About 140 sophomores are making the most important decision of their undergraduate social lives this morning. The College's final clubs last night chose their members from the class of '56; those elected were notified at 8:00 a.m. by club members; by noon the sophomore must accept or reject all bids. And as one student sits in his room choosing between the club his great-grandfather belonged to and the one his friends have picked, the rest of the College sleeps or goes to class, oblivious and wholly unconcerned with clubs, club activities, or club membership.
While it is perhaps fitting that indifference should be the general attitude of the Harvard undergraduate to the final club, such was not always the case. The history of the club system, through secret phases and periods of national affiliation, is now a completed cycle. And the position of the clubs, from a pre-eminent place in the College to a membership of 10 per cent of the undergraduates, reflects, if sometimes inversely, the growth of Harvard as a national institution.
There are now eleven final clubs: A.D., Bat, Delphic, D.U., Fly, Fox, Iroquois, Owl, Phoenix S.K., Porcellian, and Spee. With the exception of the Bat, each club has its own building and serves daily meals. The club sponsors a few parties and dances; it provides a library, club room, bar, and pool tables for its members. Beyond this, the final club does little. The contrast with the nation's fraternities is evident: the clubs have no athletic teams. They enter no candidate in local beauty contests. For the most part, they permit no women in the club houses. But most important, the spirit of a Harvard club is entirely different from a fraternity or even from its counterparts in the Ivy League. The clubs depend on a quiet acceptance in the College for removed from "Hell Weeks" and Tap Days. Final clubs, like those oft-lampooned organizations for London or New York businessmen, have no reason for existing. And they seek no purpose. They have sprung up over the years for the enjoyment or convenience of their members and as long as they continue to attract men, they will continue.
Rivals and Members
The attraction of the club when the system first began is easy to understand. The Porcellian club, legend has it, began when a man in Hollis Hall found a suckling pig in his room. He hid the animal in a window seat until evening and then invited a few friends in to roast the pig. The evening was so pleasant that they determined to meet alternate Friday evenings for fellowship and supper. They first called themselves "The Argonauts," but when roast pig turned up month after month on the menu, the group came to be known as the "Pig Club." From 1879, with the entrance of the first pig, to 1794 the club gained in prestige. Finally, under Joseph McKean, grand marshall of the club and founder of the organization as it is today, the members adopted the more gentlemanly name of "Porcellian." With its early beginning and 164 years of tradition, Porcellian has always represented the final club to the non-clubbed world. Begun in an era when Cambridge was small, isolated, and arid in entertainment, the club provided a necessary social break in the scholastic routine. The Porcellian's motto Dum vivimus vivamus was typical of the early attitude of the members--no lofty mission, no serious purpose, just jovial pleasantry.
Though Porcellian frankly admitted its lack of direction, other clubs springing up in this period often claimed loftier motives. The Hasty Pudding Club, formed in 1795, purported to "cherish the feelings of friendship and patriotism." To serve the latter purpose, the club celebrated Washington's birthday for many years with a program of orations, patriotic songs and speeches. Under the first constitution of the club, "two members, in alphabetical order, shall provide a pot of hasty-pudding for every meeting," and from this, the name.
A rival to the Pudding was the Institute of 1770, an organization devoted chiefly to oratory. The club was also dubbed "The Speaking Club," but since the group wished to keep its nature secret to non-members, the name was dropped. During the first half of the nineteenth century, clubs arose, grew, and merged. The Hermetic Society and the I.O.H. joined the Institute, the latter bringing with it an extensive library. Both the serious and the social groups had begun collecting books, filling in the chinks in College libraries.
It was in this period that the clubs began to change in character. The Pudding gave up much of its attempt at a scholarly tone and Porcellian members began to consider the background of its candidates as well as their wit or agreeable character. This was the beginning of a welter of Greek-letter fraternities. Phi Beta Kappa had been the first in 1776, but when other fraternities appeared they followed the lead of the established local clubs and emphasized the social over the intellectual.
Since undergraduates were scattered throughout boarding houses and Memorial Hall was never a popular dining hall, clubs went far in focusing student activity and providing meals in congenial surroundings. As the practical value of a club to its member increased, prestige in belonging to one grew also. The size of the College was doubling every thirty years from 1860 to 1920, and while there still were many clubs, selectivity had become the keynote in electing members.
When Theodore Roosevelt was discussing the marriage of his daughter to Nicholas Longworth, he confided boastfully to a perplexed Kaiser Wilhelm that he and Nick had both belonged to the Porc. At that time, Roosevelt was not alone in considering membership an important qualification for a son-in-law. Boston mothers, on the prowl for young gentlemen eligible for debutante dances, turned to the clubs to provide them. And The Institute of 1770 even had ranking within itself: the first seventy or eighty elected to it from each class were termed Dickeys, from the name of a secret society D.K.E. For those undergraduates with the correct background it was all-important that they be elected to the Dickey--it meant certain social success in College and afterward. And even in 1926 when the Pudding and the Institute merged, the club sent out a list of members, in the order which they had been elected. This ranking was published in Boston and New York papers and served as a convenient method for plucking the near from the eligible.
In later years, the Dickey has disappeared. Hasty Pudding remains as a common ground for all clubs with a membership of over 600. Members are chosen from a list of candidates put up by friends in the club and passed on by the 11 presidents of the final clubs. Hasty Pudding also serves meals but is chiefly popular for its extensive, reasonable-priced bar; and Leo, one of the last of the Irish Tenor barmen. Since many of the final clubs do not permit women guests, the Hasty Pudding also gives dances throughout the football season. "The Hasty Pudding," says one member, "has no particular social barrier--the only consideration is more or less if you're a nice guy."
In this respect the Hasty Pudding differs much from the Society as it existed in the 1890's, and indeed from the final club in most eras. It was in the '90s that nation-wide fraternities were losing their grip on College chapters. The local groups wanted more independence; the national organization, more control. Throughout the 1890s' clubs were detaching themselves from the fraternity system. Porcellian and A.D., which had broken off from the Harvard chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, were joined by other final clubs. Another fraternity effort to refound Alpha Delta Phi terminated in the Phli and finally the Fly club.
Morgan and "The Gas"