Flat Hat Club

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The Flat Hat Club is the popular name of a collegiate fraternity and honor society founded in 1750 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and twice revived there in the twentieth century. The fraternity, formally named the "F.H.C. Society", was founded at the College on November 11, 1750.

The F.H.C. Society is the first recorded collegiate society within the territory of the present United States of America. The New York Times Education section recently profiled America's oldest university clubs and societies, including a letter by Thomas Jefferson to Thomas McAuley provided by Swem Library archives mentioning his membership of the F.H.C.[1]

History of the original society[edit]

The initials of the F.H.C. Society stand for a secret Latin phrase, likely "Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio" or "Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque" (two renderings of "brotherhood, humanity, and knowledge").[citation needed] The "brothers" of the original F.H.C. devised and employed a secret handshake, wore a silver membership medal, issued certificates of membership, and met regularly for discussion and fellowship.[citation needed] The Society became publicly known by the backronym "Flat Hat Club" in probable allusion to the mortarboard caps then commonly worn by all students at the College (now worn at graduation by students at most American universities).

William & Mary alumnus and third American president Thomas Jefferson may be the most famous member of the Flat Hat Club.[2] (Other notable members of the original Society included Colonel James Innes, St. George Tucker, and George Wythe.[3]) Late in life, Jefferson noted that, "[w]hen I was a student of Wm. & Mary college of this state, there existed a society called the F.H.C. society, confined to the number of six students only, of which I was a member, but it had no useful object, nor do I know whether it now exists."[4]

A second Latin-letter fraternity, the P.D.A. Society (publicly known as "Please Don't Ask"), was founded at William and Mary in March, 1773, in imitation of the F.H.C. Society. John Heath, a student at William and Mary who in 1776 sought but was refused admission to the P.D.A., later established the first Greek-letter fraternity in the campus of College of William and Mary, the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[5]

The student members of the F.H.C. suspended the activities of the Society in 1781, probably as a result of the suspension of academic exercises at the university as the contending armies of the American Revolution approached Williamsburg during the Yorktown campaign.

"The memory of this fraternity had entirely died out at William and Mary, but [after 1909, there was a] discovery of certain manuscript material in the correspondence of St. George Tucker, who was a student of the College in 1772. . . . These manuscripts consist of (1) a letter of Mr. Jefferson, written to John D. Taylor, of Maryland, giving some account of the club at the College, stating that he was a member . . . [;] (2) a list of the books described as compiled for the club's library, in 1772, by Rev. Thomas Gwatkin, Professor of Mathematics; (3) the credentials of Robert Baylor as a member in abbreviated Latin." Therefore, we know the society existed for some years, and possessed a small library.[6]

History of the subsequent Society[edit]

The name of the Society was revived in the twentieth century by application to a select group of twelve undergraduate men and four professors which had been founded in 1916 as the Spotswood Club (it thus differed markedly from the original Society, a fraternity of six undergraduate men with alumnus members "in urbe"). This society operated largely as a college honorary society. The Society suspended its activities in 1943 as the number of men enrolled at the College steeply declined because of American involvement in World War II.

The modern F.H.C. Society was revived in May, 1972.[7] It remains an all-male society, consisting of twelve undergraduate men and one alumnus "in urbe". Most of its activities remain comparatively secret within the university. Upon graduation from William and Mary, members receive medals of distinction, denoting their membership.[8] Unlike other such societies, alumni may disclose their membership after graduation.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Early Extracurriculars". The New York Times. November 2, 2010. 
  2. ^ Millfeld, Becca (November 2, 2004). "Shhh! The Secret Side to the College's Lesser Known Societies". The DoG Street Journal. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  3. ^ "F.H.C. Society," University Archives Subject File Collection Archived January 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary
  4. ^ Hastings, William T. (1965). Phi Beta Kappa as a Secret Society with its Relations to Freemasonry and Antimasonry Some Supplementary Documents. Richmond, Virginia: United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. pp. 38–39. 
  5. ^ Jane Carson, "James Innes and His Brothers of the F.H.C."; Charlottesville, Virginia: The University Press of Virginia, 1965.
  6. ^ "The Flat Hat Club". Vol. 25 no. 3. William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine. January 1917. pp. 161–164. Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  7. ^ "University Archives Subject File Collection, 1693-(ongoing)". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on January 15, 2009. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  8. ^ "F.H.C. Society Collection, 1911-2012 and undated". scdb.swem.wm.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-02. 
  9. ^ Coleman, George P. (1916). The Flat Hat Club and the Phi Beta Kappa Society: Some New Light on Their History. Forgotten Books. ISBN 1332128408. 


  • Storm, Robert W. (1973). "In Token of Friendship: Early Fraternity Medals at the College of William and Mary". Typescript in university archives, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. 
  • Jane Carson, James Innes and His Brothers of the F.H.C.; Charlottesville, Virginia: The University Press of Virginia, 1965.

External links[edit]


Thomas Jefferson's letter] to Thomas McAuley regarding the F.H.C. Society, June 14, 1819.