Scroll and Key

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Scroll and Key Tomb

The Scroll and Key Society is a secret society, founded in 1842 at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. It is the second oldest[1][2] Yale secret society and has many distinguished members. Each year, the society admits fifteen rising seniors to participate in its activities and carry on its traditions.


Facade displaying Moorish gate and patterned forecourt.

Scroll and Key was established by John Addison Porter, with aid from several members of the Class of 1842 and a member of the Class of 1843, William L. Kingsley, after disputes over elections to Skull and Bones Society. Porter, Kingsley, Enos Taft, Samuel Perkins, Homer Sprague, Lebbeus Chapin, George Jackson, Calvin Child, Charlton Lewis, and Josiah Harmer were among the society’s first members and managers.[3][4] Theodore Runyon, Issac Hiester and Leonard Case, Jr. were also early members. Kingsley is the namesake of the alumni organization, the Kinglsley Trust Association (KTA), incorporated years after the founding. The society is one of the reputed “Big Three” societies at Yale, along with Skull and Bones andWolf’s Head Society.[5]

Skull and Bones held a more prominent role in Yale social circles than Keys after the founding. Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg wrote that “up until as recent a date as 1860, Keys had great difficulty in making up its crowd, rarely being able to secure the full fifteen upon the night of giving out its elections.” However, the society was on the upswing: “the old order of things, however, has recently come to an end, and Keys is now in possession of a hall far superior…not only to Bones hall, but to any college-society hall in America.”[6]

Members of the Yale classes of ’55 and ’56 published the sophomoric “Inside Eli, or How to Get On at Yale,” a pamphlet that provided then current pontifications“about how Yale really worked”. In it, they joked that “Scroll and Key is probably the leading society in the eyes of the average Yale man. It always has many of the more distinguished class wheels. Its members are generally pleasant, civilized, and intelligent. They are the Yale ideal.”[7]

Gifts to Yale[edit]

In addition to financing its own activities, “Keys” has made significant donations to Yale over the years. The John Addison Porter Prize, awarded annually by Yale since 1872, and in 1917 the endowment for the founding of the Yale University Press, which has funded the publication of The Yale Shakespeare and sponsored theYale Younger Poets Series, are gifts from Keys. The society has also endowed a number of professorships and continues to fund multiple undergraduate prizes for students of Yale College.[8][9][10]


Society pin

  • At the close of Thursday and Sunday sessions, members are known to sing the “Troubadour” song on the front steps of the Society’s hall, a remnant of the tradition of public singing at Yale.[11][12]
  • In keeping with the practice of adopting secret letters or symbols such as Skull and Bones‘ “322,” Manuscript‘s “344,” and the Pundits’ “T.B.I.Y.T.B,” Scroll and Key is known to use the letters “C.S.P.,C.C.J.”.[13]
  • Members of the society sign letters to each other “yours in truth”, as opposed to Skull and Bones’ “yours in 322”.[13]
  • Outside of its tap-related activities, the society has been known to hold two major annual events called “Zanoni Session”[13]


Members of the 1866 delegation, Scroll and Key

Scroll and Key taps annually a delegation of fifteen, composed of men and women of the junior class, to serve the following year. Membership is offered to a diverse group of highly accomplished juniors, specifically those who have “achieved in any field, academic, extra-curricular, or personal.”[14] Delegations frequently include editors of the Yale Daily News and other publications, talented artists and musicians, social and political activists, athletes of distinction, entrepreneurs, and high achieving scholars.[15][16] Keys has long been the society of choice of Mayflower descendants among the undergraduate student body.[17] Keys has tapped women since 1989 and counts Mark Twain, since 1868, as an honorary member.


Secret Society Buildings New Haven, the original building is pictured at the bottom and has since been expanded.

The building in 1901 during its expansion

The society’s “building” was designed in the Moorish Revival style by Richard Morris Hunt and constructed in 1869. A later expansion was completed in 1901. Architectural historian Patrick Pinnell includes an in-depth discussion of Keys’ building in his 1999 history of Yale’s campus, relating the then-notable cost overruns associated with the Keys structure and its aesthetic significance within the campus landscape. Pinnell’s history shares the fact that the land was purchased from another Yale secret society,Berzelius (at that time, a Sheffield Scientific School society).

Regarding its distinctive appearance, Pinnell noted that “19th century artists’ studios commonly had exotic orientalia lying about to suggest that the painter was sophisticated, well traveled, and in touch with mysterious powers; Hunt’s Scroll and Key is one instance in which the trope got turned into a building.”[18] Later, undergraduates described the building as a “striped zebra Billiard Hall” in a supplement to a Yale Yearbook.[19] More recently, it has described by an undergraduate publication as being “the nicest building in all of New Haven.”.[20]

Notable members[edit]

Dean Acheson, former U.S. Secretary of State and member of the 1915 delegation.

Fareed Zakaria, a prominent writer and commentator about politics and foreign affairs, was a member of the delegation of 1986.

Sargent Shriver, the American statesman and activist, was a member of the delegation of 1938.

Famed American composer and songwriter Cole Porter was a member of the Society in 1913.

American journalist, humorist, food writer, poet, memoirist and novelistCalvin Trillin.

Harvey Cushing, the “father of modern neurosurgery” and member of the delegation of 1891.

Garry Trudeau, DoonesburyCartoonist, Scroll and Key class of 1970.

Name Yale Class Known for
Cord Meyer, Jr. 1943 Central Intelligence Agency; United World Federalists[21]
Frank Polk 1894 Davis Polk & Wardwell; (acting) Secretary of State, managed conclusion to World War I[21]
Dean Acheson 1915 51st Secretary of State[21]
Cyrus Vance 1939 57th Secretary of State; Secretary of the Army; Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.[21]
Theodore Runyon 1842 Envoy, then Ambassador, Germany; Battle of Bull Run[21]
Sargent Shriver 1938 Peace Corps; 1972 Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate, Presidential Medal of Freedom[21]
Allen Wardwell 1895 Russian War Relief, Davis Polk & Wardwell; Bank of New York; Vice-President, American-Russian Chamber of Commerce.[21]
John Enders 1919 shared 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine[21]
William C. Bullitt 1912 US Ambassador, France, ’36-’41, first US Ambassador, Soviet Russia, ’33-’36.[21]
Huntington D. Sheldon 1925 Central Intelligence Agency; Director of the Office of Current Intelligence; President, Petroleum Corporation of America.[21]
Warren Zimmermann 1956 US Ambassador, Yugoslavia, 1989–1992; author of book about the causes of Yugoslavia’s dissolution.[21]
Roscoe S. Suddarth 1956 President, Middle East Institute; US Ambassador to Jordan; American Iranian Council.[21]
Lewis Sheldon 1895 US Peace Commission, Paris Peace Conference, 1918; Olympic medalist, track and field.[21]
Raymond R. Guest 1931 US Ambassador, Ireland; Special Assistant to Secretary of Defense, 1945–47; horse breeder; poloHall of fame.[21]
Thomas Enders 1953 Ambassador, Spain ’83-’86, Assistant Sec. of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ambassador to the European Union ’79-’81, Ambassador to Canada, ’76-’79; Salomon Brothers[21]
A. Bartlett Giamatti 1960 16th Yale University president; National League president, MLB Commissioner[22]
Paul Mellon 1929 philanthropist[22]
Robert R. McCormick 1903 Chicago Tribune; Kirkland & Ellis[21]
Henry deForest 1876 Southern Pacific Railroad[21]
Fareed Zakaria 1986 Editor, Newsweek International and host of CNN show, Former Yale Corporation Member (Resigned 2012)
J. Peter Grace 1936 W. R. Grace & Co.[23]
Cornelius Vanderbilt III 1895 Vanderbilt heir.[24]
James Stillman Rockefeller 1924 President and Chairman, The First National City Bank of New York; Olympic gold medal for crew[21]
Brewster Jennings 1920 Founder and President of the Socony Mobil Oil Company Standard Oil of New York; president, Memorial Center for Cancer and Allied Diseases and Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research[21]
Gilbert Colgate 1883 President and Chairman of Colgate & Co.[21]
Benjamin Brewster 1929 Director, Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey (later Exxon).[21]
Seymour H. Knox 1920 American retailer, F. W. Woolworth Company.[21]
Donald R. McLennan 1931 Founder and Chairman, insurance brokerage firm Marsh & McLennan[21]
Stone Phillips 1977 Dateline NBC[21]
Peter H. Dominick 1937 US Senator 1962-1974 (Colorado); US Congressman, 1960–1962; US Ambassador, Switzerland.[21]
Gideon Rose 1985 Foreign Affairs[21]
Philip B. Heymann 1954 Watergate Special Prosecutor, Deputy US Attorney General; Professor, Harvard Law School.[21]
Joseph M. Patterson 1901 Founder, New York Daily News; manager, Chicago Tribune[24]
George Edgar Vincent 1885 President of the University of Minnesota; President of the Rockefeller Foundation[24]
Ethan A. H. Shepley 1918 Chancellor, Washington University in St. Louis.[21]
Robert D. Orr 1940 Governor of Indiana; US Ambassador, Singapore.[21]
Joseph Medill McCormick 1900 U.S. Senate ’19-’24, Publisher, Chicago Tribune.[21]
James C. Auchincloss, 1908 Representative, US Congress 1943-1965, Governor of the NYSE., US Military Intelligence WWI.[21]
Herbert Parsons 1890 US Congress ’04-’10; leading supporter of League of Nations.[21]
Fred Dubois 1872 First US Senator from Idaho 1891-1897, resigned, re-elected 1901-1907; Opponent of gold standard; Engineered statehood for Idaho.[21]
Richardson Dilworth 1921 Mayor of Philadelphia 1955-1962.[25]
John Hay Whitney 1926 U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, major philanthropist to Yale University, and during his college years coined the phrase “crew cut“.[26]
Frederick B. Dent 1944 US Secretary of Commerce.[21]
John Dalzell 1865 US Congress[21]
Wayne Chatfield-Taylor 1916 President, Export-Import Bank; Undersecretary of Commerce; Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.[22]
William Nelson Runyon 1892 acting Governor of New Jersey (May 1919 – Jan 1920)[21]
Newbold Morris 1925 New York lawyer and politician[21]
Randall L. Gibson 1853 US Senator 1883-1892 (Louisiana); US Representative, 1872–1882; Brigadier-General in the Confederate States Army; President, Tulane University.[21]
Mortimer R. Proctor 1912 Governor of Vermont, 1945–47.[21]
Frederic A. Potts 1926 Chairman, Philadelphia National Bank; New Jersey Senate; Republican candidate, New Jersey Governor[21]
Carter Henry Harrison 1845 Mayor of Chicago, five terms 1879-93; US Representative, 1875–79; cousin of President William Henry Harrison.[21]
George Shiras Jr. 1853 U.S. Supreme Court Justice[21]
Harvey Cushing 1891 Neurosurgeon considered father of brain surgery[24]
Dickinson W. Richards 1917 1956 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine[21]
Benjamin Spock 1925 Baby & Child Care[22]
Edward Salisbury Dana 1871 American mineralogist.[21]
George Roy Hill 1943 1974 Academy Award for Directing, The Sting[21]
Cole Porter 1913 entertainer, song writer[27]
James Gamble Rogers 1889 collegiate Gothic architecture, favored architect of Edward Harkness and designed many of Yale’s buildings[24]
Garry Trudeau 1970 Doonesbury Cartoonist[22]
Dahlia Lithwick 1990 Editor at Newsweek and Slate[28]
Ari Shapiro 2000 White House Correspondent for National Public Radio[28]
William Adams Delano 1895 Award-winning Architect; designed many of Yale buildings.[21]
Calvin Trillin 1957 American writer[29]
John Vliet Lindsay 1944 103rd Mayor of New York City 1966-1973
Congressman from New York City 1959-1965.[30]

Wolf’s Head

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wolf’s Head Society is a secret society at Yale University, New Haven, CT, US. Membership is recomposed annually of fifteen or sixteen Yale University students, typically rising seniors. The delegation spends its year together answerable to the Phelps Association, composed of past members.The society was founded when fifteen rising seniors from the Yale Class of 1884, with help from members of the Yale Class of 1883 who were considered publicly possible taps for the older societies, chose to abet the creation of The Third Society, later known as Wolf’s Head Society.[1][2][3] Over 300 Yale College alumni and some Yale Law School faculty joined the fellowship in part to counter the dominance of Skull and Bones Society in undergraduate and university affairs.[3][4][5]The founding defeated the last attempt to abolish secret societies at Yale. The tradition continued of creating and sustaining a society if enough potential members thought they had been overlooked: Bones was organized in 1832 after a dispute over selections for Phi Beta Kappa awards; Scroll and Key Society, the second society at Yale, was organized in 1841 after a dispute over elections to Bones. The Third Society’s founding was motivated in part by the sentiment among some outsiders that they deserved insider status. “[A] certain limited number were firmly convinced that there had been an appalling miscarriage of justice in their individual omission from the category of the elect,” some founders agreed.[3][6][7] The society remains relevant contemporary undergraduate life.[8]


Wolf’s Head “New Hall” – architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, designed circa 1924

Before the founding at Yale of the Alpha chapter, in 1780, of Phi Beta Kappa in Connecticut, the second chapter established after that society’s founding in 1776, Yale College students established and joined literary societies.[9] By the 1830s, the campus literary societies Linonia,Brothers in Unity, and Calliope had lost stature. Calliope folded in 1853, and the others shut down after the American Civil War.[10] Calliope, Linonia, and Brothers in Unity existed respectively: 1819-1853, 1768-1878, and 1735-1868.[11]

From the mid-1840s until 1883, several societies were started, but all failed to sustain the interest of Academical Department, or liberal arts, students at Yale College.[12] Star and Dart, Sword and Crown, Tea-Kettle, Spade and Grave, and E.T.L. disbanded.[13]

Phi Beta Kappa was inactive at Yale from 1871 to 1884.[14] In the 1820s, Anti-Masonic agitation across the United States of America prompted PBK to examine the role of secrecy in its proceedings. Secrecy was soon shelved at the Yale chapter.[15] Associated with PBK’s national reorganization in 1881, secrecy disappeared as a signature among all chapters, quelling rivalry with collegiate fraternities, clubs and societies.[16] PBK exists today, without any secrecy, as an academic honor society.

Beginning in the 1850s, the Yale undergraduate student body grew more diverse. The college was becoming an institution of national, rather than regional, importance. Students who hailed from environs beyond New England or who were not Congregationalist or Presbyterian entered the college in large numbers.[17]

The faculty was dominated by alumni of Bones, numbering four out of five faculty members between 1865 and 1916. Bones alumni were university secretaries from 1869 to 1921. Bones alumni were university treasurers for forty-three of the forty-eight years between 1862 – 1910.[18][19]

In 1873, The Iconoclast, a student paper published once, 13 October, advocated for the abolition of the society system. It opined: “Out of every class Skull and Bones takes its men…They have obtained control of Yale. Its business is performed by them. Money paid to the college must pass into their hands, and be subject to their will….It is Yale College against Skull and Bones!! We ask all men, as a question of right, which should be allowed to live?”[20][21] The Class of 1884 agreed to support another revolt against the society system with a vote of no confidence to coincide with its graduation. It had been understood that the society system was beyond reform and might well be abolished.

A spirited defense of the society system appeared in the May 1884 issue of The New Englander, authored and published respectively by members of Scroll and Key. Several periodicals reported regularly on the situation.[22] However, The Third Society had been incorporated in 1883, continuing a tradition among undergraduates of complaining about the societies but joining or establishing one if the opportunity opened.


The initial delegation, including ten Class Day officers from the Class of 1884 and led by Edwin Albert Merritt, met in secret during their senior year with the aid of members of the Class of 1883 who were “eager to start a society provided the evil features of the old societies would be eliminated. [The graduating and rising seniors] were unanimous on this point.” Included among the supporters from the Class of 1883 were members touted as sure selections to Bones or Keys by the publishers of the Horoscope, an undergraduate publication that provided feature material on the most likely taps. The pro-society seniors won the Class Day vote, 67 – 50.[23] Over half the Yale Corporation and faculty were members of societies at this time. Those members of the community were careful to quash any subsequent attempts to restrict the societies.[24] Early Third Society members were known as Greyfriars, rather than brothers of death or pontiffs.

The New Haven Register reported in 1886: “Wolf’s Head is not as far out of the world, in respect to its public doings, as are [Bones and Keys]. 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 have otherwise….”[25] Tapping Yale alumni and faculty legitimized the effort in the local and greater Yale communities and made obvious dissatisfaction concerning university governance. The society was managed similarly to finals clubs associated with the Sheffield Scientific School; however, it soon took on almost all aspects of the older societies.[3]

Early stature[edit]

The Third Society sat at the apex of a social pyramid bricked by junior societies (sophomore societies were abolished in 1875, freshmen societies in 1880),[26]campus organizations, athletic teams, clubs, and fraternities.[27][28]

In 1888, the society changed its name to Wolf’s Head Society, consonant with the approval among undergraduates of the society’s pin, a stylized wolf’s head on an inverted ankh, an Egyptian hieroglyphic known as the Egyptian Cross or “the key of life”. The earliest undergraduate members allowed fellow schoolmates to handle the pin, a specific refutation of pin display by the older societies. Eternal life is symbolized, rather than death or erudition. A Roman fasces had been considered as a design element for the pin but was not adopted.[3][29] The name change continued the tradition of the society pin, or emblem, embodying the society’s name.

Point of view[edit]

The Greyfriars mocked as “poppycock”, from the Dutch for “soft excrement”,[30] the seemingly Masonic-inspired rituals and atmosphere associated with Skull and Bones. Disdain for “poppycock” has been exampled by The Pirates of Penzance prank, with the thespian pirate king persuaded to display the numbers 322 (part of the emblem of Skull and Bones) below a skull and crossbones at a local theatre,[31] Whit Griswold‘s deprecations of poppycock — “Bonesy bullshit” and “Dink Stovercrap”—coloring undergraduate life,[32] and the practice of newly and recently enfranchised wolves howling in late April.[33]

Stephen Vincent Benet, a future member of the Phelps Association, wrote humorously of those who sought elect status and the undergraduate interest in societies: “Do you want to be successful? Form a club!/Are your chances quite distressful? Form a club!/Never mind the common friendships/That no politician has!/Seek the really righteous rounders/and the athletes of the class!/And you’ll get your heart’s desiring-/and the rest will get the raz!”[34]

Despite the criticism of the society system substantiated by the founding of The Third Society, Wolf’s Head Society maintained many traditions and practices, such as the Thursday and Sunday meetings, common among its peers. Phelps Association member Paul Moore recalled the night before he first encountered combat inWorld War II: “I spent the evening on board ship being quizzed by…about what went on in Wolf’s Head. He could not believe I would hold back such irrelevant secrets the night before I faced possible death.”[35]

The Halls[edit]

The “Old Hall” was erected within months of the founding. The older Academical Department societies and Sheffield School final clubs met in rented quarters at their respective foundings. Edward Harkness would provide the “New Hall” a few years before the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

“Old Hall” – designed by McKim, Mead and White, completed in 1884. Purchased by University in 1924.

  • McKim, Mead and White, firm of. 1884, former or “Old Hall” at 77 Prospect Street, across the street from the Grove Street Cemetery, commissioned for the Phelps Trust Association, Richardsonian Romanesque. Purchased by the University in 1924, rented to Chi Psi Fraternity (1924–29), Book and Bond (defunct society) (1934–35), and Vernon Hall (defunct club) (1944–54). Currently houses the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies.[36] A building with narrow windows, the “Old Hall” was noted as “the most modern and handsomest” of the society domiciles by The New York Times, September 13, 1903. The building was erected in 1884 soon after the founding members secured financing.[3]
  • Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. designed ca. 1924 and completed posthumously, York Street, gift from Edward Harkness. The “New Hall” has stone wall and wrought iron fencing and is central to the largest secret society compound on campus. The compound commands the most prominent location on campus beyond Harkness Tower, the very icon of Yale,[37] and the Memorial Quadrangle, gifts from Anna M. Harkness, the mother of Charles Harkness and Edward Harkness. William L. Harkness, a cousin to Charles and Edward, donated William L. Harkness Hall, WLH, to the University. The Phelps Association counted the three relatives as members.

The New Hall sits fronted by York Street and surrounded by the Yale Daily News Briton Hadden Memorial building, the Yale Drama School and theatre (both gifts from E. Harkness),[38] and the former homes of the Fence Club (or Psi Upsilon, 224 York Street), DKE (232 York Street) and Zeta Psi (212 York Street).

Goodhue’s evocative Wolf’s Head Society building, shown behind its high stone enclosure.

An olympic size swimming pool was said to be among the accommodations in Goodhue’s building.Facilities for showers are available in the lower reaches of the edifice.[39] Goodhue was a protege of James Renwick Jr., architect of the first St. Anthony Hall chapter house in New York City.[38]


The society has been reputed to tap the gregarious “prep school type”.[39][40] Past members were associated intimately with the coeducation of Yale College,[41]establishment of the Yale residential college system and the Harvard house system,[42] founding of the Elizabethan Club,[43] and the founding of the Yale Political Union.[44] The society has tapped women since the spring of 1992, and was Yale’s last all-male society.[45]

Envoy to the Court of St. James’s Edward John Phelps accepted the offer to be namesake to the alumni association before departing for England.[3]

Some notable members[edit]

Malcolm Baldrige, Jr.,[46] Stephen Vincent Benet,[47] William H.T. Bush,[48] Sam Chauncey,[49] Alexander Smith Cochran,[50] Erastus Corning 2nd,[51] Parker Corning,[52] William Clay Ford, Sr.,[53] Paul Goldberger,[54] Anson Conger Goodyear,[55] A. Whitney Griswold,[56] Edwin S. Grosvenor,[57] Ashbel Green Gulliver,[47]Edward Harkness,[58] Robert Maynard Hutchins,[59] Charles Edward Ives,[60] Dick Jauron,[53] Rasheed Khalidi,[54] Lewis Lehrman,[61] Christopher Lydon,[54] Clark Millikan,[62] Douglas Moore,[63] Paul Moore,[64] Paul Moore, Sr.,[65] Edward John Phelps,[66] Philip W. Pillsbury,[62] Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.,[67] Kurt Schmoke,[68] Tom Steyer,[69] Sam Wagstaff.[70]

Skull and Bones

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Skull and Bones
Bones logo.jpg

The logo of Skull and Bones
Formation 1832
Type Secret society
Headquarters Yale University
Location New Haven, Connecticut,United States


Skull and Bones is an undergraduate senior secret society at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. It is the oldest senior class landed society at Yale. The society’s alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, owns the society’s real estate and oversees the organization. The society is known informally as “Bones”, and members are known as “Bonesmen”.[1]


Skull and Bones was founded in 1832 after a dispute between Yale debating societies Linonia, Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society over that season’s Phi Beta Kappa awards. It was co-founded by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft as “the Order of the Skull and Bones”.[2][3]

The society’s assets are managed by the society’s alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, incorporated in 1856 and named after the Bones co-founder.[2] The association was founded by Russell and Daniel Coit Gilman, a Skull and Bones member, and later president of the University of California, first president of Johns Hopkins University, and the founding president of the Carnegie Institution.

The first extended description of Skull and Bones, published in 1871 by Lyman Bagg in his book Four Years at Yale, noted that “the mystery now attending its existence forms the one great enigma which college gossip never tires of discussing.”[4][5] Brooks Mather Kelley attributed the interest in Yale senior societies to the fact that underclassmen members of then freshman, sophomore, and junior class societies returned to campus the following years and could share information about society rituals, while graduating seniors were, with their knowledge of such, at least a step removed from campus life.[6]

Skull and Bones selects new members among students every spring as part of Yale University’s “Tap Day”, and has done so since 1879. Since the society’s inclusion of women in the early 1990s, Skull and Bones selects fifteen men and women of the junior class to join the society. Skull and Bones “taps” those that it views as campus leaders and other notable figures for its membership.

The Tomb[edit]

Exterior view of Skull and Bones, 64 High Street, New Haven, early 20th century

The Skull and Bones Hall is otherwise known as the “Tomb”.

The building was built in three phases: the first wing was built in 1856, the second wing[clarification needed] in 1903, and Davis-designed Neo-Gothic towers were added to the rear garden in 1912. The front and side facades are of Portland brownstone in an Egypto-Doric style.[citation needed] The 1912 tower additions created a small enclosed courtyard in the rear of the building, designed by Evarts Tracy and Edgerton Swartwout of Tracy and Swartwout, New York.[7] Evarts was not a Bonesman, but his paternal grandmother Martha Sherman Evarts and maternal grandmother Mary Evarts were the sisters of William Maxwell Evarts, an 1837 Bonesman.

The architectural attribution of the original hall is in dispute.[citation needed] The architect was possibly Alexander Jackson Davis (1803–1892) or Henry Austin (1804–1891). Architectural historian Patrick Pinnell includes an in-depth discussion of the dispute over the identity of the original architect in his 1999 Yale campus history. Pinnell speculates that the re-use of the Davis towers in 1911 suggests Davis’s role in the original building, and, conversely, Austin was responsible for the architecturally similar brownstone Egyptian Revival Grove Street Cemetery gates built in 1845. Pinnell also discusses the “Tomb’s” aesthetic place in relation to its neighbors, including the Yale University Art Gallery.[8][clarification needed] In the late 1990s, New Hampshire landscape architects Saucier and Flynn designed the wrought iron fence that currently surrounds a portion of the complex.[9]

The society owns and manages Deer Island, an island retreat on the St. Lawrence River. Alexandra Robbins, author of a book on Yale secret societies, wrote:

The forty-acre retreat is intended to give Bonesmen an opportunity to “get together and rekindle old friendships.” A century ago the island sported tennis courts and its softball fields were surrounded by rhubarb plants and gooseberry bushes. Catboats waited on the lake. Stewards catered elegant meals. But although each new Skull and Bones member still visits Deer Island, the place leaves something to be desired. “Now it is just a bunch of burned-out stone buildings,” a patriarch sighs. “It’s basically ruins.” Another Bonesman says that to call the island “rustic” would be to glorify it. “It’s a dump, but it’s beautiful.”

Coordinates: 41.30857°N 72.930092°W


List of Skull and Bones members

Founding members (1832–33 academic year)[edit]

William Huntington Russell, founder of Skull and Bones and the namesake of the society’s corporate body, theRussell Trust Association

19th century[edit]



Orris S. Ferry (Bones 1844), United States Senator


Daniel Coit Gilman (Bones 1852), president of several universities, formed the Bones’ corporate body, the Russell Trust Association, in 1856, the same year the first wing of their building was constructed.[3]:83–5



William Howard Taft (Bones 1878), son of the society’s co-founder and the first of three Bonesmen to become US President


Henry L. Stimson (Bones 1888), US Secretary of War and Secretary of State


20th century[edit]



Archibald MacLeish (Bones 1915), poet, diplomat, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and Librarian of Congress

Senator Prescott Bush(Bones 1916) has long been rumored to have played a role in Skull and Bones’ alleged theft of the skull of Native American leaderGeronimo.[3]:144–6






John Kerry (Bones 1966) faced off against George W. Bush (Bones 1968) in the 2004 US presidential election, the first time two Bonesmen had run against one another for that office.[119]



1990s to present[edit]

Yearbook listing of Skull and Bones membership for 1920. The 1920 delegation included co-founders of Time magazine,Briton Hadden and Henry Luce

Skull and Bones’s membership developed a reputation in association with the “Power Elite“.[10] Regarding the qualifications for membership, Lanny Davis wrote in the 1968 Yale yearbook:

If the society had a good year, this is what the “ideal” group will consist of: a football captain; a Chairman of theYale Daily News; a conspicuous radical; a Whiffenpoof; a swimming captain; a notorious drunk with a 94 average; a film-maker; a political columnist; a religious group leader; a Chairman of the Lit; a foreigner; a ladies’ man with two motorcycles; an ex-service man; a negro, if there are enough to go around; a guy nobody else in the group had heard of, ever …

Like other Yale senior societies, Skull and Bones membership was almost exclusively limited to white Protestant males for much of its history. While Yale itself had exclusionary policies directed at particular ethnic and religious groups, the senior societies were even more exclusionary.[11][12] While some Catholics were able to join such groups, Jews were more often not.[12] Some of these excluded groups eventually entered Skull and Bones by means of sports, through the society’s practice of tapping standout athletes. Star football players included the first Jewish (Al Hessberg, class of 1938) and African-American (Levi Jackson, class of 1950, who turned down the invitation for the Berzelius Society) students to be tapped for Skull and Bones.[11]

Yale became coeducational in 1969, yet Skull and Bones remained fully male until 1992. The Bones class of 1971’s attempt to tap women for membership was opposed by Bones alumni, who dubbed them the “bad club” and quashed their attempt. “The issue”, as it came to be called by Bonesmen, was debated for decades.[13] The class of 1991 tapped seven female members for membership in the next year’s class, causing conflict with their own alumni association, the Russell Trust.[14] The Trust changed the locks on the Tomb and the Bonesmen instead met in the Manuscript Society building.[14] A mail-in vote by members decided 368-320 to permit women in the society, but a group of alumni led by William F. Buckley obtained a temporary restraining order to block the move, arguing that a formal change in bylaws was needed.[14][15] Other alumni, such as John Kerry andR. Inslee Clark, Jr., spoke out in favor of admitting women. The dispute was highlighted on an editorial page of The New York Times.[14][16] A second alumni vote in October 1991 agreed to accept the Class of 1992, and the lawsuit was dropped.[14][17]

Judith Ann Schiff, Chief Research Archivist at the Yale University Library, has written: “The names of its members weren’t kept secret — that was an innovation of the 1970s — but its meetings and practices were.”[18] While resourceful researchers could assemble member data from these original sources, in 1985, an anonymous source leaked rosters to Antony C. Sutton. This membership information was kept privately for over 15 years, as Sutton feared that the photocopied pages could somehow identify the member who leaked it. He wrote a book on the group, America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull and Bones. The information was finally reformatted as an appendix in the book Fleshing out Skull and Bones, a compilation edited by Kris Millegan and published in 2003.

Among prominent alumni are former President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft (a founder’s son); former Presidents George H. W. Bush and his son,George W. Bush; Supreme Court Justices Morrison R. Waite and Potter Stewart;[19] James Jesus Angleton, “mother of the Central Intelligence Agency“; Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War (1940-1945); U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett, who directed the Korean War; and Henry Luce, founder and publisher ofTime, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated magazines.[citation needed]

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State and former U.S. Senator; Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone Group; Austan Goolsbee,[20] Chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers; Harold Stanley, co-founder of Morgan Stanley; and Frederick W. Smith, founder of FedEx, are all reported to be members.


One legend is that the numbers in the society’s emblem (“322”) represent “founded in ’32, 2nd corps”, referring to a first Corps in an unknown German university.[21][22] Others suggest that 322 refers to the death of Demosthenes and that documents in the Tomb have purportedly been found dated to “Anno-Demostheni”.[23]

Members are assigned nicknames (e.g., “Long Devil”, the tallest member, and “Boaz”, a varsity football captain, or “Sherrife” prince of future). Many of the chosen names are drawn from literature (e.g., “Hamlet“, “Uncle Remus“), religion, and myth. The banker Lewis Lapham passed on his nickname, “Sancho Panza“, to the political adviser Tex McCrary. Averell Harriman was “Thor“, Henry Luce was “Baal“, McGeorge Bundy was “Odin“, and George H. W. Bush was “Magog“.[24]

In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican nominees were alumni. George W. Bush wrote in his autobiography, “[In my] senior year I joined Skull and Bones, a secret society; so secret, I can’t say anything more.”[25] When asked what it meant that he and Bush were both Bonesmen, former Presidential candidate John Kerry said, “Not much, because it’s a secret.”[26][27]

The society’s current class meets every Thursday and Sunday night during their senior year.[28]


Skull and Bones has a reputation for stealing keepsakes from other Yale societies or from campus buildings; society members reportedly call the practice “crooking” and strive to outdo each other’s “crooks”.[29]

The society has been accused of possessing the stolen skulls of Martin Van Buren, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa.[30][31]