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 seven all-male clubs at Harvard:
- A.D. (1 Plympton St.)
- Delphic (9 Linden St.)
- Fly, founded in 1836 (2 Holyoke Pl.);
- Owl (30 Holyoke St.)
- Phoenix-SK (72 Mt Auburn St.)
- Porcellian – sometimes called the "Porc" or the "P.C.", founded in 1791 (1324 Massachusetts Ave.)
- Oak, which has no physical space.
Five all-female clubs at Harvard (year of founding):
- Bee Club (1991)
- Isis Club (2000)
- Pleiades Society (2001)
- Sablière Society (2002)
- La Vie Club (2008)
And two co-ed clubs at Harvard:
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, The 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 are invited to a series of social events. 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.?" After each event, more likely prospective members, or "punches", are invited back.
The male punch process generally has four rounds. The first round is a meet and greet at the final club. Punches must make an impression on current members of the club in order to make it to the next round. The second round is an outing to an alternate location. The location will most likely be in an alumni-owned estate in the New England area or in a hotel in New York City. The third round is a date event, in which punches bring a date to the final club. Their continuation to the next round partially depends on how attractive their date is. The final round is called the final dinner. Punches who make it to this round have been admitted into the club. The final decision is made by both members of the club and the alumni board. The female punch process is fairly the same as the male punch process. There is an informal round included that is centered around coffee dates between punches and current members. 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.
The punch process varies by club. Each punch is led by the "Punch Master" of the club. Around 100-200 sophomores are punched with 14-22 males initiated into the club. Sophomores and juniors are chosen to be punched based on their social connections and background. Usually being a member of the Crimson Key Society or Hasty Pudding Social Club, will guarantee that you are punched in the Fall. The Crimson Key Society is a social campus organization that leads tours, answers questions, and hosts events for incoming freshmen. The Hasty Pudding Social Club is a social club for freshmen. There are three parts to the Hasty Pudding, all housed in the same building: the theatricals, the band, and the social club. A small number of freshmen are inducted in the fall and a larger number of freshmen, called "neophytes", are inducted in the spring. The Hasty Pudding Social Club is rumored to be strongly influenced by Andrew Farkas.
Membership and Structure
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. Final clubs charge members a semesterly fee for membership. There is financial aid available at some clubs.
Similar to most other college organizations, there is a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and alumni chair. Unique to final clubs, there is a punch master, who is responsible for planning and executing the social events of the punch process. These positions are elected by membership of the club. Alumni boards have a large influence over the club and are involved in every significant decision that the club makes. Within the club, new punches are assigned older mentors to guide them in the club during initiation. These mentors are referred to as different names in each club. This structure does form a familial like structures with upperclassmen that mimics a fraternity or sorority.
There are a variety of traditions associated with each club. These traditions are passed on institutionally and there is no public record of their occurrence. Final clubs are notorious for playing a large role in the social scene at Harvard College. One infamous party of the PSK is called "Inferno", and members of the Patriots football team are rumored to attend each year during Superbowl season. The Spee has a party called "Eurotrash", which caught a lot of flack because of the cultural insensitivity of the party.
Hazing has been an important part of each initiation process for new punches. Hazing for the final clubs is less about harassing new members and more about enabling their members to identify with the organization publicly. Final clubs usually have their members do a comedic or odd task. For instance, female final club members may wear exaggerated make-up to classes or male final club members may have to wear costumes for a month. The PSK's hazing process usually involves the "Shuttle Boy" task, where new members must stay on the campus shuttle for several hours, doing something ridiculous.
The most exclusive club, the Porcellian, has some interesting traditions. At every dinner at the PC, there will be a dead boar at the center of the table because the boar is the mascot of the PC. Additionally, the PC has a reverse initiation for the fall semester where the new class initiates and pulls pranks on the juniors and seniors. The Spee is known for visiting Oxford University and eating with their social club every one or two years.
Controversy on Campus
Final clubs are the center of many controversies at Harvard.
Debate over Co-Ed Clubs
In the Fall of 2015, Harvard final clubs faced intense pressure to go co-educational by the administrative board of the college. College administrators, including President Drew Faust, criticized the clubs for their "alleged gender exclusivity and the potential for alcohol abuse and sexual assault on the off-campus properties. The Spee was the first final club to decide to go co-ed. The Fox followed suit but was soon temporarily shut down as graduate board members sought to re-evaluate what it meant to be a "member of the Fox". The other seven clubs remain all-male but have partnered with the female final clubs to maintain a co-ed social space to the college administrative board. Other elite colleges like Princeton also faced pressure to also make their social clubs co-ed.
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.
Dismantling Final Clubs
Recently, discussion at the college has centered on dismantling final clubs. During the punch season of 2015, many punches publicly burned or destroyed their punch invitations, demonstrating a commitment to their call for the dismantlement of final clubs. Some final club members publicly withdrew their membership from the clubs because of the culture of sexual assault that seemed to have been pervasive in the final club social spaces.
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)."
- 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).
- "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.
- "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
- "Divided Fox Club Opens With New Policies | News | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
- "In Historic Move, Spee Club Invites Women To Punch | News | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
- "Patrick says he quit The Fly Club in 1983 - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. 2006-08-03. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
- "Why We Won’t Punch | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
- "Why I Left the Spee | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
- 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