They pledged themselves to become members of a third organization if a sufficient number could be prevailed upon to join.

—Sidney Wright Hopkins, Class of 1884


William McMurtrie Speer of the class of 1884 was no member or admirer of the Yale society system, and did not belong to any junior fraternity. Clearly the society system was not sacrosanct, because the faculty had largely done away with the freshman societies in Speer’s freshman year. The sentiments of the anti-society pamphlets the IconoclastThe Seventh Book of Genesis, and The Fall of Skull and Bones were still current, living on in the Yale News, contemporaneously perceived as a “daily anti-senior society newspaper . . . vigorously conducted so as to thwart the society men in every way.”1

The question of the worth of the society system in Yale College had, indeed, become more vigorously debated during Speer’s class’s college tenure, detailed in a wide-ranging attack published in five articles over three months in the spring and early summer of 1882. These, because they were written by a recent graduate, who then converted his essays into an entire book, received more attention than the criticism delivered by Evarts the decade before. In June of 1882, Edwin Edgerton Aiken of the class of 1881, fresh out of Yale College and Skull and Bones, collected his series which had appeared earlier that year in the aptly titled but short-lived journal Yale Critic, and expanded it into a 110-page book, titled The Senior Society System.

Aiken was keenly aware of the offense his apparent betrayal would cause. He knew that “When one has enjoyed the advantages of the college course, it is no gracious task to make any public criticism involving the institution to which he owes so much, and which he has honored and loved. . . . Still less gracious is it to utter criticism upon institutions whose honors and privileges one has shared, and whose trusts have been confided to his keeping; and perhaps, in view of the peculiar nature of the institutions in question, it will be simple justice for me to say, at the outset, that the organization, with whose membership I was honored in Senior year, was almost ideally perfect, of its kind. I do not see how any organization of that sort could have been much better.”

Nevertheless, he felt compelled to exercise his right of open discussion of public matters “in the name of a free, democratic Yale,” and it was “in behalf of a larger and a nobler life within [Yale’s] walls that these words are written.” Still, such discussion was “limited by the obligation not to use against a party what is confided to me as a member of it, and that obligation I shall always recognize.”2 His criticisms were infused with the robust Christianity which he was to preach as his life’s work—the first to propose a building at Yale for the YMCA, he became a missionary in China, and his book’s penultimate chapter was titled “Relation to the Church.” His arguments on the merits and defects of the secret fraternity system were based on societies at many American colleges, including Amherst, Brown, and New York University.

Those passed over, Aiken maintained, were deeply wounded by an “artificial system”; the desire to belong led to undignified “suping” (Yale slang for supplicating); membership shielded “men who hold [college] public offices from merited criticism”; the society connections of instructors poisoned “the true relation of pupil and master”; frankness and openness were discouraged in campus relations; affection for their societies sapped their participants’ college “patriotism,” when money spent for Yale society and fraternity halls might have gone into “the buildings of literary societies [where] . . . they would have done more good”; neutrals were “left out of what they believe the controlling powers of the college”; alumni of the college, because of the dominance of the society system, refused to send their sons and withheld endowments; and, as argued by Evarts and others, they broke up the literary societies.

Furthermore, the supposed merits of the system were either overstated or did not withstand probing examination: the heterogeneity of the membership must overwhelm any literary advantage, while publicity, not secret remarks to a few, was indispensable to true eloquence; secrecy, exclusivity, and badges were the expression of “an aristocratic spirit,” not a democratic one; student friendships did not need secret societies to flourish; and the tendency to work at scholarship or athletics, not for the honor of the college but to gain society election, put those strivings on “a false foundation.” “Unreality, fascinating mystery, an eager struggle for three years, and silent exclusion with its consequent bitterness,” he averred, “make no soil for poetry or eloquence or scholarship or letters.”3

Aiken’s book-length attack was not to be comprehensively answered until May 1884, when John Addison Porter, a graduate of 1878 and son of a founder of Scroll and Key in the summer of 1842, published “The Society System of Yale College,” a lengthy rebuttal in the journal the New Englander, a publication with a national circulation but traditionally devoted to Yale matters of highest importance. His choice of forum was a recognition of what Aiken’s long, New Haven–published argument had effected. The crusade against the senior societies, Porter noted, largely confined until then to campus fracases provoked by Bull and Stones and the presentation of critical views in one-off publications of limited circulation, “was transferred to the columns of prominent metropolitan journals.” Alumni groups were aroused: “alumnus and undergraduate emulated each other in striving to point out the enormities commited by the societies.” Magazine and newspaper editors across the nation, welcoming the outbreak of public dissension at one of the country’s leading universities, found their circulation increased as “the good name of the University was dragged through the mire by her own sons.”4

William Speer had begun his campaign against the senior societies as a junior, before the elections of May 1883, and so plausibly claimed not to have founded his pronounced hostility to them on being passed over. “[T]here is a movement afoot in the Senior class,” he wrote to the New Haven Courier, “which, if successful, will do much to force this question to an issue and to induce some action on the part of the college authorities to one side or the other.” This letter followed one he published earlier the same week on November 1883 in an influential national journal, the Nation: “In the name of ’84 I call upon the Yale Alumni, Faculty, and the Corporation to look into this matter and to reform it. . . . For the good of Yale, this system should cease to exist, or be radically changed.”5

The Yale News for February 1, 1884, announced a meeting of the senior class that Friday for “the election of class committees and the transaction of business,” and approximately 140 members of the class attended. With the meeting chaired by Selden Spencer, a neutral (non–senior society member) who was equipped with a class catalogue and a blackboard for vote tallies, the attendees voted for John Swift, another neutral, to be class secretary, and for membership in the various committees to conduct the class exercises of Commencement Week: Promenade Committee, Class Supper Committee, Class Day Committee, Class Cup Committee, and Ivy Committee. The elections of Spencer, Swift, and the twenty-five class committee members reflected the observation of Aiken made two years earlier in his book, that before class meetings, neutrals organized in private caucus to exclude every senior society member from the ticket: in a class of 151 men, none of these twenty-seven so elected by the assembled class were among the thirty members of Bones and Keys.

Following these votes, the Yale News for the following Monday, February 4, reported, with the diction betraying the drama:

The way was now clear for Mr. Speer to introduce the following resolution, which the meeting had declined to receive before, preferring to postpone its discussion until all other business had been transacted:

WHEREAS, The present senior society system creates a social aristocracy, exercises an undue influence in college politics, fosters a truckling and cowering disposition among the lower classes, alienates the affections of the graduates from the college, and stifles the full expression of college sentiment by its control of the college press.

Resolved, That we believe this system detrimental to the best interest of Yale College and injurious to ourselves. That we request the college press to publish this resolution of the senior class. That the chairman and two others, to be appointed by him, be a committee of three to lay this resolution before the president, faculty, and members of the corporation.

“It was expected,” the New York Times reported, “that the moment the matter was brought up . . . the ‘Bones’ and ‘Keys’ men would rise from their seats and leave the hall. The society men remained . . . although taking little or no part in the discussion.” Debate ensued, but in conformity with the general policy of suppressing senior society news, neither the college newspaper nor the Yale Courant published any record of the actual arguments. The Yale News did, however, make clear the expected result: “The supporters of this motion had made an active canvass of the class in its behalf, and entered the meeting confident of their ability to put it through.”

The spirited debate that ensued, lasting almost two hours, was recorded in the New Haven dailies and even New York City newspapers. Edwin Merritt, called by one of the local dailies “that combination of Hercules and Apollo who presides over the [Yale] navy,” demanded that the mover “should make known to the meeting his reasons for supporting it”; Speer did so, and Merritt responded at length. While he thought discussion useless, as “every man present had made up his mind how to vote,” he argued that the resolution was “a very childish thing,” because its adoption could not overthrow the two senior societies, which were “too firmly established” and “favored” by the faculty. Merritt then contended that the action was instigated by “that class of collegians who are known as soreheads—otherwise men who got left out of the spring election,” and the class, “pretty thoroughly acquainted with each other . . . knew who those soreheads were.” Nevertheless, he invited further opinions on both sides. His opponents then derisively “shouted out their recollections of last spring when Mr. Merritt was one of the most conspicuous in the class to fail on an election and displayed lacerated feelings.”

Another neutral then spoke for the resolution, saying it was not an attack upon any society’s members, but only on a system which should be abolished. George Judson supported Merritt’s stand against the motion, observing with light irony that he had always gotten “a very warm reception from” the societies, having been “thrown down stairs.” Another of Speer’s party advanced the argument, in remarks that were reportedly “much applauded,” that he would not like to come back to class reunions and see the society men “going about the campus with their coats open to show their pins,” since he thought he “could open his coat as well as a society man.” Robert Lyman, editor of the Yale News, then moved to lay the question on the table, seeking to end debate and compel a vote, and his motion passed by a majority—until the chair was forcefully reminded that, in standard parliamentary procedure, a two-thirds vote was required to carry Lyman’s motion, after which “much time was spent in deciding how the vote on the resolutions should be taken.”

The beleaguered chairman concluded that the motion to table was lost, after which his ruling was again appealed. “Much squabbling”—a New Haven newspaper characterization—finally produced a consensus in favor of a roll call vote (this, as the New York Times pointed out, was a victory for the society men, “as many who in secret ballot would have voted for the resolution did not dare to do so openly”). Spencer then ruled again, according to the Yale News, that each “voter on his name being called could answer from his seat, could whisper his vote in the ear of the chairman, or could deposit a ballot in the hat at the desk. The vote resulted in the defeat of the resolution by 67 to 50.” Said Speer, as he headed for his noontime recitation, “Well, we had a little fun out of it anyway.”6

The true drama here is belied by the unadorned statement of the tally, and requires an appreciation of the size of the class of 1884, to be 151 men at commencement, of which some 140 attended this class meeting. Yet only 117 votes were tallied. 117 plus 30, the total of the senior society membership, equals 147. One might speculate that either no member of Bones or Keys was at the meeting, or, being present, they were too proud to vote. Contemporary newspaper testimony is to the contrary: “Before going to the meeting a majority of the class had pledged themselves to support it, but when they came to the vote, they weakened, and either went over to the opposition or did not vote at all. The members of Bones or Keys had little or nothing to say in the meeting, with the exception of voting most emphatically against the resolution.” Moreover, the members of Bones and Keys were not passive before the vote: one classmate, who joined in the defeat of Speer’s resolution, was to record later: “I remember the meeting . . . very well. On this occasion the two societies requested our assistance.”7

The collective membership of Bones and Keys in the class of 1884 included several men of power and prominence on the campus, in all walks of collegiate life. Even without the contemporary newspaper evidence, it could reasonably be assumed that they were all present at a class meeting so fundamental to their organizations’ future existence, and the vaunted Yale democracy meant all should vote. The Bones club that year included the class valedictorian and salutatorian; journalists from the Lit. and Amos Parker Wilder (playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder’s father), editor of both the Yale Record and Yale Courant; athletes (the president of the Yale Athletic Association and Ray Tompkins, football captain from 1882 to 1884); a class deacon; and a future dean of Yale College, Frederick Jones. The Keys crowd was equally distinguished, boasting the DeForest Medal winner, the Glee Club president, editors of the Record and the Courant, the president of the Yale Tennis Club, and the winner of the first Junior Exhibition Premium.

Nevertheless, the outcome of the February 1884 senior class vote, a pleasant surprise and vast relief to the members of Bones and Keys, was not due in the end to either their powers of persuasion or to the merits of their case. Perhaps unknown to Speer and his neutral allies, but if known certainly not sufficiently appreciated, a new element had been introduced into the electoral equation. Back in June of 1883, eight months before this class vote and hidden from Yale College and the world at large, a third senior society was founded, later to be called “Wolf’s Head.” Among its self-chosen first club were Edwin Merritt, the class meeting’s primary challenger of Speer in the debate, as well as three members of the newly elected Promenade Committee of nine, four members of the five-man Class Supper Committee, and all three members of the Class Cup Committee (including Merritt). In other words, over a third of the men elected to class committees that day—apparently popular men on whose “yeas” Speer was counting to take down the two senior societies once and for all—had secretly and previously founded a third senior society, on the model of Bones and Keys. In the words of the New York Evening Post, “the members of the third senior society were the principal fighting forces of the opposition.”8

A shift of fifteen, the number of new members of Wolf’s Head, would have reversed the tallies of “yeas” and “nays,” making it 65 to 52 in favor of the proponents of the resolution to lay “before the president, faculty and members of the corporation” the senior class’s pronounced resolve to end the senior society system. Instead, that vexed system had been saved, in large part, by the quiet, if not completely secret, creation of a new senior society.


For all his formidable skills as a student politician, William Speer seems to have discounted the existence of a new campus group, which by the time of the February 1884 class meeting was known familiarly as the “Fox and Grapes,” for the Aesopian fable of jealousy that was said to have motivated its founding. The New Haven Daily Palladium had reported seven months before, on July 31, 1883: “A new secret society is to be formed in Yale College which will be a rival of the far famed Skull and Bones and the Scroll and Key. It is rumored that a building devoted to the new society will be erected on Prospect Street, and the society has been incorporated under the laws of the State. The plan is to elect fifteen men from the junior class and to make the society less secret than heretofore. One young man a member of the class of ’84 has contributed $500 for the purpose, and two or three neutrals of recent classes will be elected in order to give prestige to the society.”9

Edwin Merritt, Speer’s primary antagonist, was identified in the city newspaper reports of the February 1884 meeting (although not of course in the Yale News) as the founder of “the recently incubated ‘Fox and Grapes’ society, composed of young men to whose aspirations ‘Bones’ and ‘Keys’ had given the cold shoulder.” Of these, William Bristow, Charles Phelps, and Henry Walker were by that class meeting elected to the Promenade Committee, James Dawson and Henry Wagner to the Class Supper Committee, and Edwin Merritt and Henry Cromwell to the Class Cup Committee. Whether or not Speer knew these men to be members of a new senior society—and it is hard to believe, given the months-earlier dates of city newspaper stories mentioning them as probable members of this new society, that he did not know at least of the group’s existence and size—it is hard to escape the conclusion that he hoped for their votes because of remembrance of their collective affront on the last tap day. “Speer counted on the votes of the Wolf’s Head members,” Lafayette Gleason was to recall, “as we were supposed to be in opposition to the two societies, but for obvious reasons . . . he did not get those votes.”10 And since, even if there were now forty-five senior society members, they were still only a third of the class, Speer probably also believed he could nevertheless prevail in the class vote, with a solid block of the pledged neutrals. This block, on the day, melted away, and the members of “Fox and Grapes” were not, eight months into their existence, about to dissolve themselves.

Fox and Grapes, of course, was not its self-chosen name (any more than “Skull and Bones” had been for that society). Its first, red leather minute book, containing the history of the society through 1891, is titled simply “Minutes of the Society—Third Senior Society of Yale College.” This itself is the recopied version of the original minutes, and contains almost nothing about the weeks between Tap Day of 1883, when Merritt’s chagrin at being passed over was transformed into his efforts to found a new society, and the night before commencement day, except a short note reciting for that evening the formalities of “the first regular meeting” to elect officers and honorary members.11

The new society was conceived on or about June 5, 1883, when five men from the class of 1884 were sitting in Gus Williams’s rooms in 202 Durfee Hall, located on the first floor of the entry next to Battell Chapel. They engaged in discussion which ended in their pledging themselves “to become members of a third [senior society] organization if a sufficient number could be prevailed upon to join” (a caution anticipating the “sour grapes” attack which Merritt was indeed to suffer at the class meeting seven months later). It cannot be determined precisely which of the sixteen collegians later identified as Wolf’s Head founders were present, but the original five are hazarded by the society’s historian to have been Williams, Hopkins (credited with making the suggestion of founding), Cromwell, Dawson, and Holliday.12

Unlike the birthing of Scroll and Key in a similar mood and season four decades before, rivalry between the junior fraternities was not an issue. At this date, Psi Upsilon and Delta Kappa Epsilon took in about a hundred men, or two-thirds of the class. The literary exercises at their weekly Tuesday night meetings were nonexistent, according to one member: “We always had a milk-can full of lemonade and quite frequently would take a keg of beer and sandwiches, and they occupied the entire evening.” At initiations, there was “rather too much champagne,” wrote another, “each man being given his own pint bottle” at Psi U. Their influence was at a very low ebb, and their vaunted secrecy a farce: “It was not infrequent for DKE men to be smuggled into Psi U and for the Psi U men to be smuggled into DKE.”13 Cromwell, Dawson, and Williams were all members of DKE, while Holliday and Hopkins were brothers in Psi U (and in the final fifteen, ten were DKE and five Psi U).

Rather, it seems to have been membership in the class eating clubs which was the primary bonding agent. (Moriarty’s Temple Bar at this date—today’s Mory’s—served only four eatables: eggs on toast, welsh rarebit, golden buck, and sardines which were grilled and served on toast; its proprietor, the Englishwoman Mrs. Moriarty, served no beer and little else than English ale.) The college commons had been made voluntary in 1839, then closed completely in 1842, and for the next ninety years the students made their own arrangements.14 In gatherings of eight to a dozen, they moved between establishments, “whenever the soup got too thin at any one place,” and formed strong friendships in these small groups (the history of the class of 1883, compiled fifty years later, contains one photograph of a senior society delegation, and four pictures of its eating clubs). Harry Worcester, one of the Wolf’s Head founders, was to remember: “The eating clubs of our class of 1884, four in number, controlled, as a rule, the politics, such as there were, of our class.”15

Worcester’s eating club, dining during their junior and senior years at the University Club on Chapel Street for $5 to $6 per week, included in addition to himself Wolf’s Head founders Holliday, Hopkins, Pratt, Wagner, and Walker, as well as Bones member Ray Tompkins and future Keys men Julius Doolittle and William Taylor. Frank Bowen and William Bristow met in a dining club formed by Bristow and joined by ten others (including four to become members of Bones, one being William Maxwell Evarts’s second son, Maxwell, and a man who joined Keys), which stayed together for four years, ending at Mrs. Alexander’s establishment, where they paid “the highest board in town, twelve dollars a week,” until graduation.16 Thus, half of the founders of Wolf’s Head, eight men, were members of just two eating clubs.

A second tie binding many of them was thespian ambition: the dramatically talented Cromwell, Dawson, Hopkins, Merritt, Phelps, Pratt, and Williams were all featured in DKE’s productions of Lend Me Five Shillings and The Emperor’s Diamond, and Walker played the principal villain in Psi U’s productions of Othello and The Grave; The Groan; The Gallows. “In D.K.E., Jimmy Dawson always took the part of a woman, and a very good looking woman he was.”17 A third bond was rowing: Merritt was president of the Dunham Boat Club as well as of the Yale Navy, while he and Sidney Hopkins rowed in their class crew in freshman year, and Charles Beck rowed with Merritt on the senior class crew.18

In the half century since the founding of Skull and Bones in 1832, the senior class’s size had increased substantially from the 87 graduating in Bones founder William Huntington Russell’s class. In its junior year, the class of 1882 numbered 132, over half again the number in 1832, while the class of 1883 numbered 165 in junior year, and the class of 1884, 164. The college physical plant had been expanded to accommodate the surge, and reimagined as a large, hollow quadrangle with buildings on all sides of what became known as the Old Campus. Farnam Hall was built in 1870 and Durfee Hall in 1871, at the corner of College and Elm Streets, both four-story structures based on the same time-honored entryway system used in Connecticut Hall six generations before.19 When it opened, Durfee, with room for forty students, was claimed by the college seniors as their own, for it was equipped with fireplaces which Farnam lacked, and the annual ritual of society elections now took place before its jaunty corner collonettes and tourelles and the multiple tall chimneys for those fireplaces. (Another innovation was a mixed blessing: the Old Brick Row had no indoor toilet facilities, but the new toilets in the basement of Durfee, while welcome, were bare vitrified tiles, providing miserable seating in wintertime. The undergraduates then provided their own private and transportable wooden supports, carried by their owners about the campus and even into morning chapel, until the scandal compelled the authorities to supply permanent and official seats.20)

So, a significantly larger number of talented and popular men were competing for the same thirty senior society openings which had been available for four decades past, and the number of disappointments was proportionally greater. Adding to this building pressure was the appearance of a new campus publication, the Horoscope.

Before the publication was founded, there was a palpable sense within the college class that certain of its members were undoubtedly deserving of a senior society election, in reflection of the perceived respective membership standards of Bones and Keys. The Yale Courant complained of unjust omissions in the elections for 1874 and 1875, and the editorial board in the spring of 1876 made clear why: “Justly or unjustly, society men are considered the best representatives of each Senior class, leaders in ability or popularity, and the present Junior class is to be congratulated on the election of men, who in most cases represent so fairly the best part of the class. In some cases, mere wealth or ‘suping’ [supplicating senior society men] may have been the causes of success, but in general, literary or social prominence have been the apparent grounds of selection.”21

Annual lists in the Yale News of prospective members, beginning as early as its sixth issue in 1879, were soon replaced by something much more elaborate. Named for its claimed forecasting qualities for Tap Day results, the Horoscope had first appeared on May 23, 1881, announcing itself to be issued annually, featuring no masthead of editors, but adorned with a motto beneath its title: “The particulars of future beings needs be dark.” Its self-declared purpose was, at the season “when the magnates of High and College Streets will, in high conclave, choose their successors,” to “relieve the dread suspense which convulses the candidates and college at large at this eventful period” by issuing their four-sheet publication, “which gives as nearly as possible a fair statement of the chances of each probable man.” The unknown editors claimed to be advised by a faculty committee, “consisting of two eminent Professors, one from each temple,” and slyly called them “chargeable [for] all ‘gags’ and ‘grinds’ which have been inserted.”

The first issue set the pattern for annual appearances that were to follow (with the exception of the years 1882 and 1893–97) through May 1907, briefly describing twenty or so candidates for each of the two senior societies (and, beginning in 1886, for Wolf’s Head), coolly evaluating their respective individual merits and defects against the perceived election standards of those societies, and even suggesting names of some alternates who might surprise. It could also be wounding: in Richard Holbrook’s novel of 1911 about the class of 1895, Boys and Men: A Story of Life at Yale, the “pamphlet called the Horoscope,” appearing “about the second week in May,” consisted “chiefly of a mass of vilification, divided up into brief biographies of all of those who had a chance of elections,” and deeply wounded a character in the book by “hinting subtly that Jack’s father was a robber baron, and that his mother had been a domestic servant.”

The Horoscope’s sensitivity to the qualities of leadership and popularity was remarkably sure. Of its nineteen nominations for the Bones delegation of 1882, fourteen were elected, including the president of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the chair of the Promenade Committee, two editors of the Lit. (including the chairman), the man holding “the ‘Bones’ editorship of the Record,” and the “Custos” (Latin for “guard”) of DKE. Their list’s biggest error, describing a man who was not tapped, speaks volumes about campus perceptions regarding the oldest society’s standards: “CHAS. BIGELOW STORRS, New York City. This man has probably more to take him to the mystic temple than any man in his class. He has rowed on the crew two years, played foot-ball two years, has caught on the class nine, and rowed on his class crew. Besides these qualifications, he has taken the first composition prize both times, and has crowned his efforts in this line by dividing the Junior Ex. Prize. His only failing is his unpopularity, which will not, however, be sufficient to disqualify him, and he may be reckoned a sure man.”

For the Keys delegation for 1882, the Horoscope’s prognostications, this year at least, were wildly off, successfully forecasting only one of the seventeen possible candidates, William Elder Bailey, “a man [who] has the ‘Keys’ qualifications, being a nice fellow, and possessed of considerable wealth.” The others named were passed over, including one whose “strong points are his wit, universal popularity, the Courant editorship, and his high stand (philosophical), a point which will make him an especial prize for ‘Keys’”; another, the class deacon, who “will probably restrain the somewhat loose morals of the wearers of the Golden Key;” a third who “holds the ‘Keys’ editorship of the Record”; and a fourth, editor-in-chief of the Yale News, who “will probably represent ‘Keys’ on that paper next year.” The fifteenth Bones man tapped for the delegation of 1882, Enoch Wilbur McBride, “very popular, [and] a success in New Haven society,” was on the Horoscope’s list for Keys.

The Horoscope’s second annual issue, archly labeled Vol. III, No. 22 (thus, “322,” Bones’s iconic number), dated May 1883, called itself the “only febrifuge” that could cool the “feverish excitement hovering over the college,” and opened with a scene-setting sentence: “One hundred fifty-seven juniors have had their new spring suits padded on the right shoulder in anticipation of the parts they all hope to play in the great moral show; thirty seniors have been rehearsing the keep-your-face-straight, shoulder-tapping act, and the rest of the college listlessly wonders if the usual number of nobodies are to occupy ancestral seats in the conclaves of the great ‘poppy-cock’ generators of this institution.” This annual issue’s special value lies in its descriptions of college expectations for the next Tap Day that was to result, from its disappointments, in the founding of Wolf’s Head.

Treating “C.S.P.” first in succession, the Horoscope’s writers identified twenty-four candidates for Keys, of whom twelve were elected, including the incoming president of the Glee Club, the winner of the Junior Exhibition speaking competition, the president of the News board and chairman of the DKE convention delegation, a scion of Chicago’s meatpacking Armour clan (noting that his “income will make it possible for him to repay in a substantial manner the debt of gratitude he will shoulder for being made celebrated for life”), the financial editor of the News and captain of the lacrosse team, the financial editor of the Record, an editor of the Courant, and the “holder of the ‘Keys’ literary editorship of the Record.” Passed over on the day, but also on the Horoscope’s list for Keys, were Horace Hand, “Budd” Hopkins, Charlie Walker, Oliver McKee, William Bristow, and Henry Cromwell (younger brother of a Keys man of 1883)—all six to be founders of Wolf’s Head just a few weeks later.

For “322,” the Horoscope’s analysis for the class of 1884 held, “‘Bones’ likes to have a goodly leaven of men in influential standing in its motley, mosaic crowd,” elsewhere styled an “oil-and-water mixture,” and said of one candidate (unsuccessful in the end) that “it would be his office to teach the Lit. men and high-stand men of his society that beef is rewarded by ‘Bones’ as well as brains.” Naming twenty-four, the Horoscope was correct about thirteen of these nominees, including the future class valedictorian, a Courant editor (later to father the writer Thornton Wilder), the “Custos” of DKE, the class’s most prominent athlete (Ray Tompkins, a member of the crew and baseball teams and captain of the football team, “beef through and through”), the chair of the Promenade Committee, the president of the Athletic Association, the son and brother of Bonesmen (Maxwell Evarts), and “the ‘Bones’ big gun” on the Lit. board. Passed over, but on the Horoscope list for Bones, were Albert Pratt, “quite a well-liked man, [who] might well be taken in to represent the popular element in ‘Bones’”; James Dawson and Henry Worcester, who both had “family claims to the consideration of the devotees of the death emblem”; and Edwin Merritt, president of the Dunham Boat Club and the Yale Navy—four more future founders of Wolf’s Head.22

So, of the five men thought to have been in Gus Williams’s room in Durfee on June 5, 1883, three (Cromwell, Dawson, and Hopkins) had been severely disappointed after being named in the Horoscope’s forecast, and the others too no doubt had keen regrets, and thus (in Hopkins’s words) “They drifted to the question of starting a new society on a totally different basis from the other two. They pledged themselves to become members of a third organization if a sufficient number could be prevailed upon to join. They had in mind the several abortive attempts made by other classes before them to form an opposition society but never before had a proposition to start one on a common sense basis been broached.” (emphasis in original).23

The “several abortive attempts” to which Hopkins made reference were those of Star and Dart, Sword and Crown, Spade and Grave, and E.T.L., newly remembered for the Yale College generations of the past dozen years by Lyman Bagg’s Four Years at Yale of 1871, which had become part of the self-conscious senior society literature passed down through the classes. The founders of Wolf’s Head were determined to foreswear the hostility evidenced in Bagg’s detailed description of the badge of Star and Dart, with the eagle of Keys stabbing its beak at the skull and bones at its feet, while the dart was poised to destroy the eagle.

Members of the class of 1884, reprising the initial experience of Tap Day humiliation suffered by those passed over for 1883, then with “common sense” began to add new members to the core from Williams’s room. William Bristow recruited Frank Bowen and Charles Phelps to join the original five, and, through a series of more meetings, more emissaries, and more elections, Harry Worcester, Albert Pratt, and roommates Charles Walker and Harry Wagner, who agreed on condition of including Ed Merritt, were also asked to join. For some time, exemplifying Hopkins’s fear of falling short of the canonical number fifteen, there were only these thirteen, until they took in Oliver McKee and Charles Beck, an ’83 man who had been dropped to ’84, to complete the fifteen.24

The new group’s aim of “total elimination of objectional features” of the older senior societies was explicit, as recounted by Franklin Bowen’s brother Clarence in the society’s “History and Policy”: “First, [the Founders] believed that the Society should be established because there was room for it and should not be formed as a rival of or in hostility to existing institutions of the same sort. Second, the Founders professed a loyalty to and love for Yale College and believed that they could benefit the College if they could succeed in founding a Society that would avoid the evils connected with the older societies.”25 Still, while these principles were clear, the centripetal forces against poppycock which favored an open club were in contention with those centrifugal pressures of tradition and prestige tending toward creating yet another classic senior society.

As the Bones undergraduates had first approached Professor Thomas Thacher in seeking permission to build a tomb, so the Wolf’s Head progenitors sought the preliminary blessing of President Noah Porter and the faculty to their formation. Having received that, they then turned literally to their elders, in particular Gus Hopkins to his father, Sidney Wright Hopkins Sr., a businessman in New York City, and Charles Phelps to his father, Edward John Phelps, Kent Professor of Law at Yale. An old-time Vermont Democrat, Phelps had served as the second comptroller of the United States Treasury (under President Fillmore) at the age of twenty-nine, had come to Yale only in 1881, and was already a great favorite with the senior classes, lecturing on constitutional law and international relations. As president of the American Bar Association he brought distinction to the university. When he died in 1909, his pallbearers were eight seniors from Wolf’s Head.26

Their third mentor was Professor Arthur Wheeler, class of 1857, professor of History from 1865, and supervisor for the college of the construction of Durfee Hall. Professor Phelps drew up the Articles of Association and induced Professor Wheeler—a member of A.D. as a student, then a Yale College tutor before graduate work at the College de France and the Universities of Berlin and Bonn, “the type of teacher who interlarded his history recitations with discussions of the athletic situation in the College and could slyly inform his class that he had sent to Germany for textbooks, to which no cribs are published”—to be the link between the young society and the Yale faculty, on which he served until 1911.27

It had been naively hoped that the senior Hopkins would be the boys’ financial angel to fund the erection of a proper hall, the second requisite of a senior society (the first being the ability to attract fifteen members). With the stone houses of Bones and Keys prominently situated on High and Prospect Streets, respectively, this construction was seen as vital to the Third Society’s survival as an undergraduate institution, and notably something its vanished predecessors had never possessed. When young Hopkins’s father’s attendance at meetings resulted in nothing substantial for achievement of this goal, the current delegation decided they must create as well, or rather before, an instant graduate membership, “chosen for ability and prominence and, to speak frankly, financial standing.” Frank Bowen solicited contributions from his brothers John (class of 1881) and Clarence (class of 1873, and by this date a decade later the business manager and eventual publisher of the New York Independent), and Clarence Bowen then persuaded his friend W. E. Stokes (class of 1874) to join the fund-raising effort which was to result in the construction of the first Wolf’s Head hall.

Clarence Bowen was thus offered honorary membership in June of 1883 and, enthusiastic about the new society’s avowed principles, arranged for the purchase of land on Prospect Street (although not the portion comprised of the corner lot and frontage on Trumbull Street later acquired). The senior Hopkins then contributed $1,500, Cromwell $1,000, and Bristow $500, with the aim of promptly building a hall ready for occupancy when the seniors returned to campus in the fall of 1884.28 With its initial senior class membership secured and its hall’s foundation commenced, the battle for the society’s future direction was begun.

The majority of the founders were not sure they wanted a classic secret society. They frowned upon the traditional Tap Day ceremonies, considered “the flaunting of the pin on the neckties . . . something of an affront to other members of the class” and so were resolved not to do it, refused to countenance “secrecy in talking with . . . classmates about Senior societies,” and intended to admit general visitors to their new building; only Frank Bowen among the undergraduates was then convinced that a classic senior society was the appropriate goal. Still, on the night before commencement, June 24, the newly gathered club held its first regular meeting in Hopkins’s room in Durfee, electing him as president, appointing committees, naming Professor Wheeler and the two older Bowen brothers and a few other graduates as honorary members, and applauding the news that five to six thousand dollars had been pledged in subscriptions. The following day, the Articles of Association were duly executed, and on the next Sunday, in the Bowen family home in Brooklyn Heights, New York, John Bowen composed the words of the Wolf’s Head anthem. The new senior society members then departed for their summer break, leaving the organization’s affairs in the hands of Professor Wheeler.

Hopkins Senior was acquainted with the prestigious New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, which was engaged to furnish plans. Clarence Bowen and William E. D. Stokes, an honorary member from the class of 1874, purchased a corner lot at the intersection of Trumbull and Prospect Streets, for the improvement of which the architects drew new plans, using stone instead of brick. Here, the battle over whether the new society should be “open” or “secret” came into full flower, with Professor Wheeler favoring the first option, and the property purchasers the second. The matter was settled, at least with respect to the hall’s design, after a summer’s worth of discussions through meeting and letters, with a compromise on “a building with slits for windows,” which of course was indeed a change from the Yale campus’s windowless tombs of Psi U, DKE, Skull and Bones, and Scroll and Key. This allowed a groundbreaking, when the members were back for their senior year, on October 26, 1883: Professor Wheeler walked about the lot in the drizzling rain, supervising “a couple of horses and a plow breaking the ground up for the first foundation.”

Meanwhile their meetings, regular and special, were held wherever they could arrange or were welcome. The tavern The Quiet House was favored, but they also gathered at 22 Insurance Building, then at the hall of Gamma Nu (paying $2.25 a week for a month), then in Kellogg’s room, and finally Pratt’s room, 221 Durfee, just across the hall from 202 where the founders’ meeting had been held the prior June—a convenience as eight of them resided in Durfee. These meetings were “business meetings,” deciding upon the terms of a constitution, and determining that attendance of all members was mandatory, on pain of a $10.00 fine for absence; debates were not then part of the program, but on the validity of excuses for absence.

It was decided by motion on February 7, 1884, that their membership number would be the presently settled fifteen, even though this appeared to be a slavish imitation of the older societies, and thus a policy ostensibly opposed by all the founders. While this policy was never to be repealed, the fear that they might not (as with Spade and Grave, or Scroll and Key in its early years) be able to secure even that number led to the addition of the qualifying constitutional clause “but may be anything under this.”29

The customary headwinds confronted by new senior societies at Yale—difficulties in raising funds and in gathering new members to an untried, if not completely unknown, society—were now encountered. To hasten the fund-raising, it was voted that “the committee on Graduate and Honorary elections be empowered to solicit and receive subscriptions from Graduate and Honorary members,” and that “the committee be empowered to offer an Honorary election to any graduate who would be likely to accept.” Eighteen honorary members from the classes of 1869 through 1882 were elected in the first half of December (including Maxwell Evarts’s eldest son Allen, not chosen by Bones prior to his father’s speech in 1873 which deplored the effects of the senior societies on the ancient literary societies), but petty setbacks soon mounted, following the rebuff from three classmates who turned them down: one week they failed to secure a meeting site, and the letter to the class of 1883 members, reminding them of their subscription obligations, brought in no money. As for the new hall, the foundations at Christmas were at sidewalk level, when work stopped due to lack of funds. In this atmosphere, it was a brave group of “Third Senior Society” members who nevertheless voted at the senior class meeting on February 1 against the motion to abolish the senior society system, signifying continuing hope in their enterprise.

Although the society system (barely) escaped class censure at that meeting, John Addison Porter, one of the founders of Keys, was then working to mount a major public counterattack on the system’s critics, responding to Bascom, Aiken, and all who had written articles deploring it, to be published in the New Englander in May 1884 as “The Senior Society System in Yale College.” Porter contacted the struggling club and offered to insert a description of the “Third Senior Society” in his piece, in order that it should make its first appearance in the national press fully equipped with a name and symbol. It was moved and seconded that “Mr. Wagner be empowered to inform Mr. Porter that in a few weeks the Society would give him some definite instructions concerning the Society.”30


The vote at the senior class meeting on February 1, failing in its call for the abolition of the senior societies, did not end the national debate. The Critic and Good Literature, a New York City weekly journal, published an article in March 1884 titled “Senior Societies in College,” which was not especially hostile. “Nobody believes that the secrecy hides disgraceful acts, and most liberal persons will agree that the friendships formed by such close and mystic intimacies are warm and useful in after-life. What could be more innocent than two or three clubs of fifteen members selected, as far as can be, from the best men of each class, after the class has undergone the trial of three years’ comradeship?” But the societies’ demerits, according to the author, were still patent: the exclusivity to the senior class heightened the social struggle which election represented, and they fostered “the wretched little politics among the undergraduates” which was damaging to the college fabric. “Why not open the senior societies to the juniors and sophomores, enlarge them, liberalise them, make them more like clubs and less like leagues of romantic boys?”31

Scroll and Key—for so the letter to the editor of the Critic, published two weeks later in response, was signed, although the sender noted its origin as Washington, D.C.—begged to differ on certain points. Yale was not, as charged, the college “most infested by secret societies.” Yale had only four (counting the unnamed fraternities Psi Upsilon and Delta Kappa Epsilon) with a combined membership of 115 men, whereas many eastern colleges, such as Wesleyan, exemplified institutions where nearly all collegians were members. As for “string-pulling” in college elections, that sort of politicking existed in all colleges, with or without societies, and the cart and horse were also reversed: the “belief that two small societies, of fifteen men each, chosen when almost all of the ‘offices’ and ‘honors’ of the course have already been distributed can create ‘politics’ which shall involve and injure a body of six hundred and fifteen intelligent and frank young American gentlemen one jot beyond their free will, will not be seriously entertained except by pessimists or those who have been misinformed as to the facts in the case.”32

The correspondent argued that it was impractical to expand the senior societies beyond their present size, if they were to be at all effective and remain attractive—and the first national allusion to the “Third Senior Society” in this letter, as well as its Washington origination, suggest strongly that its author was journalist John Addison Porter, an 1878 graduate, editor of the Record and Pot-Pourri, and member of Keys, then living in the District of Columbia serving as secretary to his uncle, Congressman William Walter Phelps (Bones 1860), and ultimately to be the first person to hold the position of “secretary to the president,” under President McKinley.33

Here, he redeemed his promise to the “Third Senior Society” to mention their enterprise and their hall. “In [the] two [junior class] societies it is proved, year after year, that a body of forty or fifty men cannot, by an expenditure of pains or money, be so conducted as to benefit all of its members in a positive way, intellectually, morally and socially, as is easily effected annually by the Senior societies from much the same material, simply because of the smaller number of men associated together. The recent advent of a new Senior society at Yale, choosing exactly the same number of members as the old societies and improving on their history by springing into existence full-armed, like Minerva (i.e., with a commodious club house), would seem to demonstrate both the demand and the supply for more of this species of culture and enjoyment, and that their legitimate attainment lies in this direction rather than a war of words.”

Nevertheless, even then Porter was continuing the war of words, finishing up for the May 1884 New Englander his lengthy response to Aiken and other critics, “The Senior Society System of Yale College.” He briefly recounted the history of the class society system in New Haven, defending their rapid and multiple foundings (nine in all classes begun within fifteen years from 1832) as responses to the barren nature of the curriculum, with no “optional studies” (electives); the decline (“transition” was his word) of the ancient literary societies; the lack of other absorbing college activities; and the discomforts of the dormitories. “The tendency, therefore, for men of congenial tastes and similar habits to form themselves into small groups for wider and more positive culture, than they could otherwise obtain in the Yale College of those days, and, also, for the cementing of innocent friendships, was both natural and altogether praiseworthy,” and their development within class lines “altogether in accord with the traditions and character of the College.”

Once the institution was invented, the climax of the system in senior year was almost preordained. “The Senior societies became the necessary and logical climax to the others, recognizing friendships which had been formed, perhaps in Freshman year, appreciating the sociability displayed in the Sophomore societies, looking critically though justly at the literary work of Junior years, seeking to mingle in fair proportion in their membership all of these elements without slighting any one of them. So that viewed from the vantage-ground of historical knowledge this same system, which has often been called ‘hopelessly confused and purposeless,’ is seen to be at once simpler and fairer to all conditions of men, and likely to prove more lasting than those in vogue at any other colleges.”

He defended the senior societies against the charge that they somehow muzzled the college press. “Only a half dozen of the two score or more of editors [of the non–Yale Lit. college press proper] appointed annually are chosen as society representatives, and then never until they have won their position by fair competition and long apprenticeship as contributors. . . . The society men have never striven to establish an organ of their own. . . . The society men differ among themselves, and to preserve a constant equilibrium between the three or more factions [those competing society members, the society abolitionists, and those interested in more general college news], if general society discussions were allowed to overload the columns of college news-papers—as was the case a few years ago, much to everybody’s disgust—would be simply an impossibility.”

Expense of membership was not an issue: “No men, however bitter, have boasted that they were left out of the societies simply on this score. In both societies [Bones and Keys] almost every year are found students of very little financial means.” Nor were they literary society killers, as often averred—“A long list of new attractions claimed the undergraduates’ attention and time; enlargement of the curriculum so as to include optional studies; athletics; development of the college press; increased ease in dormitory life, etc.”—and in 1878, the revival of Linonia and Brothers had been supported by both the senior and junior societies, but their programs were found to be “useless for present needs,” and the scheme failed. Porter cited Bagg’s 1871 Four Years at Yale to refute the notion that politics were the senior societies’ necessary result or object (“The part played by them in politics is simply a negative one.”). Indeed, logically, the derided “etiquette” which prevented members from discussing society matters with outsiders was directly opposed to the practice of political wire-pulling, although Porter admitted that when “perverted into rudeness to strangers, or swaggering with under-classmen, it is puerile and snobbish.” But comparing the conduct of Yale’s college generations, it was also evident “that unnecessary display is on the decline.”

The accusations of favoritism or nepotism in elections, he maintained, were actually belied by a review of those passed over, and this was a necessary result, indeed, if the societies were to continue to exist in their present form. “Year after year the nearest relatives, sons, brothers, nephews, the most cordial friends and room-mates, are left out of both Senior Societies simply because they fall below the required standard for membership. Of course the societies are urged strongly to take them, and of course they wish to do so—but their reputation and prosperity are dependent upon their impartiality in bestowing their honors. . . . More than their selectness, their age, their etiquette, or all of these combined, has the independence of the Senior Societies upheld their prestige. Should they lower their requirements but for a few years, they would be left . . . to die simply of neglect.”

And if the senior societies were evilly intended or conducted, if their principles proved to new members after election to be hypocritical or mendacious, why was the repudiation of simple resignation not a common one? “How many resignations have there been from Yale Senior societies, with their combined total of ninety-four years and membership of over fourteen hundred men? Just one on public record, so far as we have been able to learn” (there is no name of that individual in his article, but perhaps he meant Edward Aiken). And if, as alleged, non-society men tended to avoid coming back to commencements and other reunions after graduation, why did Yale reunions prove in numbers and frequency to be so much more successful than Harvard or Princeton in attracting attendees? “By reason of their class intimacies, which the society system does more than any other one thing to encourage, the Yale non-society men come back to New Haven more regularly and in larger numbers than the alumni of non-society colleges. The Society men as a rule come back oftener still.”

It was futile, Porter maintained, for the societies’ opponents to think, with the organizations being state-chartered, landed institutions, with many administration and faculty members being graduate members, and no real history of serious abuse of privileges, that the senior societies might be “abolished,” the question being one “rather more of an ethical than of a practical character.” Even the collection of memorabilia and “crooking,” which of course he did not so name, had its merits, in that this society practice “serve[s] the college in a way which nothing else could serve it, by handing down its traditions by word of mouth and by sacredly preserving many of its relics, which, trifles in themselves, though rich in historical significance, would otherwise be consigned to dishonoured dust and decay.” And their members were generous: “In proportion to its size the society element has probably contributed more than any other to the financial prosperity of the college,” and he noted the creation of the “largest literary prize in the University” (not identified, but the afore-described John Addison Porter Prize, named in honor of his father) as established and sustained by a society, but not naming Scroll and Key as the benefactor, or noting that it was his own senior society.

Porter observed rhetorically that “silence has always been the policy of the societies when assailed, however unjustly, because they have realized that to do justice to their cause they would have to reveal much which, even though highly commendable in itself, rightly concerned no men excepting their members. The Societies have never yet, even with a mob at their doors, been forced to capitulate or offer explanations to their assailants, and it is extremely improbable that they will ever condescend to do so.” But his article, in a national journal known for its Yale editorship and affiliations, was in truth a full-throated response to the denigrators of the senior society system. “This bill of particulars,” he concluded in his robust defense, “is far more remarkable for what it omits than what it contains, no charges being made against the general morality, scholarship, and good behavior of members of either society for any one year or any series of years. Never have these reform movements at Yale been headed by men who were not candidates for the societies up to the very hour of election!”

Porter’s essay’s closing envisioned a hopeful future for the system, and found that hope enhanced by the creation of what was to become Wolf’s Head. “Whether the system can retain all of its usefulness now that the bottom has been knocked out of it, so to speak, by the abolition of the Freshman and Sophomore societies . . . whether the new Senior society, begun so auspiciously, is not itself the best antidote for quieting all the discontent against the old societies—are problems which time alone can solve. Expansion and improvement rather than abolition seem to be the real order of the day. The sincere hope of every loyal son of Yale, whether a society man or not, will be that the dawning era shall prove one of good feeling.”34 In this, he turned out to be correct.


The low ebb of its financial fortunes, coupled with the emotions stirred by the close vote on the continued existence of senior societies, led inevitably to a vigorous debate by the founders of the Third Society on their ultimate course and identity at their meeting on February 14, 1884. Joseph Holliday urged organizing “a definite policy if you would get any members in the under classes,” but Harry Worcester warned against that, while the society’s spirits and treasury were both so depressed, and offered a middle ground, “in preserving a moderate amount of secrecy,” and avoiding the challenge of humiliation on Tap Day by taking in “our friends . . . provided they are not underclassmen.” As Professor Wheeler had insisted on his own plan, that “the Society should be organized on the principle of the Harvard Clubs,” as a condition of his support, both Gus Hopkins and Edwin Merritt argued that the minutes of the meeting should be “expanded into a paper to be placed before Prof. Wheeler.” Countering, Frank Bowen argued that it “would be a great injury to the graduates who [have] given their money to change the policy from that of a Society to that of a club.” Clearly, the opposing camps felt that their respective interpretations of the heralded founding principle of “common sense” and “no hostility” were generally accepted by all, but the devil was in the details.

The cost of the new building was reported at the February 21 meeting to be $14,900, including $3,000 “for steel shutters,” which led to a call for the Building Committee to get “an estimate in wood” (the final cost was $18,000). While subscriptions continued to trickle in, some sort of executive action was needed, provided when it was reported at a meeting on March 6 that a graduate member of the society living in New York was offering financial assistance. This was William Stokes, of the class of 1874, who had been one of the two funders of the property purchase and now pledged an advance of $13,000 (inclusive of his $1,500 for the land), provided the society bound itself to repay the principal and interest at 6 percent over three years. All the members signed an agreement to this effect, with Professors Wheeler and Phelps also pledged to sign. In the hope for the hall’s completion by June, new attention was paid to its construction, to be described by the Horoscope as “the dainty Dutch dwelling on Prospect Street,” its Newark sandstone arriving in New Haven harbor in April.

Less immediately fruitful was the search for a name and a badge. Holladay’s “Roman Fasces” were not acceptable, nor were several designs submitted by a New York jeweler. John Bowen had written Professor Wheeler back in October, suggesting a name and a pin design, which was firmly on the “secret society” side of the internal debate, but Frank Bowen was not able to advance his brother’s proposals while the debate was unresolved. Other indicia of a society were pursued: a book for the constitution was purchased, a catalogue was proposed for the close of the year, and the choice of an “open ballot” for undergraduate elections prevailed over a “secret ballot.” In time, Egyptian names were given to new members.

The construction at 77 Prospect Street now had the full attention of Yale College—“[its] building was a College event,” wrote Lafayette Gleason of the class of 1885; “I think the whole of the College proceeded there more or less frequently.” The architectural reference was to medieval German university life, student solidarity, and Brüderschaft (brotherhood). Its crowstep gable, evoking the Hanseatic League, fronted Trumbull Street, and a corner entry made it “face” both Trumbull and Prospect on the intersection’s northeast corner.35 When completed, it measured fify-four by fifty-six feet, with two stories and a basement, The first floor contained a reception hall, a larger reception room, a dining room, and an adjoining pantry, under thirteen-foot ceilings; the second floor housed a “Conversation Room”/library, and the “Society Hall”; the basement held the kitchen, the coal furnace, the only bathroom, a kneipe (German for “tavern”), and a billiard room (the Horoscope for spring 1892 mentions the “Wolf’s Head pool table”). An article in the Buffalo Courier newspaper noted that in the building’s design, “more regard was had for architectural beauty and material comfort [than in the other societies’ tombs]. There is much more open work, and stained glass windows serve to break the monotony of the walls.” Notwithstanding this hall’s alteration to accommodate the operations of Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies—Wolf’s Head moved out in 1924, leaving for larger quarters on York Street and what became Fraternity Row—it was and is the only surviving building in New Haven by the famous New York architects McKim, Mead & White.36

The appearance of Porter’s article in the May New Englander raised to a new white heat the discussion of the merits of the society system, and Tap Day was fast approaching, where tradition demanded that elections needed to be offered in the name a a specific society, with a particular badge with which to “swing out” on Presentation Day. No longer could the differences of opinion on “open society” versus “secret society” be allowed to block action, if the new Third Society was not to be swept away in a backwash of ridicule.

Here, the society’s funding made all the difference. Harry Wagner wrote later that if the undergraduates “had been able to finance the Society, there is no doubt that that [a Porcellian type of institution] is exactly what it would have been,” but those “who were able to finance it”—those recent graduates who had previously been passed over by Bones and Keys in their day, but now had the chance to be in at the creation of a third but secret society in the classic form, with their retrospective election—“had a different idea,” and Frank Bowen’s observation that “it would be a great injury to the graduates who had given their money” (on the assurance that it would be a “secret society”) beat back the final opposition to that model. This conclusion was quickly reflected, in the May 8 meeting, in the first formal suggestion for a name, which Holliday, seconded by Phelps, proposed be “‘Kismet’ pro tempore.” The word, meaning “fortune” or “fate,” could only properly attach to an organization grounded on secrecy, but the immediate amendment to the motion was “that we adopt the name with the condition that he [Holliday] hand in a better one if possible at [a] special meeting on Sunday night.”

The debates over the name and the badge became secondary battlegrounds for “open” versus “secret.” On May 15, the name “Grey Friars” was adopted pro tempore on the motion of Harry Worcester, which would seem to indicate a swing back toward transparency in both its style and its proponent, among the firmest of those urging openness from the start. That name was confirmed on May 18, but at the same meeting was also approved the badge design exactly as previously suggested by John Bowen, a snarling wolf’s head mounted on the hieroglyph of an inverted Egyptian tau (an Egyptian ankh cross). Three further motions passed which were to cement the triumph of the “secret society” proponents. Phelps successfully urged the insertion of a clause in the constitution “that secrecy in regard to the significance of the badge be observed”; Bristow’s motion, successfully amended by Williams, was carried, that there must be a vote of at least thirteen members in order to take visitors into the society building; and Merritt prevailed in his motion that “a graduate must be of fifteen years standing before he can be taken in as a visitor.”37

The members of the Third Senior Society, still nameless to the barbarian world, were not prepared to enter the public lists of election day acted out before Durfee Hall, and the class of 1884 reverted to the old pattern of visiting men of the class of 1885 in their rooms. This drew a mock-reverential bow from the Horoscope, which in its annual forecast printed a black parallelogram, where the society’s name should normally have appeared, above the newspaper’s prognostications about future members: “We speak with reverence. Another mystic sign is sprung on us and the mysteries have added fifteen more disciples to their number. . . . As it is yet undecided as to its name we must be content to use a blank.” Still, seventeen prospects were named, and the paper got seven candidates right. (Prognostication for the Third Society’s members was difficult: as the May 1885 Horoscope noted, Wolf’s Head was “of such recent origins and the field from which to select [after eliminating the prospects for Bones and Keys], is of such small compass, that it is difficult to predict with any certainty.”) The paper was uncharacteristically milder about the older societies, noting that “they will emerge at the appointed hour and strike joy or regret into the hearts of the chosen and the ‘left.’”38

While they did not hazard public appearance on election day with its risk of open rebuff, the undergraduates of the Third Society in the class of 1884 were able to assemble fifteen members, ten elected among themselves, and these ten electing five more after meeting over two or three nights. Their names were published in the Yale News, under the headline “Elections to the New Senior Society” on May 27, four days after the newspaper’s report of those elected to Bones and Keys. On June 25, Class Day of the graduating class, all thirty members of the outgoing and incoming clubs appeared on campus with their new badges, “fully as large as a twenty dollar gold piece,” three-quarters of an inch tall and almost that wide, the first “real outward notice of the membership” of this society, wrote an initiate of 1885. Theirs was not an open club, but nor was it a classic senior society, from which “poppycock” was meant to be outlawed. The Constitution provided that “This badge shall never be worn as a scarf pin,” as the Bonesmen and Keysmen were wont to do, and in obedience to this rule, the thirty were all wearing their pins on their vests (in time, the eyes of the wolf’s head “were often made of two brightly shining diamonds”). The Horoscope took notice the following spring, concluding that “This Society . . . has started out well . . . it displays no poppycock and hence demands the respect of the College. The building is all that could be desired, equaling that of Bones for durability and excelling the hedge-enclosed structure on College Street in point of beauty.”39

The year ended with their first initiation banquet, on May 31, and Professors Phelps and Wheeler were invited. The initial Graduate Committee was elected, including Professor Wheeler and Messrs. Evarts, Hopkins, and Worcester, and plans were made for the inaugural meeting in the at-last-completed new hall. This smooth progression, bringing credit to the entire senior society system, was then rudely interrupted by another Scroll and Key “crook.”

The theft on June 18 was reported, among other places, in the New York World. “It is the custom for the graduating class to form in a procession before the last examination, and with the tallest man in the class carrying a banner, march about the campus. After the march the ’84 flag was placed in a trunk in J. M. Dawson’s room, and while the seniors were at examination yesterday, Clifford B. Allen, Henry B. Anderson and Michael Schultz [new Keysmen from the class of 1885], it is said . . . broke open the trunk and carried away the flag. The seniors . . . secured legal advice. A deputy sheriff arrived to arrest the men who belong to the Scroll and Key society, but Prof. [Alfred] Ripley [class of 1878 and assistant professor of German], an old [Keys] society man, interfered and promised that the banner would be returned by noon. . . . The return was postponed until 9 o’clock. At that hour the seniors met H. McDowell, a society man, who returned the flag, swearing on his honor that it was the original one. The seniors then demanded an apology from the kleptomaniac juniors . . . which was at first refused. Under pressure of threatened legal proceedings . . . it was announced that the society would in full session to-night take action upon the proposed apology.” The college was indignant and excited: the return of the flag was celebrated with bonfires, many built with dry-goods boxes stolen from Bolton & Neely’s store, resulting in one arrest.40

The new hall was up and roofed, although not completed within, for the commencement night dinner, following the Senior Promenade. Rain poured outside, candles provided the only illumination among the skeleton partitions, and the windows were covered with pine boards, but songs, supper, toasts, and the big working fireplace made any discomfort remote. A member of the editorial staff of the New York Tribune, Ike Bromley, gave a memorable talk. The assembly than transformed itself into the new senior society’s first annual meeting, and a subscription paper was passed around to pay off a lien of $5,000. At evening’s end, following adjournment, Frank Kellogg and Morrison Young climbed to the building’s ridgepole at 4:00 A.M. for a view from astride. The Gray Friars had survived their first year.41

Their second year as a society saw substantial further progress. The front part of the grounds were sodded, and the walk paved. House rules were drafted and adopted, among them the forbidding of billiard playing on Sundays and “the billiard balls were to be kept off the table during the business parts of the meeting.” New graduate members continued to be elected, sixteen at the October 16 meeting alone. Two constitutions were drafted, to separate the powers and functions properly allocated to the graduate and undergraduate phases of the society’s life, in an organization which had created a large graduate class at its inception, unlike its rivals. The “Corporate Constitution” of the “Third Senior Society of Yale College” established a Graduate Committee with three classes of governors, and the “Corporation” was to consist of those persons who were undergraduate members as of a certain date, and those thereafter “elected [by the undergraduates] from graduates and undergraduates of the Academical Department of Yale College.” The Graduate Committee transformed itself into a board of governors, and Allen W. Evarts, Maxwell Evarts’s eldest son, became the president.

The constitution of the undergraduates proved to be more controversial, and the minutes show five full pages of amendments which the collegians wished to have considered, but after further discussions in New Haven and New York, it was adopted. The end result represented a further victory of the “secret society” proponents over the “open club” faction. While the declaration of the original preamble of 1884 was retained (no hostility, no interference in college politics, and no unnecessary secrecy), as well as the clause forbidding the badge to “be worn as a scarf pin,” the general interpretive provisions diluted what remained of the “open club” approach. While the original language mandated that “strict secrecy shall be observed by all members . . . respecting the Constitution, the business and the management and intercourse of the Corporation,” the secrecy regarding the hall, initially limited to “the interior . . . devoted to the meetings of the Society,” was now expanded to envelop the entire building. The amendment requiring secrecy on the significance of the badge was not repeated but covered by the general mandate on secrecy of the society’s fundamental features, while the amendment on guests, permitting any person’s admission except undergraduates and members of Bones and Keys, was now changed to read that an active member must be the host, not any member as in the original.

The biggest undecided question was now decided, following the first meeting of the 1885 delegation in September 1884. “Grey Friars” (or “Greyfriars”) had never been satisfactory, although adopted pro tempore because of the necessity of a name for Tap Day. But the decision had in effect been taken away from the society, because when they “swung out” on Presentation Day in 1884, they sported, as the only visible symbol of the society, badges featuring a wolf’s head, and their classmates quickly dubbed them “Wolf’s Head men” or “Wolves.” The appearance of the Yale Banner in the first part of the college year, meant to contain all the societies’ names, members, and cuts, forced the pace, and on September 18 it was moved and seconded “that a cut of the pin be placed in ‘the Yale Banner’ without any name of Society.” Still, there was no further vote to affix a new name to the new society, and the issue hung fire many more months.

In the spring, on March 21, the long-scheduled graduate meeting occurred. Only three days before, on March 19, the appointment of the society’s advisor, Professor Edward Phelps, as American minister to the Court of St. James was announced, and the glow of that appointment warmed the meeting, as the appointment was celebrated both in New Haven and across the nation.42 On March 26, the Wolf’s Head men delivered a set of congratulatory resolutions to Phelps, recording that “The Society cannot but feel highly gratified that this honor has been bestowed upon one of its members.” The reflected glory was expected to help with the tap of the 1886 delegation, and the society held a gala dinner at Delmonico’s in New York City in May as a bon voyage party for the new minister. Fifteen new members accepted offers of election, although not publicly on Tap Day with Bones and Keys, as the founders’ disapproval of this ceremony was still being honored. They were offered membership under what became the Third Society’s fixed name: the minutes of May 21 contains an entry approving a motion that the election form given out would be “as follows: ‘Mr. ______, you have received an election to the so-called Wolf’s Head Society. Do you accept?”

The name “The Third Senior Society” had quickly been disfavored. After the “Diggers,” “E.T.L.,” “Star and Dart,” “Sword and Crown,” all the prior and deceased “third” senior societies, it had an unhappy resonance, so the adoption of its “so-called” name “Wolf’s Head” was a good resolution. Like its older brothers, however, it also needed a corporate parent, which had been created, but the laws of Connecticut had evolved further to require that the name of every corporation begin with the word “the” and end with the word “corporation,” which additions had caused the corporate name to be the cumbersome “The Third Senior Society of Yale College Corporation.”

The considered, deliberate, and periodic election of graduate members from prior classes in the eventual composition of delegations of fourteen or fifteen men for every class year back to the Civil War (with subscriptions for memberbership) distinguished Wolf’s Head from Bones and Keys. As this “peculiarity” was described by Louis Welch and Walter Camp in their 1899 book Yale: Her Campus Class-Rooms and Athletics, “not only has it filled up its membership list from year to year since its foundation, but has reached back to former classes, where often hindsight has been able to operate better than the foresight of the older societies. It affords an index of the fallibility in the way of omission, by even such carefully operating societies as those of Senior year at Yale, to note how many men of great strength and reputation Wolf’s Head has gathered into its graduate list.”43

Certainly there were examples of this: among them were Edmund Clarence Stedman, 1852, the poet and literary critic; Wayne MacVeagh, 1853, U.S. attorney general and ambassador to Italy; David J. Brewer, associate justice of the Supreme Court; Arthur Williams Wright, 1859, Yale professor of Phyics; William Woolley Johnston, 1862, U.S. Naval Academy professor of Mathematics; George Creighton Webb, 1876, the first president of the Yale Athletic Association and founder of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, having become an American diplomat to Russia; Frederick Abbot Stocks, 1879, president of the American Publisher’s Association, and his classmates Frederick Wells Williams, professor of history at Yale, and George Dutton Watrous, professor at Yale Law School; and Frank Frost Abbott, incorrectly predicted for Bones by the Horoscope, salutatorian in 1882, and professor of Classics at Princeton.44 The process was elaborate: a proposer and a seconder were required, followed by a careful investigation by an undergraduate committee, a detailed report to the Society of the Undergraduates, and a carefully considered vote. This process—investigation, report, and vote—was then repeated in the board of governors.

The college did not see this process, and the election of delegations from the classes of 1865 through 1869 was to include so many men who were members of Spade and Grave that it was sometimes thought, as reported in a Buffalo, New York, newspaper in 1890, that the younger society was the offspring of the older one. With thirty-five of the seventy-five members of the Spade and Grave delegations of those years becoming graduate members of Wolf’s Head, the confusion was understandable; but, given the demise of the Diggers, so was the desire of their graduated members to have a society experience. One wrote in, excusing his absence from an annual meeting: “Just what relation you are to the old ‘Spade and Grave’ I can’t say—a sort of Phoenix or grand-son or cousin—except that as you represent progress, you would more properly be called a ‘step-father.’”45


The two older societies continued to suffer by comparison with the more (relatively) open attitude and demeanor of their new rival. The New Haven Register in June 1886 reported that “There is none of the poppy-cock about ‘Wolf’s Head’ that is noticeable in the other societies. A young lady can with impunity converse with the members about the society, and even remark on the beauty of the badge-pin, without the wearer assuming that grieved and funereal look which invariably characterizes ‘Bones’ and ‘Keys,” men if by chance their society is mentioned.”46

Those men were still attempting to run the affairs of the college. The New Haven Journal and Courier had reported six months earlier: “Between six and seven hundred undergraduates attended the university meeting last evening, which was to voice the sentiment of the College regarding the proposed change of morning prayers. . . . The usual farce of a deciding vote was held. . . . The effect was that thirty members of the two most prominent societies, taking somewhat the character of ward-workers, succeeding in passing, against the manifest wish of the College at large, the resolutions which will result in having morning chapel at 7:30 A.M. instead of 8:10. Every motion was made by the same group of men, every vote was carried viva voce at their instigation. . . . As the matter now stands the real majority are very much dissatisfied with the organized and powerful few.”47

Here again, Wolf’s Head was different. “The antagonism of the third senior society,” another city newspaper reported five days later, “was much commented upon. . . . The fifteen members of this club voted against the will of the Keys and Bones men . . . and it is said that they didn’t propose to help the other societies to run the College to suit themselves.” Readers were reminded that “Wolf’s Head is not as far out of the world, in respect to public knowledge of its doings, as are the other two. There is a sufficient veil of secrecy drawn around its mechanism, however, to class it with the secret societies, and this gives it a stability and respectability in Yale College circles that it might not otherwise obtain.”48

The persistent attacks on the two older societies upset their graduate members, if not the undergraduates. The same issue of the New Haven Register which had lauded Wolf’s Head also reported “a persistent report that Skull and Bones, because of the attacks upon it, will take no men from the class of ’87. A Bones man has declared it quite untrue. ‘The source,’ he says, ‘is as follows: at a recent meeting of the Yale Alumni in New York, Chauncey S. Depew made a speech in which he wrung in the opposition to our society. . . . He said he didn’t care if not another man were taken in. The Society would live on just the same until its last surviving member was in his grave. That is what started the rumor.’” Depew, the president of the New York Central Railroad, had declined nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1885; at the Republican convention in 1888 he was to receive ninety-nine votes for the presidential nomination; and in 1892, he declined an appointment as secretary of state in President Benjamin Harrison’s cabinet.49 For this Bones alumnus to come into the public arena, less than two years after Keys graduate John Addison Porter’s robust defense of the Yale senior society system, evidences that the continued criticism stung.

The two Horoscopes of 1886, while blatantly profiting from the college’s fascination with society elections, did not relent. “[M]ore harm is done every year to Yale College by the senior societies than by all the other deteriorating influences put together.” But their successors for 1887, now including the Yale Illustrated Horoscope, which included drawings of the candidates (for which they paid $15.00 each to have made up for publication!) divided in opinion—although not about the manners of the Bones. The editors of the illustrated version noted that “Our views on the society system are directly antagonistic to those of our predecessor, for he maintains that it is a direct evil to the University, while we hold it is a real good, partially perverted only to an evil. The ill-mannered customs and haughty mien of the Skull and Bones society are, of course, obnoxious to all outsiders and to these airs and notions can be laid the loss of that prestige. . . . which now rests as a golden crown on the head of Scroll and Key . . . The objections . . . against the system . . . apply almost exclusively to the Skull and Bones organization. No other society has the brazen gall to attempt to crush the will of the majority. No other set of men are so brainlessly puerile and lack the title of gentlemen at times, as the dwellers of 322 High Street. . . . Not another living clan will refuse to salute you on the way to and from the society hall.”50

Perhaps to further beard the two elder societies, the Horoscope was friendly to Wolf’s Head, saying in its issue of May 1886, the first Yale periodical to publish the society’s wolf’s head cut and name, “Wolf’s Head does not assume any of the I-own-the-college airs as the others do, and is therefore, titled to very much more respect,” and in 1887, “This conclave of social fellows . . . is growing more and more popular every year. Of all the societies, this comes very near to the ideal of what each should be, although it does not yet secure as prominent fellows as the others.”51

Despite this measured praise, the various Horoscopes and the rest of the outside world could not know that within the Third Society, the “secret society” proponents continued their steady advance in the struggle with the “open club” faction. By 1887, the only provision in its constitution which distinguished Wolf’s Head from the two other senior societies in the point of secrecy was the rule relating to the admission of visitors. The privilege was invoked from time to time, and wives and sisters of members were admitted, with a form of oath for them to take. Still, the theory for the grants of permission was based on visits of inspection, not visits for social intercourse. The privilege was too far abused “when one member took his wife to the Hall several times,” and so the practice was stopped.52

So by 1886, a mere two class years after its birth, Wolf’s Head was to all intents and purposes identical to Bones and Keys except in public attitude and the sporting of the badge. The Wolf’s Head men were wearing it on their vests instead of their neckties, and when they sat across from their senior society classmates at their eating clubs or met them on campus, they could not but be aware at every moment of the Bones and Keys badges—the golden “crab” of Skull and Bones, or the “Scroll with Key Crossing” of Scroll and Key—confronting them from their classmates’ cravats. The fervor of the founders of Wolf’s Head not to repeat this offensive poppycock began to waver.

In the delegations of both 1885–86 and 1886–87, it was moved that the constitution be amended to strike “the clause which reads, ‘this badge shall never be worn as a scarf pin.’” Recourse was made to Professor Wheeler, who approved a compromise, allowing the pin when worn in New York to be displayed “in a more conspicuous place” such that graduates there might more readily recognize the undergraduate members, but not on the necktie in New Haven during term time. The leader of the restoration faction William Brandegee then proposed a new amendment: “This badge shall always be worn as a scarf pin except during term time. Commencement Week shall not be considered as term time.” This was defeated, eight nays to seven yeas. The pattern of proposed amendment and debate and close votes was repeated in the following delegation’s senior year.53

The controversy did not have to be repeated in the new school year, commencing in the fall of 1887, because the members of Skull and Bones changed their own habit of time immemorial (at least, to collegiate generations). The New Haven Register reported for September 23, 1887: “Yale Collegians were all agog yesterday over the biggest sensation of many years. Every Bones man wore his society pin upon his vest. If this is to be a permanent custom, it is one of the most marked innovations in the usages of that very old and very conservative society. From the time whereof the memory of middle-aged graduates runs not to the contrary, every senior member of Skull and Bones has worn his badge upon his necktie, or upon his shirt bosom if exposed white shirt bosoms were the fashion . . . This has been a characteristic that distinguished Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key from all other Yale societies. It has always made their senior members conspicuous objects of awe for freshmen.”

Nevertheless, the newspaper reported, “Among the present senior members of Bones there had grown up during junior year a strong feeling that ‘poppycock’ ought to go. Some of them told their intimate friends during the week before they were initiated into the society that if they could bring it about they would banish poppycock forever. This displacement of the pins from the neckties is looked upon by the collegians generally as the first step in this direction.”

The first occurrence of the shift had taken place at the conclusion of the prior college term. A member of the Keys crowd of 1886 was to recollect in 1940 that “In [the class of 18]88’s special [railroad] car for the [Harvard-Yale boat] race in June 1887, Henry Stimson, an ’88 Bones man . . . came into the car with his pin not on his scarf but on his waistcoat. Then someone else entered with his pin up [on the tie]. The difference in opinion continued even in the fall, but before Thanksgiving all the Bones pins were down [on the waistcoat].”54 Stimson showed grit, in reversing the society and family customs of his father, Dr. Lewis Atterbury Stimson, a member of the Keys delegation of 1863, and of his uncle, the Rev. Henry Albert Stimson, a member of the Bones club of 1865.

The young Stimson, later to serve as secretary of war for President Taft, governor-general of the Philippines for President Coolidge, secretary of state for President Hoover, and secretary of war for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, was clearly a leader among his peers even then (and argued contrary positions later in his career, opposing the internment of Japanese-American citizens and then the firebombing of Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo, but was overruled). The badge was presumably down on his waistcoat when he won the DeForest Medal for 1888, and locating it more precisely, Munsey’s magazine for June 1894 was to record that the badge was then “worn on the lower left side of the waistcoat.” The retreat continued in the next decade: the New York Times reported on December 16, 1909, on “the ‘turning down’ of the pin, now worn concealed as part of a wise policy of outward society effacement carried out further in association with non-society classmates.”

The change was a permanent one. When the Yale Illustrated Horoscope next discussed Skull and Bones in the spring of 1888, it found that “as for their secrecy and poppycock, the latter has been practically abandoned. . . . Immediately after the elections of last May and before the initiation night, the ’88 Bones men elected pledged themselves to avoid the silly tricks which would serve only to embitter their former friends. In this they have kept their promise. Their conduct has been uniformly straightforward and gentlemanly.”55 While Scroll and Key, to the irritation of classmates, did not change its badge custom in conformity (and was not to do so until 1906),56 the example of Wolf’s Head, and not just the social pressures that birthed the Third Society, must be given credit for the alteration.

Another newspaper report, in the spring of 1888, was probably not off the mark in reporting the elections to Wolf’s Head, that “by its freedom from all obnoxious secrecy and so-called poppy cock, has established for itself an enviable and well deserved reputation. . . . The advent of a third senior society has had a most salutary effect on the society system, and many of the most objectionable practices of ‘Keys’ and ‘Bones’ have been abandoned in recent years, very largely owing to the force of example.” Soon, the Phelps Association, following Keys’ example of philanthropy to Yale through the Kingsley Trust Association, in 1890 funded the C. Wyllis Betts Prize of $60, awarded annually for excellence in English composition during sophomore year.57


The class meeting of February 1, 1884, which failed to pass the resolution calling for the abolition of the senior societies, a vote which its proponents expected to win, had a second unanticipated result: the revival of Phi Beta Kappa at Yale. After 1843, the Alpha of Connecticut held only anniversary meetings; its members stopped wearing their badges in 1867 and held no elections after 1871.58 Lyman Bagg in his Four Years at Yale, published that year, noted that after the regular literary meetings had ceased, membership was less highly regarded, and “for a dozen years or more past the sight of a Phi Beta Kappa key would raise a cry of derision,” a long fall from the days when ‘[i]ts key, in fact, seems to have been thought about as desirable as a senior-society pin is now-a-days and to have been as generally recognized in the college world as a badge of exceptional honor and distinction.”59

The lead story in the Yale News of February 21, 1884, just three weeks after the class meeting at the beginning of the month on senior society abolition, was headlined “Revival of Phi Beta Kappa at Yale” and noted that there was “a strong movement at present in the senior class to revive the Yale chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. . . .The plans for its revival have not as yet been definitively matured, but the interest of the senior class in the matter at least insures a renewal of its existence here, and possibly a Phi Beta Kappa oration during the next commencement.”

On March 8 there was a meeting of graduate members to reorganize the society, and twenty-three seniors were elected (one man declined).60 One of them, and the primary undergraduate organizer, who had recognized that the charter had not lapsed since the chapter had not been formally extinguished, was Selden Spencer,61 the chair of the class meeting on February 1, joined in the revived Alpha by John Souther (who had seconded Speer’s motion at that meeting to abolish the senior societies). Also elected in this class were five members of Bones and two from Keys, although none from the self-styled Third Senior Society. Spencer, composer of the statement published in the News, “setting forth the aims and prospects of the society,” declared, in making clear his opposition to secret organizations was unabated: “Though originally a secret organization, [Phi Beta Kappa] is now to be entirely open and its object is to form and maintain a fraternity, the main requisite of which shall be a high degree of scholarship; and which shall promote in every way ‘friendship, morality and science.’”62 In May, eighteen men from the class of 1885 were elected (four who were to join Bones, three Keys, and one Wolf’s Head—but none of whom were Wilbur Cross, later Yale professor of English, dean of the Graduate School, and governor of Connecticut).63

The New-York Evening Post reported more succinctly and candidly: “The proposition to revive it has proceeded from the anti-society men, who think that its honors will be awarded more impartially than are those of the present [senior society] organizations. The Senior society men, however, have cooperated in the scheme.”64 Even without this newspaper item, the proximity of the vote on the survival of the senior societies and the formal revival of Phi Beta Kappa is too close to doubt a connection, a conclusion reinforced by recounting the names of men from both sides of the debate joined together in a newly restored, class-wide senior distinction. Perhaps it helped effect, as the founding of Wolf’s Head itself did, a sort of healing of the rift.

Still, there was no thought that it would, reborn, rival any senior society: it would be, as opined an editorial in the Lit., “limited here . . . to philosophical and high oration men. Anything more of a public appearance than some sort of initiation gathering, perhaps, and an oration or poem at commencement, would be out of the question.”65


Louis Kossuth Hull


U.S. district attorney, N.D.

Edward Tompkins McLaughlin


professor of Rhetoric, Yale

Eliakim Hastings Moore


professor of Math., University of Chicago


president, American Mathematical Society

Horace Dutton Taft


founder, Taft School

Sherman Day Thacher


founder, Thacher School

Wilbur Franklin Booth


U.S. Circuit Court judge, Eighth Circuit

Gustav Gruener


professor of German, Yale

Frederick Sheetz Jones


dean of Engineering, University of Minn.


dean of Yale, 1909–1926

Henry McMahan Painter


professor of Obstetrics, Columbia

Ray Tompkins


Yale football captain, 1882–1884

Amos Wilder


U.S. consul general, Hong Kong, Shanghai

Samuel Reading Bertram


chief, French War Relief Bureau

Frank Bosworth Brandegee


U.S. Congress, Senate, Conn.

Henry Stanford Brooks


chair, Yale Alumni Fund

Edward Hidden


chairman, U.S. commission on Haiti

Lucius Franklin Robinson


president, Conn. Constitutional Convention

Charlton Minor Lewis


professor of English, Yale

John Christopher Schwab


professor of Political Economy, Yale


university librarian

Robert Nelson Corwin


professor of German, Yale

William Kent


U.S. Congress (Calif.)

Samuel Knight


U.S. attorney, Northern District, Calif.

John Norton Pomeroy


professor of Law, University of Illinois

John Rogers


professor of Clinical Surgery, Cornell

Irving Fisher


professor of Political Economy, Yale


president, Am. Economic Assoc.

Richard Melancthon Hurd


author, A History of Yale Athletics

Amos Alonzo Stagg


professor and director of athletics, University of Chicago

Henry Lewis Stimson


U.S. district attorney, Southern District, N.Y.


U.S. secretary of war (Taft)


governor-general of Philippines (Coolidge)


U.S secretary of state (Hoover)


U.S. secretary of war (Roosevelt and Truman)

Samuel Jameson Walker


professor of Pediatrics, Chicago Polyclinic


Gilbert Colgate


president, chairman of the board, Colgate-Palmolive

George Cromwell


U.S. Senate (N.Y.)

Fred Churchill Leonard


U.S. Congress (Pa.)

Edwin McClellan


McClellan Hall honoree

Henry Clay McDowell Jr.


U.S. District Court judge, Va.

Henry Burrall Anderson


president, Auto Club of America

William Scoville Case


associate justice, U.S. Supreme Court

Sidney Morse Colgate


chairman of the board, Colgate-Palmolive

James Richard Joy


editor in chief, Christian Advocate

Robert James Pitkin


professor of Law, Denver University

George Edgar Vincent


professor of Sociology, University of Chicago


president, University of Minnesota


president, Rockefeller Foundation

William Adams Brown


professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminary

Walter Boughton Chambers


architect, McClellan and Bingham Halls

Charles Henry Ludington


vice president, treasurer, Curtis Publishing Co.

Herbert Farrington Perkins


president, International Harvester Co.

James Rockwell Sheffield


U.S. ambassador to Mexico

Charles Neave


cofounder, Fish, Richardson & Neave

Frank Lincoln Woodard


president, U.S. Golf Association


William Irwin Grubb


U.S. District Circuit judge, Northern Calif.

Henry Martyn Hoyt


U.S. attorney, Alaska


attorney general, Puerto Rico

Edwin Albert Merritt


U.S. Congress (N.Y.)

Charles Moorehead Walker


chief justice, Cook County Ill.

Alfred Hand Jr.


professor of Pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania

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