Notable among the features of American colleges is the system of secret societies. In fact in some colleges the system has grown to such an extent and the society question has become such a paramount one, that it engrosses a large part of the student's life, and enlists him in a mighty conflict for the supremacy of his society. The rivalry between the Greek letter societies in some of our smaller colleges is so great that neighboring cities are often visited by enthusiastic society men, and a canvass made of the incoming freshmen, who are then cajoled, entertained, and entreated to join the society of these devotees. The freshmen naturally upon arriving at these smaller colleges have a wonderfully puffed up feeling, which they do not have at Harvard, where no such sugar plums are offered them, and where their favor is not so graciously sought. The awful solemnities of initiation, the inviolable vows and the jeweled society pins all become subjects of the greatest sanctity. The performances, jealousies and rivalries of the different societies at Princeton caused their suspension by the faculty a few years ago; so that secret societies can no longer exist there.
There are a great many advantages in college fraternities. They cause a feeling of good fellowship among the students, and are always a bond of union when college life is over. But as they are conducted in some colleges, they confine a man to a circle of some twenty or twenty-five men. These men he knows intimately, but the rest of the college are strangers to him. As he generally joins a society early in his freshman year - and sometimes even before he has entered, - mistakes are very numerous, and, once in, there is no withdrawal that is possible. There are cases where every thing is made a society matter. The election of class officers is frequently made by a 'deal' between two or three powerful societies, and the result is therefore a cause of much bad feeling.
It has been frequently demonstrated that societies, in life as well as in colleges, are often a source of much evil, if secrecy be one of the things which are strenuously insisted upon. A spirit of bravado and lawlessness is likely to pervade a number of men bound to sink or swim together, a spirit which men as individuals never feel.
The society system in itself must needs be a good one, for it brings out and expands that social nature of man which in some cases is too apt to become narrowed into scholastic channels. But like all other institutions which are good in themselves, it is liable to much abuse, and the members of societies ought to be extremely careful that they do not bring upon themselves public displeasure by such abuse. Societies gotten together for the sole purpose of the consumption of the juice of the grape are hurtful in the extreme; although they may give at the time some passing pleasure, yet their whole effect is necessarily abnormal and unproductive of any good results whatsoever. Let the society system be protected by all and saved from abuse, that it may remain in the public mind an emblem of one of the countless advantages that a collegiate life gives.