Our object is to ventilate a few facts concerning “Skull and Bones,” to dissipate the awe and reverence which has of late years enshrouded this wall of Poppy Cock . . .

The Iconoclast, October 1873


John Bascom wanted to attend Yale—through his mother, he was a descendant of one of its ten clerical founders—but family pressures directed him to Williams College, the school of his father and uncles, from which he graduated in 1849. He spent most of his career in higher education there, serving as professor of Rhetoric before becoming president of the University of Wisconsin.1

The position and prominence of secret societies had long been contested at Williams. Beginning with the class of 1850, membership in these fraternities frequently included more than half the class, and after 1866, it was unusual if fewer than that number belonged. A college debate on the subject had been organized in 1855—James A. Garfield of the class of 1856, the future American president, spent his vacation in New York libraries building his case against them—but the debate was aborted when the societies refused all reform. In July 1868, the college’s board was in receipt of a student petition that the societies be abolished. That September, Professor Bascom preached a biting sermon, which he later published, titled “Secret Societies in College.”2

The pamphlet does not mention Yale, let alone its then existing senior societies, but was instead aimed squarely at the secrecy of the Williams fraternities. Nevertheless, it was promptly summarized for the New Haven audience by the College Courant for November 7, 1868. The powerful indictment came from a man claiming to “have seen these college societies on the inside and the outside, have enjoyed their advantages and marked their evils.” At the time of his sermon, there were six fraternities in Williamstown on Bascom’s campus, and they were all secret societies. “My first objection against secret societies,” Bascom thundered, “is that they are necessarily frivolous. . . . A secret society in college can have no worthy, ostensible end, to which secrecy is a fit, natural, necessary means. Literary ends are sufficiently met by other societies, or, if not, do not require secrecy, [and] are not in the least aided by concealment.”

His remaining indictment was a lengthy one: the fetishizing of badges, the rigging of campus elections, the conformity forestalling the “untrammeled action of judgment and feelings,” their injury to the “intellectual and moral character of their members,” the “society-house or rendezvous” as “places of indolent resort,” and the “pernicious” results of “hot-bed intercourse” where physical and spiritual unions might be subject to corruption.3

All of Bascom’s charges (except perhaps his final, feverish references to moral turpitude and even possible sexual irregularities, which allegations never appeared in any published attacks on the Yale societies) would have echoed there among the critics of Bones and Keys within the student body neutrals and the faculty: the exclusivity, the badges, the “wire-pulling” in elections, the supposedly luxurious clubhouses. But elsewhere, at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, and at Harvard College in Cambridge, Yale’s rivals had taken markedly different paths, away from secret societies. The Reverend Bascom’s strong “objections” would not have resonated at all on the campuses of Yale’s two greatest rivals. As a student once pithily explained the essential distinction between classic fraternities and the clubs at Princeton and Harvard: “You see, the frats eat you and sleep you; the Princeton clubs eat you, but don’t sleep you; and the Harvard clubs don’t do either.”4


The literary societies at Princeton, founded in the 1770s, were named the American Whig and the Cliosophic, and with their extensive society libraries, they became, like Linonia and Brothers at Yale, the main intellectual stimulation for students. Secret and fiercely competitive—as in New Haven, students were recruited for membership before they even came to the college, or were besieged at the railroad station—they complemented the formal curriculum with organized public speaking on political and intellectual issues of the day.

Greek-letter social fraternities appeared at Princeton in 1843, the year Scroll and Key was founded at Yale. Although the chapters were small, ten men or fewer, and met only infrequently in dormitory rooms, faculty opposition grew on the perception of the deleterious political influence which the fraternities had on Whig and Clio, and President John MacLean Jr. banned them from campus. Beginning in 1856–57, Princeton required each student to sign a pledge at matriculation, on pain of expulsion for breach, that he would not be associated with a secret society (meaning a fraternity), while excepting the literary societies: “We, the undersigned, do individually for ourselves promise, without any mental reservation, that we will have no connection whatever with any secret society, nor be present at the meetings of any secret society of this or any other college, so long as we are members of the College of New Jersey; it being understood that this promise has no reference to the American Whig and Cliosophic Societies. We also declare that we regard ourselves bound to keep this promise and on no account to violate it.”

MacLean was to claim in 1864 that fraternities no longer existed at Princeton, but even seven years after his successor James McCosh assumed the presidency, several chapters were being maintained with the encouragement of alumni. The expulsion of the culprits who had broken their signed pledge caused an uproar, and an outraged group of alumni submitted a thirty-page report to the college trustees, reprinted in full in the January 15, 1876, issue of the New-York Tribune and reported widely elsewhere, denying the organizations’ harmful influence and objecting to the coupling of the pledge to admission to the college. In the end, the students apologized and were readmitted, but fraternities were discontinued at Princeton for the next century.5

Meanwhile, there were perennial student complaints about inedible institutional fare, and student revulsion by the 1840s was so intense that the trustees no longer required the young men to take their meals in the college facilities. When a fire in 1855 destroyed Nassau Hall’s interior, food service was entirely discontinued, and students were compelled, as had occurred in New Haven the decade before, to make their own arrangements to eat in the town’s boarding houses. Informal eating clubs of no more than a dozen members began to be formed in consequence, disbanding upon graduation. By 1864, there were twelve of these, growing to twenty-five by 1876. Gastronomical dissatisfaction was not overcome when the college opened a new dining facility that year, and the men in Ivy Hall conceived of renting a stove and employing a cook to prepare their meals.

In the words of Princeton’s leading modern historian, “College students have always eaten with gusto, but only Princetonians turned eating into a contact sport. Their competitive juices were stimulated—to a degree unusual in the history of American higher education—not by what they ate, but by where and with whom. In the process, they created a social system that did much to diminish Princeton’s vaunted democracy and to retard its growth as a truly meritocratic institution of higher learning. . . . Even with fourteen clubs by 1910, only three-quarters of the upper class could join; the rest were consigned to culinary and social purgatory. Some men were so crushed by rejection that they left college, and many who stayed were dispirited for their last two years, feeling cut off from their privileged classmates and in but not of the university.”6

The Ivy Hall Eating Club became the first permanent upper-class eating club at Princeton, inaugurating a stystem which was nurtured by the desire for continuity enjoyed by fraternities at other colleges, by the expanding social significance of affiliations in a growing student body, and by the benefits of attending in a fixed and accommodating location. The students raised money from their parents for their own building in 1881, and prepared a constitution and by-laws, which were submitted to and approved by the faculty and then the college trustees, whose consent was conditioned on the proviso of prohibition against liquor and gambling on club premises. In 1883, the Ivy Club was incorporated, to be followed in due course by the founding and subsequent incorporation of University Cottage Club (begun in 1886), Tiger Inn (1890), Cap and Gown (1890), and Colonial Club (1891).

With the establishment of Cannon and Elm by 1895, there existed seven eating clubs gathering in membership approximately a quarter of the two upper classes, a proportion not yet inviting odium. Princetonian Edmund Wilson, there from 1912 to 1916, complained that “there was little or no serious activity in connection with these eating clubs.” The social dynamic was to change dramatically in the twentieth century, when the quest for membership became, as one professor later complained, “a religious frenzy over the choice of a restaurant,” and this shift was ultimately to lead to the resignation of Woodrow Wilson as president of Princeton.7


The so-called final clubs at Harvard are limited to seniors, like the Yale senior societies. They take their name from the fact that, as the three lower classes in Cambridge each had their own organizations, these were the last social clubs a collegian might join before graduation. The Hasty Pudding Club, founded in 1795 as a seniors’ debating club, was not a final club, and by the middle of the nineteenth century, emphasized belle-lettristic programs, mock trials, and plays, rather than debates on current issues. In 1834, it became a secret organization—every member-elect, its constitution held, “shall solemnly promise secrecy,” and according to an article in the Yale Record, it was still so in 1874.

The phrase “final club” also means “mutually exclusive”: a senior can belong to but one final club, but is not restricted from joining other clubs of other kinds.8 Their genesis, however, is more complicated than that of the New Haven senior societies or the Princeton eating clubs, which, after the founding of the first on each campus, multiplied through simple replication. After the fraternity Alpha Delta Phi’s founding in Cambridge in 1837, followed by chapters of Psi Upsilon in 1850 and Delta Kappa Epsilon in 1852, the Harvard faculty banned secret societies, although A.D. and DKE both continued to exist in secret thereafter. Above the Pudding, the four largely intermediary clubs, called “feeders,” had a total membership of about eighty.9

The most iconic of Harvard’s final clubs, often bracketed with Skull and Bones and Princeton’s Ivy Club, is Porcellian (the “Porc” or “P.C.”), founded with sixteen members in 1791 as “The Argonauts,” and begun anew with a roast pig dinner and a different name in 1794. Making no pretense of cultivating literature or public speaking, and for some years the largest college society in Cambridge, by 1800 it had become “the most aristocratic, and the highest goal of undergraduate social ambition,” merging with another club in 1831. (From its founding, many members of Porcellian were also members of Phi Beta Kappa and attended dinners of both clubs, but ceased to do so after 1846, when the Massachusetts Alpha, in response to the persuasive New England temperance movement, banned all alcoholic beverages.) A travel book of 1870 pronounced: “A notice of Harvard would be as incomplete without a reference to the Porcellian Club as a notice in Oxford or Cambridge would be in which the Union Debating Society held no place. . . . The Porcellian is hardly a place of resort for those who cultivate the intellect at the expense of the body. The list of active members is small, owing in part to the largeness of the annual subscription. The great desire of every student is to become a member of it . . . the doings of the club are shrouded in secrecy . . .”

Tom Hughes, the English author of Tom Brown’s School Days, noted in an Oxford University newspaper in 1871 that the Porcellian membership had “dwindled to five, as the Apostles at Cambridge did to two some twenty years ago.” The rule was “rigidly enforced, that no student, not being a member, be allowed to set foot within its exclusive precincts. . . . Prescott, the historian, and Everett, the orator, were Porcellians and signed their names to the club formula: ‘I solemnly promise and declare that I will not in any way reveal the acts or constitutions of the Porcellian Club.’” Suspended from a green and white ribbon, its adornment is a silver, eight-pointed star, bearing crossed swords, the two dates 1791 and 1831, and the motto Dum vivamus vivamus. Its black steward George Washington Lewis at his death in 1929 had ten Porcellian pallbearers, echoing the Bones’ tribute to its lamplighter John Creed (except, unlike Creed, Lewis was not initiated).10

The Alpha Delta Phi chapter surrendered its fraternity charter in 1865 (which Harvard men did easily), becoming the A.D. Club and then the Dickey, and by 1871, mirroring the Yale senior societies, was electing fifteen members: “The out-going Seniors elect seven Juniors, who proceed, in their turn, to choose eight of their own classmates and so the ordained number is preserved.”11 The Fly Club also traces its beginning to Alpha Delta Phi, its name combining the “ph” from Alpha, the “l” from Delta, and the “i” from Phi, equaling “Phli,” or “Fly.”12 Among the five other final clubs at Harvard today (the Dickey having expired), the Spee began in 1852 as a chapter of the Zeta Phi fraternity, the Owl Club was founded in 1896, the Phoenix-S.K. Club spun off from the sophomore society Theta Nu Epsilon in 1895 and a secret society known as the Sphinx Club of 1897, while Fox Club was founded in 1898 and the Delphic the same year, formed out of the existing fraternity Delta Phi, when J. P. Morgan Jr. did not make the final club of his choice.13

Because of the sheer quality of the Harvard student body, each of these final clubs can boast of renowned graduates: in Porcellian, orator Edward Everett (who ended secrecy in Phi Beta Kappa), poet James Russell Lowell, essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senator Charles Sumner, novelist Owen Wister, and President Theodore Roosevelt (but not, to his dismay, Franklin Delano Roosevelt); for A.D., press baron William Randolph Hearst and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.; Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell and Franklin Roosevelt in Fly (where the fireplace is said to have inspired FDR’s “fireside chats”); historian Samuel Eliot Morison and Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin in Phoenix-S.K.; John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy in Spee (although their father, Joseph Kennedy, was not a final club man); poet T. S. Eliot and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates in Fox; and Senator Edward M. Kennedy in Owl.14

Nevertheless, there was no plan in these elections to gather in the campus achievers sought by Bones or the social skills celebrated by Keys. “The man who comes to Harvard unheralded,” wrote a contemporary journalist, “without the proper school connections, may become chairman of the Crimson or of the Lampoon, or Captain of the Eleven or Crew. He will make the Institute and the Pudding, he may—not necessarily—make one of the new final clubs, but if he succeeds in penetrating into the social sets of A.D. and Porcellian, which are the social prizes—without money, without social connections or extraordinary natural social genius, it will be a miracle and a miracle of such rarity as not to overtax the credulity.”

Rather, membership more often reflected a healthy respect for “Harvard’s social taboos . . . including over-careful dress, undue athletic exertion, serious literary endeavor [and] grades above C.” Education at New England’s elite Episcopal Church schools—Groton, St. Mark’s, St. Paul’s, St. George’s, and Middlesex—was also important. Finally, in the late nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, Boston family social standing was paramount, although Porcellian, Delphic, Spee, and Fly numbered in their annual membership a fair proportion of New Yorkers, with occasional men from Philadelphia and Chicago, and the competition to attract other final clubs’ legacies was fierce. The Porc for the better half of its Boston/Harvard history has embraced generations of Adamses and Ameses, Cabots and Cutlers, Lowells and Lymans, Gardners and Gardiners, Halliwells and Hunnewells, Salstonstalls and Searses, Warrens and Welds. This exclusivity is reflected in the legend of the Porcellian stroke of the Harvard crew, of whom it was said: “He’s democratic all right—he knows all but the three up front.”15

Membership in a Harvard final club could engender strong feelings. The Virginian’s author, Owen Wister, over a half century following his election to Porc in 1879, told a magazine reporter that even his best-selling novel’s national success did not mean as much to him, and that his final club’s bond could be “felt but not analyzed.” In the same vein, when informing Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany of the engagement of his daughter Alice to Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth, Theodore Roosevelt volunteered that “Nick and I are both members of the Porc, you know.”16Yet these sentiments did not issue in any special engagement with Harvard College, which officially ignored the final clubs, as did the undergraduate newspaper the Crimson.

Their existence, while largely confined to the Boston social elite and numerically limited to about 15 percent of the student body (the Porc elected three to eighteen from each class), did not provoke attacks on their clubhouses, which were not meant to be architecturally distinguished, and their often unlocked doors were not iron. There were no shiver-inducing initiation rituals, and Porc members’ golden pigs on their watch chains did not inspire awe (unfortunately, convicted embezzler and New York Stock Exchange chief Richard Whitney was photographed with his on the way through Grand Central Terminal to Sing Sing prison in 1938).17 Achievement was not rewarded or to be reinforced by membership. “The small clubs are not conducive to sustained effort in the public service on the part of their members. . . . For superior men who are too active to be pocketed, the clubs are pleasant without being unprofitable,” wrote an observer in 1897. “There are usually such leaders among the Harvard clubmen, but they are leaders because it is in them, and rather in spite of the clubs than because of them.”18

Samuel Eliot Morison in his 1936 tercentennial history of Harvard, making the slightest of references to Yale and the very different ethos of its senior club system, observed: “The [final] clubs are not the best preparation for living in a democratic society; yet many of their graduates have been faithful servants to the University, to the Republic, and to learning. The split between [Harvard] Yard and Gold Coast that the clubs helped to create often resulted in bitterly contested class elections; but this hard feeling vanished at graduation, and anything like fraternity or senior society politics in after life is unknown among Harvard men.” In New Haven, it was noted in 1901 by another historian of colleges, “the existence of the lower-class societies facilitates the sifting of men so that the ablest students are well-marked characters by the end of the junior year. Harvard is the only other institution in the country where such [Yale-like senior] societies would have been possible, and Harvard, as we have seen, developed social clubs on the basis of congeniality rather than any society system properly so called.”19

When Harvard graduate John Morton Blum was in his first year of teaching in New Haven in 1957, lecturing on Theodore Roosevelt, he noted that future president’s membership in Porcellian, explaining that “The Porcellian Club is the nearest Harvard equivalent of Skull and Bones.” Two days later, at his class’s next meeting, he arrived to find at his lectern a small white envelope, stamped with a black wax seal bearing the Yale society’s insignia, containing an unsigned note reading: “Professor Blum, May we ask you please not to mention the name of our club in your lectures.” Blum read the note aloud to the class, and then never committed that error again.20


In the academic year of 1831–32, the year prior to Bones’ founding, Yale College undergraduate enrollment totaled 354. Thirty years later, in 1861–62, in the senior year of Henry Holt, that number had grown to 462, an increase of 30 percent.21 By the later date, with the creation of Scroll and Key in 1842, there were two senior societies, with room for only thirty men, and proportionately a man’s chance of being chosen for one of the two had increased, from one in six in the first Bones year of 1833 (in a graduating class of 91) to better than one in four in 1862 (in a class of 100). Psychologically, however, the reverse was true: in a larger class, when the senior societies had accumulated more than two decades of on-campus prestige, the pain of rejection was both more keen and more public.

Other critics of the system argued that compression was distorting the camaraderie of the two societies themselves. A commentator in the journal Yale Critic for June 20, 1882, observed that “Fifteen Bones’ men were born of the class of ’33 (which numbered 89) and, although the size of the classes has increased 75 per cent. since then, there has been no enlargement of membership. To keep pace with the times necessitates an increase of membership commensurate with the growth of classes, the neglect of which is stultification; and, as the number of struggling applicants becomes larger, the confliction of individual interests more intricate, and the question of election more complicated, the greater will be the admission either of men with more cheek than character, or of a minimum of the most deserving. Even now, as one friend complains, so little attention is paid to congruity in choice that men of the most opposite character, personal enemies, are taken in, men who, though under the ‘sacred’ mantle of Bones or Keys, will not associate except in such exercises as are necessary for performances in concert.”22

More troubling was the long shadow which the prospect of so few places cast upon the lower classes. As a recruiter for a freshman society puts it in John Wood’s 1894 novel College Days, about Yale in the 1870s: “[Y]our one aim in college will be to get into a senior society. That’s what we’re all here for, and as there are but thirty vacancies, and a hundred and forty odd in your class, why you and your friend want to hustle and make a right start now in the freshman year, if you want to reach them, d’ye see?” Bones in particular was further attacked for reducing the odds by taking in legacies: “It is the rule (with exceptions) that a Junior whose father or brother has been a ‘Bones’ man will go there too. I recall,” read a letter to the editor in 1884, “an instance in one class where four of the fifteen ‘Bones’ men owed their elections to this cause rather than to any merit of their own.”23

The lengthiest cri de coeur on the pain of rejection in the decade of the Civil War was penned fully sixty years later in 1923 in the memoirs of Henry Holt, author and founder of the publishing house which still bears his name. He was both an editor of the Lit. and a Coch—indeed, the Wooden Spoon poet of the class of 1862—and vice president of Brothers in Unity.24 Holt prepped at General Russell’s school from the age of six, and entered Yale at age 18 in 1858 as a sophomore for the class of 1861. His two great college friends were Edward Rowland Sill, Lit. editor, Wooden Spoon poet of his year, and class poet to be, and Sextus Shearer, also on the Lit. board. In Holt’s retrospective view, those two men were themselves “closest of friends” whose “united influence on the whole class was an intellectual and moral stimulus vastly greater than all else that the college provided.” Holt was sent down for college rule infractions, and received enough demerits under the system of “matriculation” that he fell back a year in class.

Still, he had been awarded the Yale Literary medal, the leading essay prize, “and with Sill, Shearer and my other intimate friends in the leading senior society”—Simeon Baldwin, later the salutatorian; William Fuller, fellow Lit. editor; Francis (Frank) Kernochan, a DKE clubmate and president of Brothers in Unity when Holt was vice president; Anthony Higgins, president of Linonia; and Sanford Newell, the Spoon Man, dubbed “Apollo Belvedere” by his classmates—“my election to [Bones] was very generally regarded as a matter of course. The conservative element, however, very justly regarded me askance, and I failed of election.”

The Bones club of 1861 which passed over Holt was one of the more remarkable in the society’s history for later prominence and gravity of purpose. Baldwin became chief justice and governor of Connecticut, then president of the American Social Science, American Political Science, and American Bar Associations. Higgins was a congressman and then a senator from Delaware. Kernochan was the founder of the University Club in New York City, the first of all university clubs in the country, and Newell was U.S. minister to the Netherlands and later delegate to the 1899 Hague Peace Conference. Unmentioned by Holt in his memoirs, that club also included Franklin B. Dexter, to become Yale University secretary and professor of History, and professor of Latin Tracy Peak.

The hurt for Holt never healed. For fully four pages in his memoirs, he denounces the “sham secrecy of the student societies, even though the experiences reflect a little unfavorably upon some friends who are dead, and giving the experiences [sixty years later] may tend to alienate some of the few who are living; moreover my giving them not only may be set down to personal pique, but my judgment may be regarded as biased by it. On the other hand, however, my experiences could not have been unique; and they bear upon what many unprejudiced judges, including at least one supremely eminent member of the chief senior society [William Maxwell Evarts of the Bones club of 1837], have regarded, however much it may have changed since their opinion was formed, as a great curse to the University.”

On election eve, “I waited with pleasant anticipation for Sill and Shearer,” he mournfully remembered, “and waited all night without their coming. What was more, they did not come near me for weeks. The absurd secrecy prevented my closest friends from preparing me for the blow, or saying anything about it after it fell. Nor did I go near them: I have seldom suffered as during those weeks . . . [T]he procrustean number of the society [the limitation to fifteen members annually] . . . has prevented the inclusion of many men who have proved themselves more desirable than I, in the organization that, whatever its shortcomings, is very properly the chief of the alumni influences that affect Yale.”

Holt went on to warn that such rejection had consequences for Yale long after graduation, and found the final club system at Harvard to be less injurious to alumni loyalty, asserting that the senior society system even hurt New Haven’s college in its rivalry with Cambridge. “In universities generally, and especially at Harvard and Yale,” he maintained, “the chief bond between the alumni is their senior societies, and the alumni influence in university control largely proceeds from them. Therefore they should be elastic enough to include all who ever prove themselves the best. The leading society at Harvard [Porcellian] takes in a few at a time, and has them participate in selecting the rest from their class. They take those they want without unyielding rigidity regarding number, and they have even elected honorary members. The chief influence at Yale in my time alienated some of the ablest alumni, and so must inevitably have been something of a handicap in the fierce competition which began about then, and which, in the days of modern efficiency, even Yale with her staunch Puritan independence and her traditional leisureness, could not escape.”

Holt sent his eldest son to Yale, but the persistent strength of the senior societies’ hold in New Haven changed the college destination of his younger sons: “[W]hen, at a class reunion some forty years after graduation, I found a brand new marble ‘tomb’ conspicuous near the college, I said: ‘Well, if they haven’t got over this nonsense yet, my wife may have her way, and send the little chaps to Harvard.’ The last time I was at Yale, I saw they had got over the nonsense far enough to put some windows in the enlarged Skull-and-Bones tomb, but they were ground glass.”25Ground glass was what Holt was still chewing, decades after he was passed over for senior society election.

He was not alone. In a letter of March 7, 1874, Yale professor Thomas Thacher, who decades before as both Bones alumnus and professor had guided his society through the unprecedented construction of its tomb without opposition from the faculty, answered a questionnaire being circulated by opponents of secret fraternities in American colleges. He admitted that their existence did “give opportunity for slights in the bestowment of students’ honors, which embitter the remainder of college life and, in some cases, of after years.”26


The Reverend John Bascom’s strictures against secret (and not necessarily senior) societies were in the decade of the 1870s echoed by new voices, receiving considerably more attention because they were those of graduates of these very Yale senior societies.

William Maxwell Evarts, since graduating in 1837, had gone on to a remarkable career as a lawyer, diplomat, and statesman. He served in the administrations of three American presidents: as attorney general for President Andrew Johnson, after acting as his chief counsel in Johnson’s impeachment trial; as counsel for the United States before the tribunal of arbitration for the Alabama claims at Geneva, for President Grant; and as counsel for president-elect Rutherford B. Hayes on behalf of the Republican Party in the contested election of 1876 (defeating Evarts’s college classmate Samuel J. Tilden, who had won the popular vote), and then as Hayes’s secretary of state. From 1885 to 1891 he was United States senator from New York, and he sponsored the Judiciary Act of 1891, also known as the Evarts Act, which created the United States circuit courts of appeal. His service to his college was to include presiding “de jure” at his class reunions, being elected among the six original Alumni Fellows to the Yale Corporation in 1872, and being chosen as the second president of the Yale Alumni Association of New York, the present-day Yale Club there.

Evarts, born in Boston, attended the Boston Latin School, but his father and grandfather were Yale men, and his grandfather was Roger Sherman, first mayor of New Haven, treasurer of Yale, and signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Connecticut college still stood for the orthodox Congregationalism to which the Evarts family adhered. His uncle Judge Simeon Baldwin arranged for young William to live at his New Haven home for attendance at Yale, so, as he later put it, Evarts traveled “two hundred and forty miles from Boston to New Haven to avoid going to Harvard University, which was across the bridge.”27 He joined Linonia, becoming its secretary and vice president. When his junior year roommate William Bacon initiated the project of launching the monthly Yale Literary Magazine, Evarts presided in December 1835 over the class meeting called to approve that effort, joined Bacon as one of the five original editors, and proposed both the magazine’s name and motto. They produced twelve issues in two years from their dormitory room, and in time, the journal became the nation’s oldest extant monthly, subscribed to by, among others, the British Library.28

Evarts was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and to the Bones club of 1837, along with Bacon. Other clubmates included Morrison Waite, Brothers in Unity president and later to be chief justice of the United States Supreme Court; Charles Lyman, president of Linonia and Lit. editor, later Yale professor of Industrial Mechanics; William Coit, another president of Brothers; William Scarborough and Edwin Carter, also Lit. editors; and Benjamin Silliman Jr., like his father a Yale scientist, who chose the Lit. cover likeness of Elihu Yale. At graduation, Evarts was third “high-stand” man and, together with Waite and Edwards Pierrepont, later to be the American minister to Great Britain, was chosen as a commencement orator. On the class’s fiftieth reunion, their memorial book celebrated these individuals’ collective fame with a poem: “Uncle Sam, when days were dark, with lantern straight proceeded/At once to Yale and Thirty-Seven, and found the men he needed.29

For this noted Bonesman and loyal Yale alumnus, then, to deliver “one of the ablest and most radical testimonies against the society system” at the alumni meeting held in conjunction with the Yale commencement of June 25, 1873, was a remarkable turnabout, clearly disturbing to many in the audience. Given the senior societies’ assumptions of “assessments of immunity from free speech,” Evarts’s remarks occasioned “a look of holy horror, of sublime astonishment, or a silly smile of wonderment at the temerity of the speaker, [which] spread over many faces not yet free from the awe inspired by these names.”30 The Hartford Courant article reporting the speech makes it clear that his forceful argument was unanticipated: “A very agreeable break in the monotony was made by introducing the Hon. William M. Evarts, of the class of 1837. He always makes a capital speech, no matter what may be the occasion; and he did good work to-day in speaking against the evil effects of secret societies.”

“A few years ago,” the nation’s greatest legal advocate declaimed, “the great societies of Linionia and the Brothers in Unity, which included all classes, and were about equally divided in membership, were the weekly arenas of debate, the school in which men were trained to think on their feet. They made men clear and rapid thinkers and ready debaters. To-day they are dead; killed by the class secret societies, which have a tendency to develop snobbishness and nothing else. They are a curse to the college, interfering not only with good-fellowship among the members of the same class, but with the selection of university crews and ball clubs and thus have much to do with the disgraceful series of defeats which have attended Yale for several years.”

Evarts argued that the literary societies had “furnished the field for open and manly debate which could not be found in the small numbers and limited opportunities of the secret societies. They prepared the young man to withstand frowns and hisses as well as applause, and turned out men who could meet an adversary in debate without flinching. All this is wanting now, and cannot be supplied unless the old societies can be resurrected.” There were hundreds of old graduates, the newspaper reported, who agreed with the speaker when he advocated the revival of the old societies and the suppression of the “foolish secret clubs which have supplanted them.”31

Thus the senior societies became the scapegoats for the literary societies’ collapse, although the rise of college athletics was also blamed. In truth, Linonia, Brothers, and Calliope succumbed slowly, beginning sometime after 1830, to the faculty banning of the literary society exhibitions, which had become too elaborate and difficult for administrative control, and to the growth of the class size which gradually undermined the intimacy which had once existed among the members. When new societies—the junior fraternities, and the second senior society—emerged in the late 1830s and early 1840s, the undergraduates took a more personal interest in them. By 1860, the average attendance at meetings in each literary society was about thirty, being less than one-eighth of the active college members. “One evening each week,” wrote a senior in 1861, “is about as much as Students can well, or ought to, devote to such subjects. No wonder, then, that those who, whether it be the secrecy, the freedom, or the sociality that charms them, will attend the meetings of the small societies, have neither time nor the taste to attend those of the larger ones.”32

The two ancient literary societies, once fierce rivals, formed a joint committee against common perils in 1866, and when attendance further decreased sharply, finally died in the summer of 1872, just before Evarts’s speech. In an earlier decline, Phi Beta Kappa at Yale had suspended debates in 1843 and thereafter held only anniversary meetings. Members stopped wearing their badges with the class of 1867, and ended their elections in 1871. All of the open societies ultimately collapsed with the art they stood for, the art of formal rhetoric (literary prose first composed and then declaimed). As the College Courant rightly pointed out, the death of the literary societies was a post hoc, not a propter hoc phenomenon, with respect to the two senior societies.

That newspaper’s correspondent noted: “The age of blow and gas, it is to be hoped, has about ended. . . . Mr. Evarts may deliver dithyrambics over the former status of the two societies and shed tears over their present degeneracy, but I am very much inclined to doubt the fact that he owes ‘one jot or tittle’ of his eloquence to the agency of these effete institutions.” Three years later, when the two literary societies had finally expired, an article in the same journal titled “The Two Oldest College Societies” was to note that “The age of the Lyceum has given way to the age of the newspaper. It is significant that the society halls of both Linonia and Brothers are occupied by printing presses.”33

Most of Evarts’s auditors, of course, were not senior society alumni, but literally all had been members of Linonia or Brothers or Calliope, attending secret meetings on Wednesday evenings. Less than a year after Evarts’ controversial speech, Professor Thomas Thacher—in the Bones club two years before Evarts, and professor of Latin from 1842—answered a nationally circulated questionnaire about secret societies in his college, noting that “it should be remembered as a circumstance of great importance that all secret societies in [Yale] college are year by year, accumulating a constituency of educated men who, passing into the various walks of professional life, serve as a substitute to these societies for that public opinion, which controls men in general. Thus all the secret doings of these societies, if there are any, are subject to the approbation or disapprobation of a body of men whose average judgment of wrong or impropriety would be more severe than that of society at large. Thus the Brothers’ and Linonian Societies, each of which flourished more than a hundred years here, and which, for a very long period, were more secret than three-quarters of the secret societies are which exist here now, came to have such a body of old members that no one believed ill of them, and their decease is earnestly lamented.”34

Evarts’s memory of good fellowship in Linonia was surely accurate, and he felt strongly about the society, delivering the address for its centenary two decades before in 1853, which the society then published: “I speak but the common sentiment of the graduates and friends of Yale College, and of all others who have had occasion to compare the education here, and its results, with the methods of other universities, when I attribute no small share of the permanent hold upon the confidence and respect of the whole country which this university has ever retained, to the influence of these great literary societies.”35 It must have been a great disappointment to return to New Haven twenty years later and find them completely extinct.

Yet he was wrong that his literary society prepared him for the cut and thrust of courtroom debate and the equipoise of swift but diplomatic response; by this decade the debates in Linonia and Brothers were written-in-advance and memorized speeches. Still, for the former attorney general of the United States and the then president of the New York City Bar Association to call his senior secret society and its ilk a “curse to the college” was a decidedly heavy blow. Five years before, in 1868, his eldest son, Allen Wardner Evarts, had not been elected to Bones, which may have wounded his father’s feelings, but in due course two of his other sons were chosen, Sherman (class of 1881), in whose law office Henry Stimson began the practice of law, and Maxwell (1884). However strong his father’s feelings against the system, Allen Evarts was to support the founding of the Wolf’s Head senior society in 1883 and was the first president of its alumni association, holding that position for twenty years.


The senior society habit of “crooking”—appropriating or otherwise sequestering college memorabilia of all kinds—was not seen as unlawful plundering in the first decades of the societies, when many students had a similar passion for collecting and preserving “memorabil.” By the decade of the 1870s, this had changed, as is shown by two contrasting tales of boat race trophies.

In the Yale Alumni Weekly for February 9, 1912, Harrison Freeman, writing in on the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation, told a remarkable story of crook and counter-crook. Captain Henry L. Johnson of the Varuna crew of the class of 1860 went off to Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Massachusetts, to stroke a Yale crew in a race with Harvard, leaving hanging in his dormitory “a blue Yale flag which the winning crew was to hold until the next annual regatta.” He alleged that in Johnson’s absence the flag was stolen by a “too enthusiastic member of the ‘so-called Skull and Bones society,’” who had entered Johnson’s room, “secured the flag, and carried it away as a trophy and then hid it in his society’s hall, where not a Yale man—not even the Captain or any of the crew which had won it, unless he was a member of the Society—had ever been permitted to see it,” while the other flags won or sported in the college’s name were in the trophy room in the Yale gymnasium.36 Johnson was not only commodore of the Yale Navy, but a member of the 1860 Keys club, so the “crook” began as an intra–senior society raid.

That flag was the first to fly over a Yale boat, on June 14, 1843, and William Plumb Bacon of the class of 1858 while commodore had presented it to the Yale Navy as a champion flag, to be contested for at an annual regatta.37 “Prominent Yale oarsmen,” Freeman’s letter continued, “members of the Senior society known as ‘Scroll and Key,’ who were indignant that the flag had been taken and that the annual contests were ended [no race for a prize which had disappeared], succeeded in getting into the society hall where it was secreted, but when they had secured the flag they forgot the terms of the gift, their indignation and their desire for future contests, and took it to decorate their own society hall.” The men of Bones then broke into the Keys tomb to reclaim the trophy.

In 1906, Commodore Bacon himself had written to the Yale Alumni Weekly to plead for its return. A Yale Corporation member asked the Bones club of that year to make return “to the undergraduates of the University,” but President Hadley himself, that society’s alumnus, demurred from interfering, while expressing his frank opinion that the trophy belonged in the university trophy room; other graduate members at their reunions passed resolutions in agreement, but these were ignored by the undergraduates, presumably on the traditional grounds that a crook was a crook.38 It would be a happy ending to record that the Pioneer flag is now in the trophy room at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, but its present whereabouts are unknown. The public pressures brought to bear in the next such crooking episode were very different.

The championship prize flags won at the Harvard races in 1864, 1865, and 1867 were deposited for safekeeping after 1870 in the Trumbull Gallery, to which windows had been added in its conversion to Yale’s central administration building in 1868, thereafter called the Treasury. “These are college property,” opined the College Courant of June 25, 1870, “and nothing but a vote of all college can remove them. . . . No one of the crew can lay any just claim to [the flag won from Harvard ’70 in 1867]. It is class property. They paid for it.” All these flags disappeared in 1872. It was common knowledge that they had been removed from the Treasury to decorate the Regatta Ball of July 1871, and then afterward entrusted to the president of the Yale Navy for 1872, Lewis Parsons, a Keysman in whose dormitory room they remained on exhibition until after his graduation. When they could not be found thereafter, the suspicion arose that they had disappeared into his society’s tomb. The new Keys president for 1873 wrote to his predecessor: “There are a good many suspicions all leading to the same conclusion. As they were taken away during your term of office, I thought you ought to know something about it.”

Parsons did: petitioned to take the flags to the Keys tomb for the initiation of the crowd of 1873, and intending to remove them immediately afterward, he instead was persuaded to leave them in the hall, where they were forgotten upon his graduation. The incoming club was reluctant to surrender them, feeling they had as good a claim as could be made out under the prevalent philosophy of crooking—and since four of the five members of the winning crews having been members of Keys, the booty of conquest ought to go, as it had historically done, to the victors and thus their senior society. This time, however, the Yale Navy was determined to prevail, and did so under the guidance of recent graduate (1869) Lyman Bagg. Recognizing that “‘Scroll and Key’ might be cursed and abused till Doomsday without producing any other effect than rendering individual wrong-doers belonging to it doubly tenacious of whatever college property they might have laid their hands upon,” Bagg decided that “the only rational way of getting at the matter was to hold the ex-president himself strictly accountable for the property.” The public denunciation of a prominent member of Scroll and Key as the betrayer of a newly recognized high official trust in the possession of all-college trophies was “a thing that could not be ignored.”

In due course a college resolution was drawn in February 1873, holding that the Yale Navy, “in default of a suitable response within a reasonable period ought to take any measures that may be feasible for the recovery of its property, and to give some public token of its sincere disapprobation of the betrayal of trust, of which its late president will have acknowledged himself guilty.” The distribution of this pronouncement to the newspapers did indeed dispose the culprit to persuade his society to restore the banners, which was accomplished during that summer as mysteriously as the theft.

Despite this restoration, the damage to the society had been done. A graduate member of 1872 wrote that “Our popularity with the neutrals [during elections and generally] has been the one thing which has helped us in times past more than anything else, and now when we are hoping that this feeling is becoming real respect and admiration . . . it is very unfortunate to sacrifice or even endanger it for the sake of a few ornaments.” But endangered it was: members of the current club were regularly harassed, and the door of the Keys hall was once wired shut, after which two members slept in the building every night to protect it.

The shift in attitude was well caught by a graduate member in writing the seniors at the height of the controversy: “I think they [the neutrals] were really in the right of it, for things of such interest at present are different from the old Spoon and Jubilee relics which concern only our predecessors, especially when the practice of crooking is, to say the least, questionable.”39 A Courant editorial came down on the side of the neutrals in their animus against Keys. “The evidence is entirely circumstantial, but it is certainly pretty strong. The flags were of no earthly value to anyone except a collector of ‘memorabil.’ Now it is well known that Scroll and Key boasts the most complete collection of ‘memorabil’ in the college. . . . These flags would make a very desirable addition to this collection. . . . We suppose there are few in college now doubt that Keys really had the flags all the time.”40

Going forward, any “crook” of college-wide trophies by a senior society would be viewed on campus with a jaundiced eye.


For the two senior societies, their secrecy was both a temptation and a handicap. It has been well said that, in their first decades, they were merely “negatively mysterious.” Members did not discuss their programs and other activities occurring inside their modest, rented rooms. While strutting a bit in phalanx and wearing badges, the ostentation was infrequently observed and the badges in those first days, when the societies of all four classes had them, merely symbols of affiliation. The Yale Banner’s 1864 issue contained a jeweler’s advertisement boasting under the headline “Badge Pins, Badge Pins,” that “The subscriber has for the last twenty-three years made BADGE PINS for College and other Societies THROUGHOUT THE UNION and his workmanship has been pronounced equal to The Best in the Country.” The Yale Record for October 16, 1872, contained a letter from an undergraduate who proposed an “alumni badge” so Yale men could recognize one another, although “I am aware that Yale has the reputation of rather rushing badges and society pins; I have seen Sophs with at least four on their vests.”

As for the senior societies, their members wore the badge on the shirtfront in the evening, and on the necktie which covered it in the daytime. The theory was that the prominence thus given to the pin served as a warning to all who met them to keep off the subject—a theory that did not comport with reality. Among those who were not familiar with the college and its customs, the ostentatious display of the badge provoked inquiries which the society members were forced to ignore “in grave sacrifice of courtesy,” as one uncomfortable member phrased it, “to the exigencies of trivial custom.”

Slowly but surely, the negative mystery of the two senior societies became positive, and to the ever increasing numbers of neutrals—630 by 1870–71, in the four classes of both the academic and scientific departments of the college—it seemed the Bones and Keys clubs were in their collective behavior more insistent that they were the elect of the college, and that the literary, social, and athletic officerships were in the members’ care and in their societies’ gift. They were in general newly demanding regard and deference. As early as 1858 a campus observer wrote that “their great apparent desire to have their very existence ignored is only equalled by their intense desire to have their existence brought into view. . . . No reflection would strike a deeper pang into the hearts of members than the conviction that no one puzzled his head about them.”

The Yale Courant in a two-part series on secret societies in October 1866 severely criticized their members’ affectation that their society’s name, or indeed those of the other two (whether Bones, or Keys, or the 1864 newcomer Spade and Grave), were not to be mentioned in any society member’s presence, and quoted graduate members from the 1830s who described this behavior as a new custom. The College Courant in its issue of June 24, 1868, reported that society members of the class of 1867 had even attempted “to banish from ordinary conversations the words which comprise the names of the societies . . . ‘spade,’ ‘key,’ or ‘bones.’” Opined the Yale Courant a decade later in 1878, “The popular attitude toward the senior societies is either bitterness or idolatry; . . . bitterness if you did not go, idolatry if you did.”41

The construction of the Bones and Keys tombs gave new occasions for offense, with the mystery that might properly have attended the four walls of the meeting place newly extended to significant distances across and through the campus, while society men now refused to speak when passing in front of their halls. The groups had long stepped out in lockstep after meetings, with society songs ringing through the college night, but now they took public offense if non-members whistled or even hummed those airs. The badges, worn from the first on neckties (while the under classes wore their badges upon their vests), were now constantly displayed, daily on gymnasium or boating or swimming gear, and on night dress visible to neutral roommates. In attacking the system following his graduation in 1881, Edwin Aiken wrote that “one feature helping to create the bitterness which prevails, is the wearing of badges; which is generally a violation both of good taste and good manners. Of good taste, because manhood needs no badge of its nobility, nor friends of their friendship; of good manners, because it is a constant reminder to others of distinction which they have failed to win.”42

With the intense rivalry that existed between Bones and Keys, the inventive genius of these teenagers in successive delegations must have been always at work. Ritual is a coral growth: new ceremonies are added, but few are ever cut away. Taboos were seemingly invented to emphasize a superiority that may not have been present at the groups’ inception almost four decades before. These habits and rituals acquired a collective name on the Yale campus among the neutrals: “poppycock,” a word having the same meaning as today, perhaps originating in American colonial Dutch’s poppekak, doll’s excrement, and only in general circulation since 1865.43 The numbers and attitude of neutrals had also changed over the decades. By senior year, they far outnumbered the thirty society men, had nothing to hope for in the way of election, and were no longer overawed by the presence of an upper class. This all led to a sort of reckless hostility toward those societies.

“If the offence of the generic Keys man was crooking, the offence of the generic Bones man was arrogance.”44 A national periodical in 1871 pronounced: “Some men are ex-officio . . . arrogant, those who have belonged to the Skull and Bones society at Yale College, for instance.”45 The satirical campus pamphlet Yale Literary Chronicle of 1873 published a ditty titled “The Bull and Stones Anthem,” whose faux society’s members sang:

We are not “superior” beings

As the men of the Skull and the Bones,

But merely a crowd of good fellows

Who belong to the Bull and the Stones.

Although we’re inferior beings

A high reputation have we,

For we steal not the goods of the college

As they of the Scroll and Key.46

Ammunition for the charge of arrogance leveled at the Bones was all too frequently provided by its members. When there was no common dining hall and students had to organize their own class-based eating clubs, the club of 1866 founded their own exclusive eating club for meals outside the tomb. A member of the 1867 club brought a sick colleague back to his dormitory room and sat for an hour beside his bed without speaking to his neutral roommate in the same room.47 In 1868, upon the appearance of a roast containing bones at a senior class eating club, a Bonesman asked instead for a piece of beef “without any of those things in it.”48 Another published a complaint in the College Courant in 1873, over the initials “S.B.,” that neutrals had annoyed his club on a recent Thursday night, and characterized them as “insignificant, ill-bred and imbecile,”49 language which could only intensify the resentment the senior of the senior societies was engendering.

Incidents of this sort led to a revival of the Bull and Stones, as the printing of their anthem evidences, and to fifteen neutrals stepping out in imitation Bones badges on the morning following the society elections in 1873.50 Defacement of the Bones tomb was to follow, with appearances of satirical posters pasted to the hall’s iron doors. The first announced a course of medical lectures to be delivered inside “on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays with a complete and competent analysis” of several topics, including “The Composition of Bones (including the skull) and their number (15)”; “The time of the formation of Bones (1832) and the softness of them when formed”; “The products of Bones, of which ‘our phosphorus of commerce’ is most useful, excepting the Lit. Editors”; “The hollowness of Bones and . . . their weakness and lack of harmony (as witness the factions of Junior year).” The final lecture, the poster concluded, would see the introduction of “the original skull of Demosthenes.”

When the fifteen active members went off to a dinner given by an alumnus in Burlington, New Jersey, that year, the second round of posters was affixed to campus walls, screaming LOST! in a heading of large red letters: “Information wanted in the interests of their WASHERWOMEN, of fifteen individuals in the class of ’73, Yale College. Each of the said individuals wearing a pin or badge of the following description, to wit: death’s head with crossbones attached, surmounting the mystic number 322. Said pin apparently of brass. Any information gratefully received by the undersigned. MRS. McGINNIS, MRS. McCARTHY, MRS. O’FLAHERTY, MRS. O’GALLAGHER.”51 (A nonfictional story involving the Irish women who served the collegians and the members of the senior societies is told in the memoirs of Wilmarth S. Lewis, 1918 and Keys: “Dignified Irish ladies made the beds and cleaned the rooms and followed the careers of the young men. Before the year was over Mrs. Shea, who looked after 655 Wright, confided . . . that on the last Tap Day two of her young men had made Bones, two Keys, and three Wolf’s Head. A fine record.”52)

In December 1873, a large black-and-white banner was run to the top of the college chapel, proclaiming “Death to Skull and Bones,” and could not be got down before morning prayers were ended. In January 1874, some wag told several “boosy” freshmen that there would be a pantomime at the Bones hall on a Thursday night which they would be permitted to attend; they duly appeared at 8:30 P.M., “and after spending half an hour trying to find the ticket office, departed disgusted.”53 The following spring, on the evening of the initiation supper, the vendors were waylaid and the food stolen, when, according to the satirical pamphlet the Yale Literary Chronicle, written in faux-epic language, “the men of Stohns did . . . lay in close ambush . . . and . . . did fall upon the chariot [of the caterer] . . . and the war cry of the the Stohns men went up: ‘Hurrah for Bullen, Happy Bullen, Jolly Bullenstohns; None can beat her, None defeat her, How are you, Pscullenbohns,’ . . . and certain men did seize the food. . . . And there was a great Hub Bubb. . . . And that night the Pscullenbohns men went hungry to bed.”54

Scroll and Key did not escape its own censures. The Yale News deplored “the senseless and puerile ‘walk,’ that has long been the laughing stock of the college, and effects no end but making Seniors appear like the school boys ‘training’ . . .” (this was a brisk walk, “attended by a peculiar motion of the heel and toe”). The refusal of its members to mention the society while in conversation with neutrals was called silly by the Yale Courant in 1866.55 Two years later, the same campus journal said that, while they admired “the taste of Scroll and Key in selecting as beautiful an air as that of ‘Gaily the Troubador,’” they “deplored the society’s attempt to deny other students the pleasure of singing it.”56 Attempting to curb the uproar of the Stones men, the Yale administration banned all outdoors society singing. When the Keysmen of 1872 were able to resume their suspended custom, they decided to make the display less ostentatious by confining its performance to their hall steps, where it has remained ever since.57 That gesture was soon forgotten, unhappily, in the ensuing scandal over the boating flags crook.

The initiations on the Tuesday following the Thursday of elections gave continued excuse for uproar, although the rituals of both societies were well known. As helpfully outlined for the underclassmen by the Yale News on its front page, the incoming members of Bones and of Keys, as well as the men of Bull and Stones, would gather at 6:00 P.M. in front of Bones’ High Street hall. The initiates would enter the hall, one by one, from 6:10 to 6:25; graduates were admitted thereafter, while the police would clear out the obstreperous, for whom the main event had concluded. The candidates were held in the cellar, then called up beginning at 9:00 o’clock for individual initiation, concluding by 10:00. After speeches by alumni and the graduating seniors, all retired for a “first-class bum” (supper). Athletes were excused at about 11:30 P.M., so “that the athletic interests of the college may not suffer,” and the rear door would be thrown open to permit use of the garden in the warm summer night. If the front door had meanwhile been wired shut by a Stones man, it would be cut open to permit the graduate members to go home. Sitting on the roof until dawn, in accordance with tradition, neophytes who were not sick or athletes stayed the night. After attending morning recitation, they returned to the temple to procure their badges.

The Keys initiation began later, at 8:00 P.M., when the newly elected were directed to go, separate and alone, one to the corner of Temple and Grove Streets, a second to the corner of Temple and Wall Streets, a third on the south side of Grove, near Whitney Avenue, and others on the north and south sides of the Grove Street bridge, at the Church of the Redeemer, and variously scattered along on Orange, Whitney, Wall, and other neighboring streets. Graduate members emerged two by two from the “striped palace,” the man on the right gripping in his right hand the foot-long brass key of yore, offering it to his assigned candidate, and the formulaic exchange of offer of membership and acceptance into the order was conducted. Guarded by the two graduates, the candidate was then taken, in the 1870s, to the home of a graduate member on Grove or Temple Streets. Here, the fifteen inductees formed in a line, and arm in arm with fifteen graduates marched rapidly down the south side of Grove, then the west side of College, to their hall. By 9:30 that evening, all were inside. At 4:30 A.M., all attending graduates and the outgoing and incoming crowds came out to their hall steps and sang “Gaily the Troubadour,” and then processioned down College to the gate in front of the old chapel, up the path to Battell Chapel, down to South Hall, and back to Durfee at the north end of the campus, where they separated to return to their tomb, to sit, like the Bonesmen, on their roof. They left the hall in the new day, with their badges.

The regularity of these patterns was never completely achieved, being both supported and interrupted by many extra players. The caterer Redcliffe came at 5:30 in the afternoon to set up for the Bones feast, using a double-teamed wagon to bring in “many boxes of strawberries, a huge box of cake, a two gallon can of oysters, two tubs of ice, and various other tempting viands;” a box of cigars was to follow. By 6:15, the fence across from the tomb on the east side of High Street was crowded with representatives of all classes, “the largest delegation, of course, being the ‘soured Juniors.’”

The members of the outgoing Bones club then entered their hall, but the tardiness of any latecomer neophytes was attributed to their being locked in their rooms or in the junior society halls. As each eventually arrived, onlookers crowding the sidewalk immediately in front of the tomb cheered or jeered with the enthusiasm of bidding “a last farewell.” Some seeking entry were impeded, needing “rushes” from friends, graduates, and the police to get through the iron doors. The “rabble” sang “Pater Russell,” “Heigh Skull and Ho Skull,” “Awful Skull and Bones,” and improvised ditties employing the new members’ names. Two officers of the law were retained to deal with the impertinent outsiders, until 2:00 A.M. or later, and then sent off with “a plate of bread, two cigars, and a five dollar bill.” Over at Keys, the elaborate and far-flung processions gave those wishing to harass the participants many similar opportunities.58


The war between the rival editorial boards of the Yale Lit. in 1864, which birthed Spade and Grave, demonstrated that the formal or informal suppression of any criticism in campus journalism was also an increasing point of friction. Yale students published, by 1872, two weekly newspapers (the Yale Courant and the Yale Record) and a monthly magazine (the Yale Literary Magazine); among all other American colleges, only Cornell could then boast producing the two types of periodical.59 The Lit.’s stated mission effectively omitted any treatment of current campus affairs, and its board was often still dominated by members of Bones and Keys. When that reporting role was clearly assumed with the appearance of new campus publications, not controlled by society members, the criticisms could no longer be contained. And when those publications were not critical enough for some readers, they took matters into their own hands and printing presses.

The Yale Banner, beginning to appear regularly on an annual basis in 1845, and a single four-page sheet until 1866, was simply a catalogue of the college, of the memberships of the various class societies with their “cuts” (illustrations of their symbols), and of other miscellaneous student organizations. The prizes, honors, and scholarships awarded during the year and other facts of like character were also named, but no editorial matter of any sort was included. According to Bagg, the “good will” of the Banner became “the property of the Bones, which probably got possession of it about the year 1850. A resident Bones man—usually a Theologue [a student attending the Divinity College]—who has graduated the previous summer, issues the paper every year.” As there was no other annual save the official Yale College catalogue, which omitted the class society details which enthralled the student body, it was a profitable enterprise, until its monopoly was attacked from both flanks in 1865.60

In the fall of that year the Banner’s rival annual first appeared, although its initial number disclaimed any such character. The Pot-Pourri, published by one or two seniors who were members of Keys, came out a month or more after the Banner, and its contents consisted of a rearrangement and correction of the Banner’s contents, with any updating additions.61 At roughly the same time, a true newspaper was born, a weekly which was the first successful college newspaper anywhere, the Yale Courant, “devoted to college interests, science, and literature.” Originated by five members of the class of 1866, its first issue appeared on Saturday, November 25, 1865 (its publication preceded the Harvard Advocate’s founding by a year, and the Amherst and Dartmouth weeklies by two).

The Yale Courant in its October 10, 1866, number criticized the conduct of the members of Bones, Keys, and Graves for acting “aggrieved when the bare name of [a member’s] society is mentioned, or even the names of societies with which he has no connection, a reaction so wrong that it becomes absurd.” This chastising must have stung: when the undergraduate board instituted a policy of allowing any single editorial board member to forbid the insertion of any article, the application of which began to prevent the issuance of the paper itself, the original publication was wound down, reappearing as the College Courant in July 1867.

That publication then birthed a supplement, also called the Yale Courant, an entirely independent publication appearing in the new college year of 1870, and soon selling seven hundred copies a week when the student population numbered only 657. The originators of the first weekly in 1865 were all senior neutrals, as were the three successor editorial board members down to the class of 1870. The three editors of 1871, running the Yale Courant as an independent journal, were two Bonesmen and one neutral, under an arrangement in which membership in a senior society was not to debar a man from election to editorship, but at least one neutral was always to be in place.62

So challenged by a rival annual and a weekly news source, the Banner transformed itself in 1870, becoming a cased paperback of seventy text pages, tastefully printed on quality tinted paper. Quickly accepted by the college as the best catalogue of the sort which had ever appeared, it seemed well worth its thirty-cent cover price. Since the Banner proclaimed its rivalry with the hitherto-ignored Pot-Pourri, the collegians were entertained with postings about campus of a rough caricature, showing a pair of pugilists, the first with a Bones badge standing upon a book labeled Banner, the second with a Keys pin atop a volume legended Pot-Pourri. The competitors continued to publish for years, battling over the same editorial turf, until Pot-Pourri (by then, as might have been foreseen, called “the Pot” by undergraduates) was absorbed into the Banner, with a joint title, in 1908.63

One senior society or the other was in control of the Banner, the Pot-Pourri, and the Yale Courant. The last was to run no comment on the societies until May 1874, when board composition had changed, becoming that month the first Yale periodical to report the election results for Bones and Keys promptly following Tap Day. The Yale Record, commencing weekly publication in September 1872, followed the Courant in printing the names of the elected in May 1875, and was indeed cofounded by a member of Keys, Henry Ward Beecher Howard, who had been active on the Courant and the Pot-Pourri.

It comes as no surprise that the same undergraduate journalistic energies which started those enterprises could and would be channeled into “unofficial” college-wide publications, aimed directly at the theory and practice of Bones and Keys. In this tide of vitriol, Bones was to be damned for much more than arrogance. Its seniority to Keys caused it to be blamed for virtually everything the critic in question found wrong with Yale. The first example was a pamphlet appearing in October of 1873, the Iconoclast, launched to smash the false god of Yale College. The class of 1870s historian was to remember that, in their freshman year, “The Iconoclast opened our eyes, and brought down the wrath of the Seniors on the heads of the publishers.”

Volume 1, number 1 of the Iconoclast had no successor issues, but its aim was plain: “Our object is to ventilate a few facts concerning ‘Skull and Bones,’ to dissipate the awe and reverence which has of late years enshrouded this wall of Poppy Cock, and to enable its character and influence to be fully and rightly comprehended. . . . We speak through a new publication, because the college press is closed to those who dare to openly mention ‘Bones.’”64 The sins of the society, in this account, were manifold. The anonymous underclass authors maintained that the Bones insulted the senior class and the college both, by manifesting that an election, for marks of distinction which the juniors’ class or the college had awarded, was a final, bigger honor. The Bones graduates, it was asserted (but in no way evidenced), favored the society with their donations and not Yale College, although they controlled it, and so impoverished it doubly, because non-members were repelled by the society’s “arrogance and self-fancied superiority” and would not themselves contribute.

Moreover, although the faculty had prohibited initiations into the freshman societies because of the attendant uproar, Bones was unfairly permitted to blow fish horns amid stamping feet and howling which could be heard across High Street, “over in the college yard,” while the neophytes ran up and down stairs with bladders on their heads. And the society hurt the baseball team by passing over the best baseball player in every class in favor of the “high-stand man and the literary man, as well as the political toady.” The Iconoclast identified the oppressions as new: “When Skull and Bones was founded, the evil which we . . . unfold did not exist. It is an evil which has grown up—which is growing today. The editors closed with a war cry: “It is Yale College against Skull & Bones!! We ask all men, as a question of right, which should be allowed to live?”65

Privately published pamphlets permitted the release of emotions of the neutrals, stifled in college-wide journals, but now revealed in publications of their own making. The ideas expressed therein crystallized and perpetuated from one class to another bitter antagonism to the societies and their doings. The next in this irregularly appearing but steady series was the Yale Literary Chronicle, identified in its advertising poster as “published under the auspices of Bull and Stones.” Printed in the guise of the Yale Literary Magazine, this pamphlet was identical in general appearance with the Lit.’s green front cover, except that the bewigged head of Elihu Yale, and his feet, legs, and knee britches, were replaced by the corresponding head (still bewigged) and back legs of a bull, with cloven hooves, resting on a floor of cannonball-like stones.

The text featured paragraphs numbered like biblical verses, and told in like language of “the tribe of Pscullenbohns men, whose fame has gone abroad into all lands . . . [being] fifteen mightie and strong men [who] did get themselves up saying, We only are great, and besides us there is none other.” They appropriated private property for their tomb: “Wherefore when any man of the land of Campus did lose his soap-dish or other article, he simply folded his hands, and did say, it is well. The poor Bohns men did have need of it. Now, in all the doings of these men there was much Poppi Koch . . .”

Keys was equally excoriated in this publication: after building a “home of finely wrought stone . . . and the pillars of their house were like polished mirrors . . . these called themselves the clan of the Schroll an Ke . . . and they made for themselves Pihns which they likewise sported; and these were exalted even yet more than the highandmightie Pscullenbohns men.” The “Chosenphew” were then triumphantly, dramatically, and justly dragged down by “The Farfamed Class of the Bullenstohns,” setting their tripwires in the paths of the Keysmen returning to their rooms, wiring shut their hall doors, and stealing food from the Bones’ banquet caterers. “Such were the doings of these three great clans, whereof the Bullenstohns were by far the most numerous; for in the numbering of their hosts they did outnumber both of the other clans, and they did exalt over them, and lifted up their horns many a time against them.”66

Virtually the same cover image was to be used as the front wrapper for a pamphlet which appeared in February of the next year, 1874, titled The Seventh Book of Genesis, Otherwise known as The Gospel According to Scrohleankee, written by Robert J. Jessup, a sophomore in the class of 1876—a downward expansion of the student enemies of the societies.67 Written in the same faux-epic diction and mannered spelling of the Yale Literary Chronicle, this pamphlet directed virtually all of its ire toward Keys, showing some knowledge of that society’s early history in the classes of 1842 and 1843: “Wherefore do that of Pscullenbohnes [the founders, styled “Sorrheads,” were made to say] for a space of nine years set themselves up for us to bow down before and worship? Behold, they are no better than we. Go to now, let us congregate together to make unto ourselves a graven image and a great mysterie. Let it be called Scrohleankee. And let us afterward take unto ourselves from Phortietoo such of them as are to be saved like unto ourselves. Also let Phortietoo dososummore unto Phortiethrie and so on until perchance by doing sosummore we may rival our enemy, even Scullenbohnes.”

Keys exaggerated its mystery, The Seventh Book of Genesis maintained, choosing “letters of strange portent,” C.S.P. and C.C.J. “Nootrahls spoke in derision of Schrolleankee, calling them Keeze and their mysteries Poppie Kock, also C.S.P. cat stew preparation and C.C.J. Chatham stew cheap john, till Keeze was laughed to scorn.” The pamphlet then sketched, in an irreverent manner, the progress of “Keeze” down to the year 1872, “when one Noah, surnamed Pohrturr, was King” and the freshman “Klasuv Pseventie Psyx journeyed that way” and, having become sophomores, beheld “the foolishness and thomfoollerrie of the mysterie of the great Poppiekock,” and how “very many of the lesser tribes not yet within reach of the gospel of Dososummore . . . cast to the dogs their natural rights and groveled upon their bellies in the dust, that, peradventure, they might be accepted.”

The tale ended with a parable of a ram with two horns, attacked by a he-goat with one horn, who smote the ram and broke both horns. The parable was thus interpreted: “The ram with the two horns is Scrohleankee. The horns . . . are the Gospel of Dusosommore, and the doctrine of the Great Poppiekock. . . . The he-goat is . . . Pseventie Psyx . . . and the rest of the prophecy showeth the hostilitie of Psevventie Psyx to Scrohleankee with its Dusosummore and its Poppiecock, and the manner in which the Psevventies Psyx will destroy Scrohleankee and exterminate it utterly.”68 The class of 1876 was not to bring down Scroll and Key, or the senior society system, but made a mighty noise in the attempt.

Appearing roughly annually, these pamphlet attacks had their sensational effect. It seems that Skull and Bones, by this date, was prepared to let further debate occur. The Lit. board of 1873–74 was comprised of three of that society’s members, a man from the Sheffield Scientific School, and a neutral, Arthur D. Whittemore, who was allowed to publish in the January 1874 issue an opening article, titled “The Coming Society.” Whittemore “purposely refrained from stating, as fully I might, the reasons why our present societies and society system [freshman through senior classes] should in some way be radically changed; feeling that such a statement is not needed by thinking men and might give unnecessary offense.”

His article did not envision a return to the ancient literary societies—“Essentially, the same causes that killed Brothers and Linonia are still in active existence. The eloquence which our fathers admired we laugh at.”—but he predicted that the students’ growing maturity would have an inevitable effect. “As the average age and discipline of our students increase, they will become more and more inclined to put aside the boyishness and foolishness which is so marked a feature of the secrecy of our societies.” He foresaw instead a third course, the development and growth of interest group clubs “neither open literary or ultra secret,” for which “[s]uitable rooms could be hired, and the present admirable tombs—halls, so-called—could be altered at a slight expense into very fair club houses, by putting in a few windows and making some slight additions.” Within six years of his argument, the freshman and sophomore societies were indeed to be ended, by faculty suppression, and the senior societies’ continued existence to be put to a class vote, but the interest group clubs he presciently foresaw would take decades to unfold.69

Presumably more irritating to the two senior societies in the next few years, if not more corrosive to their reputations, were the pinpricks administered by the Yale News, the college’s first daily newspaper. Its founders were patently anti–senior society: “We have been asked,” they admitted frankly in their seventh week of publication, “what motive we could have for such a relentless persecution of Senior Societies.”70 (Jibes had occasionally occurred earlier, of course: the College Courant’s “Yalensulica” column for December 18, 1869 noted that “Dr. Harwood preaches on the POWER of (the) KEYS next Sunday A.M. Fifteen seniors are going to hear him.”)

The Yale News first appeared on January 28, 1878, without identifying any editors, and the alarmed faculty soon passed a law forbidding publication of any paper by students which did not print the responsible persons’ names. According to a memoir of the journal’s birth, the first year’s strategy of ragging the senior societies was not only persistent, but deliberate. “[F]rom the paucity of other material in those days, which would interest the main body of students, The News naturally turned to the burning question of the hour to, I might say, foment news and sell its copies, and by so doing, I am frank to admit, got everybody by the ears, superinduced all sorts of mischief on the part of the ‘Neutrals,’ made the lives of the Societies and their members a burden, and finally keep the faculty busy and guessing [or] devising the best ways and means to quell the excitement without too much abridgment of the Constitutional right of free speech &c.”

Student politics was the entry point. “Every election of officers for the various College bodies, every College function and issue was in these days rife with contest, and fraught with the contending influences of Senior Societies versus ‘Neutrals,’ and small wonder then that the only matters of vital interest, namely the attitude of the foregoing counter influences, predominated, and the policy of The News—if policy it can be called—was, to keep before the Collegiate Public eye, those matters which most interested them, namely, the doings and purposes of the Senior Societies political, and otherwise, for there were but two of them—and to influence if not to mould the ‘Neutral’ opinion.” Bones and Keys were chargeable, the News maintained, with “all sorts of high crimes and misdemeanors . . . whether defeats at rowing or baseball or deteriorating menus in eating clubs.”71

On March 11, 1878, the daily opened its columns with a full-throated editorial statement, interspersed with candor. “What is the use of ‘grinding’ [the senior societies] so unceasingly? It does no good. The societies are still in power. The really worthy men in them lose nothing by our ridicule. Why then do we keep it up? We do this not from blind and impatient hatred of the institutions, but from a consciousness of their weak points, and a desire to show them as they are. We cannot deny that Bones, as a whole, represents much of the influence of the class; that Keys has many fine fellows, true gentlemen.” Nevertheless, “when the Seniors know little or nothing of the under-classmen, and assume the authority of picking out the thirty best men; when these picked men assume that they are the best men and stand aloof from their classmates, and wear pins to draw attention to themselves; when year after year we see the athletic interest of Yale jeopardized by their influence, being used to get and keep men, unfit for their position, on the crew, on the nine, on the glee club, and on anything they can control, we have a right to inquire into the matter.”

Five years on, that inquiry was stifled. In a letter to the influential national journal the Nation, a member of the class of 1884 laid out the indictment of silent suppression of the freedom of the college press. “We have here a daily paper, two bi-weeklies, and a monthly magazine. Not a sentence which reflects on the societies is permitted to be printed; not a joke, not an item of news, can appear in connection with their names, excepting the solitary case in which once a year the list of new members is published. The Yale News was started in 1878 as an anti–secret society paper; the Courant about 1876–79 was non–secret society; but the society elections came after the election of editors, and the society men took care to select a sufficient number on all the papers to insure their control. This they have done ever since. The News, the Record, the Courant, the Literary Magazine are all in the hands of the societies so completely, that when a person remarked that he regarded a certain one of them as the exponent of Yale College opinion, one of the editors replied: ‘Yes, it is the exponent of Yale College opinion, but as modified by the secret societies.’ It is easy to see what a tyranny this is when the College is divided on the society question.”72

This indictment was overbroad: the Nation published a letter the following week from a student who said he was not a society member, observing that “There are thirteen secret societies here [counting the underclass fraternities], and more than one hundred other organizations of an athletic, literary, or social character, and not one of them is ever attacked by any Yale publication. It was not many years ago that the College papers were open to such articles, and much ill-feeling and harm to the College was the result.”73 But this counsel of perspective was not widely appreciated.


The satire and mockery of the two senior societies and their members brought on by these various provocations ultimately degenerated into something worse: imprisonment of members within their halls, obstruction of dormitory doors to prevent the entrance or exit of the elective messengers seeking candidates, jostling those messengers outside on the campus and sometimes stealing their society insignia, tying or locking “sure” men within their rooms, followed by the neutrals’ attempted or successful invasions of the tombs, and finally the halls’ disfigurement.

The Keysmen’s entry into the Bones tomb in 1865 to crook the flag of the Pioneer and the Bones’ penetration into the Keys hall to snatch it back were seen by both societies as border skirmishes, to be deplored and if possible revenged, but still nobody’s else’s business. An affront of a different order was a second forced entry into the Bones, in the summer of 1865, by three neutrals, two being freshmen and the third a student at the Sheffield Scientific School, resulting in the theft of relics and even the “Bones Bible,” Timothy Dwight’s manuscript history of the society written for its thirtieth anniversary in 1863. When their names became known, the miscreants were visited by Professor Thomas Thacher, on behalf of the society rather than of the college. The Academical Department thieves reportedly bargained to return the society’s property of relics and records against a promise of election when they became juniors; the treasures were restored, but election did not follow.

In 1866, the Bones tomb was “defaced with some black substance in a scandalous manner,” according to the Yale Courant.74 The following year, “some neutrals in the Senior class, moved partly by a morbid curiosity, but chiefly a desire to retaliate for the superciliousness of some members of the society, planned and gained a burglarious entrance to the Hall. In fact, the Hall was entered three times.”75 In December 1873, a flag was fastened to the spire of the chapel, proclaiming “Death to Skull & Bones,” where to the chagrin of that society it flew all day.76 Their entrance’s padlock was stolen, and a “peeler” was hired for five dollars to guard the tomb the next night until a new lock could be procured. “Dark lanterns” with focused beams were shined upon the open door when members made entry. At the date of the initiation of the club of 1875, in the spring of 1874, an attempt was made to force a beam between the temple’s iron doors, “frustrated by the muscle of an old-time member of the university crew”; failing at that, the assailants then pelted the tomb’s walls with eggs. The unnamed faculty member who appeared to quell the disturbance, “fixing the responsibility for the disorders of the evening upon the ‘puerilities’ of the society which was the sufferer, called upon the crowd to disperse.”77

On September 29, 1876, the building was broken into by those who resented “her mystery and her secrecy,” to which the self-styled Order of the File and Claw hoped to put an end with their publication of The Fall of Skull and Bones, along with ending “her absurd pretentions and her popiecock.” The intruders claimed that, “while robbery was not our errand, on the principle that the second thief is the best owner we helped ourselves to a few pieces of memorabil, which can be put on exhibition, and a few documents which can be printed, should any authoritative denial [of a successful break-in] be made.”78 When the File and Claw pamphlet’s text was rewritten and republished in a successor anonymous pamphlet titled Skull and Bones, the authors declaimed piously in their (entire) introduction: “Let it be stated in advance that this pamphlet is published solely with a view to clear away the “poppy-cock” which surrounds the greatest society in college. It has no malicious intent. The sole design of the publishers and those who made the investigations, is to cause this Society to stand before the college world free from the profound mystery in which it has hitherto been enshrouded and to lessen, at least in some degree, the arrogant pretensions of superiority.”79

Hearing of this attack, student newspapers at Princeton and Harvard were sympathetic to Skull and Bones. “A burglarious entrance into a private hall of an honoured society is not exactly a clever or amusing trick,” said the journal in New Jersey, and the Massachusetts college editors declared that the invaded society’s “mysteries are as much the personal matters of its members as are their domestic secrets, and have a right to the same respect.” When the Yale Courant printed the story of the File and Claw pamphlet, with its floor plans of the society’s hall and exhaustive descriptions of every room and relic, the metropolitan newspapers in New Haven brushed aside such privacy concerns and reprinted that publication’s contents at full length, including the diagrams.80

Worse was to come, and the tide of the neutrals’ resentment did not spare Scroll and Key. Wires were stretched across the sidewalk running in front of the Brick Row dormitories to trip the members on their return to their rooms, which “set off a load of Greek fire [phosphorus], which had the effect of frightening the society men greatly.” In January of 1874 the numerals of the class of ’76 were discovered painted in black on the doors of the Keys hall, a desecration celebrated in The Seventh Book of Genesis; since the doors were iron, the removal was easily managed. Three years later, a second lock-in, mirroring that occurring in 1873, kept the current Keys club imprisoned for hours, necessitating the subsequent purchase of a rope ladder by the next class’s club and the installation of a warning bell on the doors.

Harassment at elections and initiations worsened: “From time immemorial the senior society men have been followed at such time by non-society seniors, who badger the former, sometimes shutting them up in the entries or fastening them into rooms from which escape is made by windows.” They booed, cat-called, threw old oranges and boots, and once, it is reported, “a large brass cuspidor which struck the head of the last Scroll and Key man in line.” Crowds were so great around the societies’ halls when the neophytes came there to be taken in for initiation that “[s]ometimes the approaching juniors are lifted bodily and passed over the heads of the crowd to the hall door. Cannon crackers are exploded and a general racket indulged in until the society men get disgusted and send for a ‘cop.’”81

Some of the harassment was less physical. Three members of the class of 1883, in their sophomore year of 1881, converted a production of The Pirates of Penzance in New Haven by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company into a public affront to the Bones. Visiting the production’s pirate king at his hotel before the performance, they told him it would make a local sensation if he would put ‘322’ below the death’s head on his hat. The sophomores, sitting in the balcony’s front row that evening, were delighted to see that when the hat appeared, several students—Bonesmen all—got up and left the hall, to a “universal grin on the faces of all the other Yale men in the audience.”82

The Bull and Stones men appropriated the very features of which Bones and Keys were so proud. In 1872, they caused their membership list of fifteen to be printed in the New Haven press, and “swung out” with badges, as they had in 1870 (the College Courant’s “Yalensicula” column of November 6, 1869, had reported: “It is rumored that a new society is being formed. The pins have been seen by some one, at Tiffany & Co.’s in New York. The observer says that they are “bully.”)83 In the satirical annual the Yale Naughty-Gal All-Man-Ax for 1875, a mock one-page history appeared, declaring, with dead aim at the older societies’ celebration of their campus antiquity, faculty connections, and glorious stone halls: “Of all college societies now in existence, Bull and Stones is the oldest. Before even Hasty Pudding or Phi Beta Kappa were thought of this fraternity could number its years by the score. Bull and Stones was founded Commencement day 1776, by the Rev. Elisha Williams, Rector of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, Jeremiah Day (both Presidents of the University), the Governor of the State, and other prominent men. With its years, the institution has grown in reputation, the men who have entered it from year to year have added luster to its fame, until there is no society that can show such a record. As is becoming such a high-toned fraternity, its transactions are veiled in secrecy, and its hall is—no one knows where.”84

On March 13, 1878, the Stones men had attacked the Bones hall, and a Keys representative wrote the Yale News to deplore the marauders taking “advantage of [the Bones’] policy of non-resistance, to tear down their fence, injure the padlocks, and deface the iron door with brick bats,” which was not “fun” but “vandalism and outrage.”85 Three months later, the Keys hall suffered even worse damage. The legend “522 Scull & Bone 522” (consciously intended to be differentiated from “Skull and Bones 322”) was written with black paint on the wall between the entrance staircases at about one o’clock in the morning of June 14, just after the delegation had left its Thursday night meeting. Learning of this outrage an hour or so later, the member rousted out a stone cutter, who succeeded in having all the graffiti removed before the rest of the college awoke.86

Nevertheless, witnesses had observed the desecration, and a storm of indignation arose against the unknown culprit or culprits, not only within the society, but within the college community. “All college disapproved the act,” reported the Yale News for June 17. Two seniors who had been seen watching the progress of the painting, Edmund Terry and Herbert Bowen (a cofounder of the Yale News just five months previously, and later U.S. minister to Persia and Venezuela), were arrested on the charge of “defacing the building of the Kingsley Trust Association.” This occurred on the testimony of three other students and a tutor, Edmund Salisbury Dana, a Keys man (1870) who was a board member of the Kingsley Trust Association.

Campus suspicions had first fixed on the members of a new anti-Bones society, the “522 men,” but it seems unlikely that they would have so implicated themselves with the numbers in black paint, and a newspaper reported that “students who wear the [522] initiation pin say they had nothing to do with the work.”87 The courtroom was filled with current Keys men and graduate members—although, according to the article, “no Bones men were visible.” Tutor Dana testified that he had seen Bowen in a group of four or five students who, when they spotted him, started off in a brisk walk, “attended by a peculiar motion of heel and toe, characteristic of the Keys society” (which even Dana characterized in his testimony as “an old, somewhat childish custom”), while singing a Keys anthem. For their parts, while agreeing they were indeed witnesses to a portion of the disfigurement, Bowen testified that he did not recognize the painter, while Terry admitted only to having picked up “a small tube of pigment done up in foil,” remarking that the black paint “would make ‘first-class memorabil.’”

The prosecutor wanted to ask some questions about senior societies generally, but the Keys men present discouraged that line of inquiry. Keys graduate member John Alling had spoken for the prosecution. The defense lawyer “gave him ‘taffy’ about his membership in Keys [and] called him the real conspirator, [and] compared him to Cataline”; he further argued that the society “considered its hall not disfigured and disgraced by the paint, but by the emblem of the rival Society.” The judge, according to the News, “very justly pronounced the work as low and mean and beneath the dignity of any one who pretended to be a gentleman, but said that there being no conclusive proof, he would have to nolle the case,” proclaiming, “This is a student’s frolic, done in a spirit of fun, and should be settled in college, and not brought to this court.”88

When the criminal proceedings fell through, Keys had the discretion not to prosecute a civil suit. As a whole, the episode tended to reinstate the society in the good graces of the undergraduate community, serving to obliterate the fading memories of the boat flags crooking scandal. No acts of violence against the Keys clubs or their hall are recorded after 1878. This “522” attack seems to have been a climax of such violence: members of the first three delegations of the senior society Wolf’s Head, founded in 1883, canvassed fifty years after the fact, could recollect no “Bull and Stones” activities in the 1879 to 1885 period when they were underclassmen. Scroll and Key changed its behavior, too, altering its post-meeting march home and thus ending the ostentatious parade along the whole Brick Row with the members peeling off to their rooms. (Bones had dropped the march home and the accompanying song with the club of 1867.)89

The “522” men were unrepentant. In the May 22, 1878, Yale News, someone published a message in bold capitals, the full meaning of which can only be guessed at: “E.E.F. | 522 – 5 – 22 – 78 – 8 -22 | 15 + 10 – BST. | M.T.S.” The Yale Year Book, appearing on June 19, 1878 (its only issue), edited by the anti-society crusader Frank McDonald of the class of 1879, who had founded the Yale News, contained not only the cuts and members’ names of Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key for the classes of 1878 and 1879, but listed first, in pride of place, the cut of “Scull and Bone 522,” with the canonical fifteen names of the organization’s members: Oliver Brown, Charles Dilley, Frederick B. Dubach, John Q. A. Johnson, Edward B. Kellogg, John P. McCune, Frank McDonald, Royal C. Moodie, Samuel M. Moores, James P. Pigott, Clinton Spencer, Edgar H. Stone, William A. Van Buren, George R. Walker, and Reynold C. Wilcox. None of these men were named during the trial over the defacement of the Keys tomb.90

Finally, in reaction to the “wire-pulling” that preceded senior society elections, those not so chosen had their own political method of revenge: “The Senior neutrals frequently hold a private caucus before the election of class committees, to exclude every society man from the ticket; a singular proceeding, when it is remembered that the society men are presumably the best and most popular men of the class.”91


In 1874, the Yale Courant began to report the elections and discuss the doings of the senior societies. “It would be an unpardonable oversight to pass without notice,” read the May 23 issue, “. . . an event which occupies so much of the attention and interest of the college world as the announcement of elections to the Senior societies. . . . As is always the case, to those inside the results will seem just, while those outside against their will, must mourn the vanity of human affairs, and regret their wasted work which might have been so much more profitably employed elsewhere.” The publication reflected the schizophrenia of the student body: anticipating elections and describing election day in detail, while denouncing in a long editorial the evils of the system, especially in creation of a recognizable “tricky politician” type as candidate, and proclaiming: “May the time come soon when Yale shall be delivered of them [such politicians] and of the system which has produced them.”92

The calculation from inside the societies was more certain. An undergraduate of that time was to write a half century later: “Of the one hundred and thirty Juniors among whom we were to choose, I myself knew all but about a dozen, well enough to have an idea of what they were like and what might probably be made of them. . . . There was less chance than now [1925] that a good man would be overlooked; but there was as much chance, and perhaps more, that he might be misunderstood.”93

Election day prospects in May 1875 found the Courant cautiously hopeful. “The Senior society men of ’75 have, as a general thing, conducted themselves in a non-offensive manner, a great deal of the ostentatious ‘poppicock’ which caused so much trouble with ’74 has not been put on; in fact, the way in which they have acted throughout the year has led us to the belief that a wise choice is to be made. However, whether the following year is to be a quiet one or a season of Iconoclasts, bogus pins, bum [food] thieving, &c., rests entirely with the society men of the Senior class.”94With this standard of approval for worthy candidates, the Yale Courant launched a new probable cause of annual complaint in Yale College: were the two societies’ choices to be found appropriate and fitting by neutral observers, consonant with the standards of literary or social excellence which the societies themselves professed?

On the last Thursday of that month, most of the prominent members of the junior class again went to their rooms soon after six o’clock supper concluded. According to a memoir by Arthur Hadley of the class of 1876, if any candidate had not gone to his dormitory by 6:45 P.M., he was advised to do so by any interested senior who happened to see him. At seven o’clock the senior class representatives of Bones and Keys left their respective tombs at two-minute intervals, heading for the abodes of the candidates assigned to them. Any Bones member could choose to be accompanied by a society alumnus, who was not advised of the destination before arrival. If the candidate happened not to be in his room, the senior would await his return. Hadley recollected that there were thirty or forty juniors in the college yard who thought they had no chance of election, and perhaps an equal number of men from the other classes combined. Those who received elections generally stayed in their rooms until the ceremonial entries into the dormitories were concluded.95

After 1875’s Tap Day, the Courant’s board was still dissatisfied. While the elections “passed off quietly . . . [c]oncerning the choices we have something to say.” One man, a “most worthy and desirable candidate, was passed over for Bones “for no earthly reason other than a petty personal dislike,” the Courant complained. “That is the sentiment not only of this paper, but of the majority of the men of the College.” Additionally, three of the Keys taps were found surprising, and they too were guilty of omissions of worthy candidates, “ornaments to the society had they been taken in.” A third society was one solution to such miscarriages of college social justice: “There has been some talk about setting Spade and Grave on its legs again, and we think that it would be desirable thing if it could possibly be done. . . . a third society is really needed in Senior year. Of course, it would be difficult to start such a society, but it would surely be a success in the end, provided that it was a respectable organization, and not got together to ‘grind’ the other two.”96

Remarkably, a new, third senior society was reported to be founded the next year. The Yale Courant for May 27, 1876, said that “the common title of the society is ‘Hoe and Fiddle,’ with a hall to be erected on the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Trumbull Street,” where “ground was broken last Thursday evening with appropriate ceremonies. Elections were given out the same evening.” If this story was not a hoax, as seems likely, Hoe and Fiddle appears to have disappeared as suddenly as it came into existence.97

This new mixture of a desire to see social justice done among their peers and the excitement of learning the outcome of an admitted contest had a healthy effect on the conduct of elections in the spring of 1875, according to the Yale Courant report. “It has been handed down by tradition that Senior election night is a legitimate time for the non-society men of the Senior and Junior classes to range around Bones’ Hall, and make as much disturbance and trouble as possible, and then to howl, in the college yard for the rest of the evening, the praises of Bull and Stones, interfering with the society men as they give out elections, rushing them round the campus, locking them up in the entries and building bonfires. . . . But this year matters have been different. . . . Instead of congregating around Bones’ Hall and making the welkin ring there, the crowd thronged the yard between Farnam and Durfee, eagerly comparing notes as the elections were given out, passing a few remarks upon the general make-up of some well-dressed Keys man, and rushing round to congratulate the fortunate or to sympathize with others. As the Bones’ men went round they greeted salutations from the crowd with good natured grins, once or twice answering back in a joking way; a thing never before done and which materially assisted in repressing any tendency to rowdyism.”98

Before the pivotal year which witnessed the elections for the class of 1877, they were offered to juniors who were approached in their rooms. The turning point had come with the elections of spring 1874. Then, as in previous years, members of the lower classes followed the electing seniors from entry to entry, up and down stairs, partly in horse play, partly in their desire to be first to know the results. Disorder naturally resulted from the crowding of the various entries, and ultimately one was barricaded by some of the students not living there, blocking access to the waiting juniors above. The question of whether the visiting seniors would have challenged that barricade in solemn procession was never to be answered, because the juniors residing in that entry chose to come down stairs, sitting on the steps to see what the seniors would do. The latter were almost certainly surprised, but in any event accepted the situation and, singling out their intended new members, tapped each on the shoulder with some early version of the admonition, necessary for the first time and to become famous: “Go to your room!”99

Hadley’s reminiscence frames the problem which resulted: “In the class which followed us—1877 [and thus, occurring in the spring of 1876]—a large number of the candidates stayed on the street or at the Junior fence after supper, and had to be publicly told to go to their rooms; so that the college could know about a considerable part of the elections half an hour before they were officially given out. To avoid this evil, it became necessary to arrange a system by which the offer of an election could follow immediately upon the public suggestion that it was coming. Hence the institution of tap days which developed rapidly during the next two or three years.”100

Thereafter, as was to be reported by the annual journal the Yale Horoscope, which forecast individuals’ chances for election, the anxious juniors “had their new spring suits padded on the right shoulders in anticipation” of being “slapped” or “spanked” on those shoulders, and hearing “hissed into their willing ears” the portentous phrase “Go to your room,” ordering the candidate to his room to hear that offer, and accept or reject it, in private, as in former times. It soon came to be called “tapping time” or “slap day,” falling on the third Thursday in May, at five in the afternoon.101

Some years later a letter to the Yale Alumni Weekly maintained that this new situation was the result of a wish by the candidates to prove to the college that they had no knowledge of their chances of election, and that the rumors of combinations and bargains for membership, rife before every election day, were simply not true. This motive was surplus to the simpler explanation of bottleneck breaking. Furthermore, the construction of Farnam Hall (1869–70) and Durfee Hall (1871), joined together at right angles to one another by the hinge of Battle Chapel on the Old Campus’s northeast corner, coupled with the erection of the two-rung interior fences fronting the dormitories, inadvertently created an excellent enclosed arena where the election spectacle could easily be viewed from the fence’s rails or the rooms above, in buildings which were quickly claimed for prime accommodation by the two upper classes.102

Senior society elections as an exercise that could be observed by the whole community, therefore, were not developed by any conscious choice of the electors or by pronouncement of the college authorities, but rather altered organically in spontaneous response to the congestion caused by the curious neutrals. By the spring of 1876, as the language of the report in the Yale Courant makes clear, the new way of tapping had become the traditional, immemorial way: “The usual demonstrations took place Thursday evening when the elections were given out to the Junior class. More than half the college assembled in front of Farnam and Durfee to watch the result. The scene was much like that of previous years [in truth, only two prior years]; the same business-like and important air of the Senior as he marched around the campus, followed by the pushing crowd; the touch or word followed by the departure of the happy one to his room; the congratulations of the crowd; and, as the number grew toward fifteen, the nervousness of those who had not yet received the expected notice. There were several surprises, but in most cases, the results were anticipated and satisfactory to the crowd and the class.”

The society’s delegate came into the crowd and walked through it, without recognizing anyone, until he found the individual for whom he was looking. If a candidate could not be located in the milling crowd, he was pursued with a visit to his dormitory room. After the tap, the senior society man returned to his hall, and the junior, in the quadrangle or coming down from his room, was surrounded by friends offering congratulations. Tutors and professors were in the crowd: “A certain Prof., an old ‘Bones’ man on the campus last night during elections, seemed to highly enjoy the performance.”103

This new, underclass-imposed pattern of very public elections gave the two senior societies a new problem. Unless the incoming Bones club or Keys crowd was pre-pledged or “packed” with like-minded friends who had agreed before election day to join, then having an offer rejected—not within the confines of a man’s dormitory room, but out in the public square of the Old Campus—was an open humiliation. For Bones, which the Yale News said “presents a motley appearance, and it seems to us impossible that certain pillars of rowing and certain literary lights could agree”—the risk was greater than that borne by Keys. While one member was sent out from each society’s tomb into the courtyard to find and offer election to a particular candidate, the sequence of achieving fifteen acceptances could itself be upended by an unexpected and very public refusal. Not only might the incoming club’s membership remain uncertain, but a prospect’s interest could be shaken by a prior exclusion of a close friend, or by an election offer to a disliked classmate.

From this social dynamic, it appears, came the phenomenon of “the last man tapped” for a particular society. Over the decades, being tapped last, particularly for Bones, was seen as the ultimate tribute and capstone of a Yale career, and may in some cases have been so (e.g., William Howard Taft in 1877, Yale president Arthur Hadley’s son Morris in 1915, or George H. W. Bush in 1947). Nevertheless, the tradition did not start that way.

The twin calculations of society and candidate are best explained by the verbatim report of the Yale News in the election for May 1878, for the class of 1879, regarding what the man tapped last for Bones that year. “‘Mocassin Cholly,’ known to the Faculty as C. L. Spencer, conferred the last election on Mr. O. D. Thompson, Captain of the crew. It is not to be supposed from this that Mr. T. was last choice but as it was expected that he would require as a condition of his acceptance, the exclusion of some enemies or the admission of some friends, with which the Bones men must comply, he was left till the last, in order that the society might plead the fact that all elections were out, as a reason for compelling him to accept the status desired by the ’78 men. This supposition is strengthened as it was known last year that Jenks wanted a man in, and was therefore postponed until the last.” The following year, when Bones’ John Perrin came onto the campus for the fifteenth candidate, it was known he was looking for Lit. board chairman Alfred Nichols, and “a line formed between the two and the election was given.” By the spring 1888 election, the Illustrated Horoscope would write of Bones preserving “its tradition of the past few years of tapping the surest man last.”104

The Yale Courant board of 1875–76 editorialized that the evils of the society system were recognized and endured in all four college classes; the collateral news story concluded that the election results were “anticipated and satisfactory to the crowd [in general] and to the class [in particular].”105 In 1877 and 1878, only the names of the elected appeared, a list disappearing in 1879, reappearing for 1880 and 1881, and gone once more in 1882. While Courant editors had been neutrals before 1880, in the tap of that year some began to be chosen for the two senior societies (one to Bones in 1880 and again in 1882, and one to Keys in 1881). Perhaps, as has been suggested, this was the Machiavellian technique of the societies for the muzzling of the college press, but the frequent election of junior anti-society crusaders to senior societies was to be a repeated phenomenon in the college’s history.106


The senior societies were not the only campus fraternity irritant by any means. The two sophomore class societies, Delta Beta Xi, founded in 1864, and Phi Theta Psi, begun the same year, had long been targets of the faculty for their disorder. They were, except for the societies of the senior year, more secret than those of any other class; they gathered on Friday nights to play cards, smoke clay pipes, and sip ale, and seem to have had no literary program or other purpose, although they were known for having stages to accommodate their theatricals.107 An article in the Boston Transcript said that one branded their initiates in four places with a red-hot iron and that the practice had been in vogue for some time.108 The Yale Courant reported in the fall of 1873 that a faculty member had said that “decided action would have been taken against the whole system long since, had not it been deemed impolitic to offend a considerable number of rich and influential graduates, who were members of Skull and Bones and other societies, and who still regard them with affection,” and the journal called the sophomore societies so “entirely worthless, that few decent men would mourn their extinction or try to keep them alive.”109

President James McCosh of Princeton, in an article in the North American Review for May–June 1878 titled “Discipline in American Colleges,” wittily described the discrimination which the faculty had to apply: “There are some professors who cannot draw the distinction between the immorality of drinking and snowballing. It is true that we have two eyes given us that we may see, but we have also two eyelids to cover them up; and those who have the oversight of young men should know when to open and when to close these organs of observation.”110 With the underclass societies, the Yale faculty found it could no longer close its eyes.

The suppression came on Monday, May 24, 1875, with a notification to freshmen by their academic division officers that they were not to be initiated into sophomore societies until further notice. This was a few days before that peaceful election day celebrated by the Courant after the Keys memorabil scandal of the prior year. What the Courant described only as “Monday’s spree . . . was the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” and the newly elected senior society members were ordered to remain in their rooms, “probably to prevent any possible repetition of Monday night’s scenes.” As the later student song was to have it, “By fell decree/Of Facultee,/They are no more,/Oh, Sophomore.”111

The freshman societies, Delta Kappa and Sigma Epsilon, met a similar fate only five years later, in 1880 (just six years before, William Howard Taft of the class of 1878 had been Delta Kap’s president, a mark of popularity which alarmed his father, fearful for his son’s scholarship standing).112As had been the case with the sophomore societies, the freshman initiations, peanut bums, and purposeless meetings and politics were founts of continuous disorder. “The initiates,” according to one report, “were blindfolded, jostled about, made to walk off the end of a plank into a tub of water, subjected to various tonsorial atrocities with barbers’ clippers, carried in a coffin, branded with a ‘red-hot iron’—that is to say, a piece of ice, which to a blindfolded man has much the same sensation—stamped upon the foreheads with the Greek letters of the society, in nitrate of silver, which resisted all efforts of scrubbing and remained for days as black as the ace of spades.”113

This time, the faculty in closing these societies said that it was for the present, adding the hope that upon reopening, they would not be the scene of the historical disturbances between the sophomores and the freshmen. “The clemency of the faculty in giving them another lease of life,” reported the Yale News, “calls for a suitable return from the societies and it rests with the present members whether to show their appreciation of this clemency by improving the tone of the societies or to accomplish their extermination by persisting in the course adopted in late years.”114 By refusing the faculty invitation to reform themselves into literary societies, they accomplished their extermination.

So over the course of five years from 1875 to 1880, by faculty edict the administration had shut down both the freshman and sophomore societies because of their perceived evil effects on college life. Those suppressions made the extinction of those in the junior and senior classes all the more imaginable, and thus possible. The negative opinion of President Porter (the last nineteenth-century Yale president not to have been a senior society member as an undergraduate), as given over a decade before in his 1870 book American Colleges and the American Public, was founded in frustration. “It is not surprising that in American colleges, animated as they must be with the practical and independent spirit of the country, and sympathizing most warmly with every public movement, whether political or literary, these associations have assumed prominence and exercised a powerful educating influence,” he wrote. “The social tendencies of young men would naturally lead to associations for other than exclusive literary purposes. The clannish tendencies which result from their warm likings and their violent antagonisms, as well as their newly developed feelings of independence, would tend to make these societies exclusive and secret. We do not propose to discuss the general question of the desirableness or the undesirableness of some associations of this sort. It is scarcely open for discussion. They are so natural to young men, indeed, to men of all ages, as not to need defence or justification.”

Nevertheless, “whether it is desirable that they should be secret or guarded by a mysterious reserve, and so involved with a factitious importance, admits of more question. The love of secrecy and reserve is too strong in human nature, and especially in boyish nature, to be easily thwarted. We doubt the expediency [of banning secret societies] because we disbelieve in the possibility of destroying or preventing secret societies. That such societies may be, and sometimes are, attended with very great evils, is confessed by the great majority of graduates. . . . Whatever excesses attend them, of late hours, late suppers, noisy demonstrations and convivial indulgences, should be repressed by the good sense and manly spirit of the college community.”115

Porter certainly understood that opposition to the societies was clearly unproductive, but it was hard for him and his fellow clerics as college presidents to understand what the student enthusiasn for secret student societies actually involved. In truth, as one historian has summarized the problem, that extracurricular movement proposed “the substitution of worldly powers for spiritual grace as a measure of prestige; the substitution of social status for Christian status; the substitution of attitudes and skills necessary for success in this world, for those considerated appropriate for success in the next. . . . In essence, the [society/]fraternity movement was institutionalizing new prestige values, the attributes of a successful man of the world, this world, at the expense of those various signs of Christian grace—humility, equality, and morality—which it had long been the purpose of the colleges to foster.” As long as Yale remained under the influence of evangelical orthodoxy, as long as a religious orientation was both persistent and sincere, the administration continued its preference for a “brotherhood of professed Christians rather than a multiplicity of Greek brotherhoods. But in no case, regardless of its intentions, could the American college argue very persuasively against the attributes and values of worldly success.”116

Still, with neutral sentiment building against the two senior societies, because of “poppiecock” and provocation, it would take only the non-appealable action of the faculty, or perhaps the initiative of the senior class itself (as Porter basically called for), to effect a like fate for them. A recent precedent existed for that, too: the extinction of the Wooden Spoon by the students in 1871. When the elderly relatives of the fictional Yale students in the class of 1874 in the 1894 novel College Days, or Harry’s Career at Yale are urged to revive that celebration among their classmates, “it was ‘no go.’ ‘An institution once dead at Yale never revives;’ such indeed has always been the fact in the history of Yale organizations.” In such a spirit, Edwin Aiken began the final paragraph of his attack on the senior societies published in the short-lived journal Yale Critic in the summer of 1882: “It is to be hoped that the students themselves might act rightly in this matter.”117

That very prospect—death of the senior societies by class vote—was to arise, on February 1, 1884, when a resolution was introduced at the traditional meeting of the senior class for the election of its class day committees, to kill or cure the malignant society pyramid, by amputating its crown.


William Lee Cushing


founder, Westminster School

Clarence Deming


editor, New Haven News


Yale memoirist

Frederick Shepard Dennis


professor of Clinical Surgery, Cornell

John Howard Hincks


dean of faculty, Atlanta University

Benjamin Hoppin


polar explorer

Alexander Morrison


professor of Theology, Hartford Theological Seminary

George Fast Moore


president, Andover Theological Seminary


professor of History of Religion, Harvard

Edward Thomas Owen


professor of French, University of Wisconsin

Theodore Salisbury Woolsey


professor of International Law, Yale

Eben Alexander


professor of Greek, University of North Carolina


U.S. minister, Greece, Romania, and Serbia

William Beebe


professor of Mathematics, Yale

Herbert McKenzie Denslow


professor of Pastoral Theology, General Theological Seminary

Samuel Oscar Prentice


professor of Pleading, Yale Law School


chief justice, Conn. Supreme Court

Frank Bigelow Tarbell


professor of Classical Archeology, University of Chicago

Henry Wolcott Farnam


professor of Political Economics, Yale


general counsel, N.Y., New Haven and Hartford Railroad

Edward Denmore Robbins


professor of Jurisprudence, Yale

James Mulford Townsend


president, New York Law School

John Seymour Wood



Carl Thurston Chester


professor of Law, Buffalo

Almet Francis Jenks


presiding justice, N.Y. Supreme Court

John Patton


U.S. senator (Mich)

John Sammis Seymour


U.S. commissioner of Patents

Edward Curtis Smith


governor, Vt.

Otto Tremont Bannard


president, N.Y. Trust Company

Walker Blaine


U.S. ambassador to South America

Robert Johnson Cook


editor, Philadelphia Press

Charles Newell Fowler


U.S. Congress (N.J.)

Arthur Twining Hadley


president, Yale University


president, American Economic Association

William Waldo Hyde


mayor, Hartford

Rufus Biggs Smith


professor of Law, Cincinnati Law

George Montgomery Tuttle


professor of Gynecology, Columbia

Charles Francis Carter


first college curve ball pitcher

Clarence Kelsey


founder, Title Guarantee & Trust Co. (later Chicago Title)

Charles Langford Spencer


U.S. District Court (Minn.)

William Howard Taft


U.S. solicitor general


U.S. Circuit Court judge


governor, Philippine Islands


U.S. secretary of war


U.S. acting secretary of state


U.S. president


professor of Law, Yale Law School


president, American Bar Association


president, National Red Cross


chief justice, U.S. Supreme Court


trustee, Yale Corporation

Edward Baldwin Whitney


assistant attorney general, U.S.

Lloyd Wheaton Bowers


solicitor general, U.S.

Lucien Francis Burpee


Supreme Court justice, Conn.

Henry Sherwood Green


professor of Greek, West Virginia University

Walter Belknap James


professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia

Timothy Lester Woodruff


lieutenant governor, N.Y.

Walter Camp


father of American football


Yale football coach

Alfred Nichols


professor of German, Simmons College

Sidney Catlin Partridge


Episcopal bishop, Kyoto, Japan, and Western Mo.

Thomas Burr Osborne


president, American Society of Biological Chemists

Benjamin Brewster


Episcopal bishop, Me.

William Phelps Eno


author, world’s first street traffic regulations (NYC, London, Paris)

Asa Palmer French


U.S. district attorney, Mass.


Charles Orrin Day


president, Andover Theological Seminary

David Bryson Delevan


professor of Laryngology, N.Y. Polyclinic

Frederick Thomas Dubois


U.S. Congress (Id.)


U.S. Senator (Id.)

Edward Stevens Lines


Episcopal bishop, Newark board chair, General Theological Seminary

Frank Davey Allen


U.S. district atorney, Mass.

Edward Anthony Bradford


correspondent, London Standard

Atwood Collins


president, Security Co. of Hartford

William Addison Houghton


professor of Latin, New York University, Bowdoin

Hart Lyman


editor in chief, New York Tribune

Willis Fisher McCook


president, Pittsburgh Steel Co.

Schuyler Merritt


U.S. Congress (Conn.)


Merritt Parkway honors

James Perry Platt


U.S. District Court judge (Conn.)

Thomas Dewitt Cuyler


president, Pennsylvania Railroad


chairman, Committee of Twenty-One (planned and built Yale Bowl)

Hollis Burke Frissell


principal, Hampton Institute

William Kelly


president, American Institute of Mining Engineers

John Anson Garver


senior partner, Shearman & Sterling


executor of Sterling estate and construction of Sterling buildings

William Nimick Frew


president, Carnegie Institute

Nathan Davis Abbott


dean, Stanford Law School


professor of Law, Columbia

Charles Hamot Strong


president, Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad Co.

Howard Clark Hollister


U.S. District Court judge, Ohio

Henry Martyn Hoyt Jr.


U.S. solicitor general

John Addison Porter Jr.


secretary to President McKinley


proprietor, editor, Hartford Post

Alfred Lawrence Ripley


president, Merchants National Bank

Julian Wheeler Curtiss


president, chairman, A. G. Spalding

Henry Herbert Donaldson


professor of Neurology, University of Chicago

John Villiers Farwell


Yale Corp. Fellow, chair, Committee on Architectural Plan

Henry James Ten Eyck


Ten Eyck prizes in his memory

William Montayne Hall


dean, Colorado College

William Forest Hutchinson


pitcher, Chicago National League team

William Montague Hall


dean, Colorado College

William Reynolds Innis


president, Studebaker Bros.

Frank William Keator


Episcopal bishop, Olympia (Wash.)

Norris Galpin Osborn


editor, New Haven Journal-Courier

Arthur Elmore Bostwick


president, American Library Association

Morgan Hawley Beach


U.S. District Attorney, Washington, D.C.


clerk, U.S. Supreme Court

Cyrus Bentley Jr.


general counsel, International Harvester Co.

Stephen Merrill Clement


president, Marine National Bank

John Prescott Kellogg


judge, Supreme Court, Conn.

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