However, while publications released by both societies repeatedly assert superiority amongst each other, they also express positive sentiment; denoting each other as "ornaments" of Yale and "generous rivals."[5][6][1]

At the time of the formation of Yale's central library, Linonia and 'Brothers in Unity donated their respective libraries to the university. The donation is commemorated in the Linonia and Brothers Reading Room of Yale's Sterling Memorial Library. The reading room contains the Linonia and Brothers (L&B) collection, a travel collection, a collection devoted to medieval history, and a selection of new books recently added to Sterling’s collections.

Lapel Pins for Brothers

21st Century-Present[edit]

After an unknown period of inactivity,[7] the society was revived by current students and alumni. The society generally taps 8~12 individuals per class year who display gentlemanly virtues, intellectual curiosity, and a proclivity for public service.[8] There are generally no more than 40 brothers (excluding alumni) in a given year. This follows guidelines and methods in line with the organization's 1768 constitution and 1841 catalogue.[1] Internally, the society is referenced as the "Brotherhood" or just "Brothers." Members represents leaders in a wide range of undergraduate extracurriculars. The society's rumored tap lines include Yale Rugby, Yale Political Union, Yale ROTC, Yale Lightweight Crew, Yale Moot Court, Yale Model UN, Yale Debate Association, Yale College Council, and various Yale Greek Life organizations. A current Yale faculty professor acts as an ex-officio member to advise the society.


The Brotherhood hosts an annual lecture with a distinguished guest called the Morrison Waite '37 Lecture named after the 7th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, the Brotherhood traditionally awards its members with the "BIU Tie" after their election into the society. The ties are imported from Oldbury, England. The society hosts an invitation-only annual Founder's Day formal for its students in the spring. Unlike St. Anthony Hall Membership does not preclude participation in other social groups at Yale, including senior societies and fraternities.

A Brothers in Unity Delegation in the 21st Century

Prominent Alumni[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Robinson, W.E. (1841). "Preface". A Catalogue of the Society of Brothers in Unity, Yale College, Founded 1768. New Haven, CT: Hitchcock & Stafford. pp. 1–6. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b Quoted remarks are the opinions of the Brothers in Unity Society of 1841, on page 2 of its catalogue
  3. ^ History of Yale College: From Its Foundation, A.D. 1700, to the Year 1838. Ebenezer Baldwin, Esq. Page 235.
  4. ^ See also: History of Yale College: From Its Foundation, A.D. 1700, to the Year 1838. Ebenezer Baldwin, Esq. Page 235-236
  5. ^ The Linonian Society Library of Yale College: The First Years, 1768—1790
  6. ^ Kathy M. Umbricht Straka The Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 54, No. 4 (April 1980), pp. 183-192
  7. ^ Havemayer, Loomis. "Yale's Extracurricular and Social Organizations 1780-1960". Eli Scholar's Page. Yale University. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  8. ^ "Brothers in Unity Website". Brothers In Unity About Page. Retrieved 28 November 2021.