Secret societies at the College of William & Mary
Secret societies at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia date back to the 18th-century founding of the nation's first known collegiate secret society, The F. H. C. Society (founded on November 11, 1750). Today a number of secret societies are known (or believed) to exist at the university: the Seven Society, the 13 Club, the Alphas, the Elder Council, the Bishop James Madison Society, the Flat Hat Club, the Phi Society, the Wren Society, the W Society, the Y's, The Penny Brigade, The Order of the Silver Roses, Dirty Shirley Fraternity, The Fourth Wall, and one group "simply called the Society."
The 7 Society is a senior class society believed to have been founded in 1826. Its seven members, selected in their junior year, work to honor and encourage those who help strengthen the university, often through gifts. In 2003, for example, the "Sevens" left dozens of umbrellas for the Admissions Office to use during rainy campus tours. Historically, the society formally announced its members' identities as they graduated. In recent years, however, membership has become steeped in mystery—being only revealed in the event of death.
There are a number of other secret societies with the word "seven" in their name, though there is no known evidence connecting the groups. One such society is the Seven Society at University of Virginia, founded in 1905, also noted for its philanthropic practices.
Given the society's name, the 13 Club, likely founded in the early twentieth century, is presumed to have thirteen members. Little information has been made public regarding their campus activities. In fact, the society maintains such a high level of secrecy that even members' wives and children are unaware of their membership. Such was the case of Louise Kale Director of William and Mary's Historic Campus, who only became aware of her father's membership after his death. Although activities of this club might have been secret, a photo of their members was published in the 1939 W&M yearbook and presumably other years.
The all-female Alpha Society was likely created to counteract the college's male-dominated secret societies. Other details surrounding this society remain a mystery. They occasionally will recognize female students for their dedication to the college community by leaving yellow roses by the individual's door in the middle of the night.
Bishop James Madison Society
The Bishop James Madison Society reports its founding year as 1812. Named in honor of William & Mary's eighth president, the late Bishop James Madison. The original society was forced to disband at the advent of the Civil War but it was reformed sometime in the 20th century. The society's activities, which seek to further the reputation, pride, and mirth of the college community, include the promotion of a "Last Lecture" in which it invites a noted faculty member to speak on issues of current social and/or academic importance. Membership in the society is confidential. During the college's annual commencement exercises, some graduating members identify their involvement by wearing medals featuring the society's symbol, an elongated quatrefoil.
Flat Hat Club
Founded during the early-20th century (and later revived in 1972), today's all-male Flat Hat Club is named in honor of the historic F. H. C. Society. The original F. H. C. Society was founded in 1750 under a secret Latin name, possibly Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio, Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque, or variations thereof. The club was informally referred to as the Flat Hat Club. Its members included St. George Tucker, Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe. In 1972, the society was reformed. According to The Flat Hat (a largely unaffiliated student newspaper), "new members are selected by those currently in the group. Historically, the group has tapped student government leaders, as well as several members of The Flat Hat [newspaper], which took its name from the historic group."
The Phi Society was created at the University of Virginia, but a chapter has been established at William & Mary. Little is known about this society at the college. Another similarly named organization, the Phi Society of 1883 exists at The University of the South. Outside of the fact that both organizations were created by former members of Phi Delta Theta, the two societies are unrelated. Both societies branched off from the main organization due to conflicts of interest with the national organization.
Little is known about the W Society. It honors one freshman every year for service to the Williamsburg community. The members are selected via secret invitation. The Society is service focused.
The Wren Society is said to have been founded in 1832 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of British architect Sir Christopher Wren's birth. Sir Christopher Wren is the presumed designer of the Wren Building, which is the nation's oldest academic building. Like the Bishop James Madison Society, the Wren Society, was forced to disband at the start of the Civil War and later restored by students. Taps are selected based upon academic achievement, service to the campus community, and exceptional leadership. The society strives for the betterment of the college.
Little is known about this society, besides their connection to the quote "There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit” by George C. Marshall
While the secret societies of William & Mary usually act alone, for Charter Day 2015, five secret societies - The 7 Society, 13 Club, Alpha Society, Bishop James Madison Society, and W Society - collaborated on several projects around campus. While it is not clear whether membership was revealed between the clubs, it was the first recorded collaboration between secret societies in William & Mary's history.
- Johnson, Chase (8 April 2008). "Peeking into closed societies". Retrieved 29 June 2010.
- "Secret Seven Reveals Current Graduates" (PDF). The Flat Hat. 12-01-1943. p. 1. Check date values in:
- Millfeld, Becca (2 November 2004). "Shhh! The Secret Side to the College's Lesser Known Societies". The Dog Street Journal. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
- Piepenbring, Dan (11 April 2008). "Surreptitious societies not a secret worth keeping". The Flat Hat. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
- The Flat Hat (2009). "About Us". Retrieved 28 June 2010.
- "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.