Iron Cross (Secret Society)

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The Iron Cross Society is University of Wisconsin–Madison's oldest and most prestigious secret societies.


Iron Cross exists to recognize UW–Madison juniors and seniors who have improved the campus community through their leadership and service, and to bring those outstanding students together as a single and diverse group that further improves the university. Membership in the society is secret until members graduate and their names are placed on shields that hang on the walls of the university's Memorial Union. Initiates who have graduated are publicly identified on a UW Madison web site. New inducted members sign their names into a book that includes the signatures of all members to date.

There are two main ceremonial traditions of Iron Cross each year. First, the oldest member is responsible for the safekeeping of the book and for calling the first meeting. Second, the tallest member is responsible for bearing the iron cross, the organization's symbol of strength without ostentation.


Unlike other UW–Madison honor societies, faculty, academic staff, student leaders, and student organizations all make nominations to the Iron Cross Society. While GPA is taken into consideration, selection of members is based more on students' extracurricular and community accomplishments. The exact selection process is not known.

In contrast to early years, Iron Cross now appoints both juniors and women.


The most visible accomplishment of Iron Cross is the founding of the Memorial Union. In 1907, the UW–Madison president asked Iron Cross members to convert the failing Madison, WI YMCA into something that students would use. Iron Cross turned it into the second students' union to exist in the United States and the first student union to serve beer.


Remarks made by Wisconsin Union director Porter Butts at Iron Cross's 75th anniversary ceremony add color to the lengthy history of the society. He said, "The genius of Iron Cross, it seems to me, has been that it provides a medium through which student leaders who are service-motivated can readily consult with each other, and at times with the university administration, on any University or student problem that concerns them, and then proceed to do something about it, in concert working through their respective organizations, or individually, but always with the knowledge that there are others who understand and are lending active or moral support - the thing that helps give one confidence to go ahead."

The Iron Cross also recently published an endorsement of the Wisconsin Idea in the Badger Herald, one of UW's student newspapers. The open letter exhorted students to not just plug themselves into existing community organizations, but also think critically about which of their community's needs are not currently being met and how the skills learned in college could help students address those needs.[1]

Historical notes[edit]

Iron Cross Elections Four more men from the class of 1924 have been designated by molten inscription which appeared silently in the night on the Bascom Hall portico as having that quality of service and leadership which merits their election to the university's most significant honor society, Iron Cross.

Through an apprenticeship of more than three years these four have served diligently and efficiently for the university and the best interests of Wisconsin. For their ability, perseverance and definite purpose they have been honored.

In the midst of a myriad of honor societies, Iron Cross stands as a peer, as an organization whose highest ideal is the development of leadership in worthwhile undergraduate activities along with the preeminent consideration of love and service to Wisconsin. These few men who have been selected have given the best of their talent and work; their sacrifice has been great; their personal reward small. The highest honor the school can give falls upon them, its champions.

Recognition, the deep applause of men, is a mere bagatelle compared to the actual labor and devotion these honored have shown, but in their service is indicated the progress and activity of this miniature community, and some small measure of acknowledgement is their due.

But in this acknowledgement is an implied understanding that these men have just begun their work and that they will continue to labor and sacrifice for the school. Wisconsin, the university, congratulates the new members of Iron Cross and in this recognition anticipates a perpetuation of service through school and life.

— The Daily Cardinal, 1924[citation needed]

Notable alumni[edit]

Other UW-Madison Secret Society[edit]

Another secret society, known as the Pot-bellied pigs, exists on the UW-Madison campus. The Pot-bellied pigs do not publicly state their membership or selection policies. The group references itself by the acronym "PPP", intentionally flipping the "b" in "Pot-bellied" to reflect the organization's quirky status. The group formed in response to what they consider the Iron Cross Society's lack of impact on campus.

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