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The light of the Room;
And it's why shouldn't every man
Enjoy the Room. chorus of the Porcellian Club song
When a newly initiated member of the Porcellian Club complained last year that sitting in a leather chair and singing praises to the walls was not the stimulating experience he had expected from club life, Theodore Roosevelt IV, '65 let him in on a bit of Porcellian philosophy. "We may be passive," Roosevelt said, "but we're aggressively passive."
While other undergraduate organizations produce plays or publish journals, the members of Harvard's 11 Final Clubs devote their energies to maintaining a refuge from such endeavors. For the more conscientious members of the more conscientious members of the more prestigious clubs, it can turn into a full-time occupation.
Harvard's Final Clubs exist to provide secluded comfort for their selected few while the world passes by on the other side of the locked doors. "It's a step aside from the University," said Kinnaird Howland '66-3, president of the Delphic Club. "When I finish my work it's the place I can go to put my feet up."
The clubs strive to provide their members with the sensation of a man suspended half-way down in his swimming pool, breathing through an squalung--a sort of nullo-euphoria. The club that is most successful in denying the existence of a world outside is the Porcellian.
Founded in 1789, The Porcellian is by far the oldest, the most exclusive, and the most secretive of the Final Clubs. Women are never allowed inside its doors. Distinguished guests of Porcellian members may visit--but only once. (The club turned down President Eisenhower's request for a second look).
The members of the Porcellian thrive on a substitute world of their own. Pictures of famous graduates adorn their walls (Oliver Wendell Holmes is prominently displayed). The rooms are furnished with gifts from former members, and each new sophomore class must memorize which graduate donated which table or chair.
While inside the club, located above J. August, the members address each other as "Brother" this and "Brother" that and refrain religiously from discussing politics. They are instructed to look outside only through a mirror above the J. August sign, placed in such a way that a club member may view the pedestrian life on Mass. live without rising from his over suffered seat.
The pig (the Porcellian symbol) is to dominant feature of the club's reagent decor. There are wild boars' reeds on the walls. There are sculpted pigs and pictures of pigs. The library contains a whole series of looks on pigs, including one edition of The Three Little Pigs.
It's this tradition and atmosphere that the other clubs envy. "The P.C. could take in wonks from now till doomsday and they'd still be number one," said John Potter '66, a member of the Phoenix SK Club. A member of another club confided, "No one will say it in the open, but every damn one of us would rather be in the Pore."
The Porcellian is reputed to hold the most elegant "punches," the weekend outings to which would-be members are invited for inspection. With more local graduates to choose from--the Porcellian is partial to Old Boston families--the club can always find a wealthy alumnus who will lend his palatial residence and spacious lawns to the club for a raucous afternoon of football and drinking, usually carried on simultaneously. Skeet shooting, bowls, or other forms of leisurely recreation are sometimes provided for the less energetic.
Following each punch, the members meet at the club to rate each "punchee." A punchee's rating determines whether he will be invited to the next outing.
At the Porcellian's Final Dinner (the last function of the punching season for all the clubs), each prospective member is required to tell one dirty joke, and his success in amusing the members often determines his fate at election time. New members are elected in December and initiated in February, when they are filled full of alchohol, led blindfolded through the Porcellian cubhouse, and finally unveiled before a large assemblage of exultant graduate members.
Opinions differ on the value of the Final Clubs. Robert B. Watson '37, Dean of Students and a graduate member of the A.D. Club, feels that the clubs are "in phase with the College."
"Until the House system went into effect (in the early 1930's) the social centers of the College were in the clubs," he said. "Since that time, the role of the clubs has greatly diminished, but as the college changes, the clubs change.
"The clubs are a little more intellectually and culturally oriented than they were in my day," Watson added. "And some of them are branching out. They're taking high school boys and boys from other parts of the country."
Watson feels that the clubs' ability to contribute something worthwhile to an undergraduate's experience at Harvard is proven by the facility with which the clubs attract new members. "The clubs can't just bury their heads in the sand and let the college go by. If they do this, who wants to belong?"
Kinnaird Howland agrees with Watson. "A social club in the University today has its limits of usefulness unless there is some sort of contact with the outside. I hope that there will be a lot more of this, particularly with the Faculty, in the Delphic Club next year."
Right now Howland considers the punching season the most valuable experience the clubs have to offer. "The punching season is an amazing experience as far as your conversational ability is concerned. It offers an opportunity to communicate with all sorts of people."
But Howland feels that a member can be too enthusiastic about his club. "As soon as a club becomes primary, I think it's bad. If you look at it with any sort of perspective it immediately assumes a secondary role."
A curiosity of the Final Club system is that the more prestigious the club, the more it isolates the individual member from the rest of Harvard. A student elected to the Porcellian Club--and therefore presumably among the most popular of his class--will devote more of his time and energy exclusively to his club than will a member of a club that will a member of a club that is not so highly regarded.
Peter Birge '67, who was initiated into the Porcellian Club last year and became disaffected shortly thereafter, said that "for most people in the Porcellian, membership is their number one achievement at Harvard."
The importance that Porcellian members place on their club experience makes them more reluctant to share it with anyone on the outside. According to Birge, some members of the Porcellian class of '66 introduced a proposal earlier this year to invite Faculty members to the club once a month, but the rest of the club voted it down. Howland is likely to have less trouble pushing his resolution through next fall, because Delphic members do not consider the confines of their clubhouse so sacrosanct.
Birge feels that the same qualities that have embellished the reputation of the Porcellian Club have greatly diminished its ability to be of service to its members. The restrictions placed on discussions within the club make conversation meaningless, he said. "If you start to talk about issues, somebody says, 'Go home and do that; the Club is for friendship.' For Porcellian members, Comradeship and intellectual relationships must be two different things."
The distinction has been institutionalized to protect the club ideal of egaliarianism, Birge feels. "Intellection is banned because anything that tends to mark out one member from another creates hierarchies. Using your head can pull you one step above the next person. The guy they like is the one who can talk on any subject the other person brings up."
The high-club distinction between intellectual and social companions extends beyond the realm of male friendship. Many members of the most highly regarded clubs--the Porcellian, the A.D., the Fly, the Delphic, and the Spee--make similar distinctions among their female associates.
A large proportion find their girl friends at Bradford, Briarcliff, and other out - of - the - way places that abound in young ladies from good families. Club members often have two girls--one they love and one they lost for -- and whoring is still practiced by members of many clubs. "There's a woman you have a sexual attraction for and another you don't think of that way," Birge said. "But she speaks well, is pretty, and plays the harpsichord."
Birge feels that this sort of segregated existence is out of step with the times, and he puts partial blame for its perpetuation on the aristocratic traditions of the clubs. "If you're an active member of the Porcellian, you can't be living in the 1960's. When you're inside that place, you realize it's something straight out of Fitzgerald."
Lack of Commitment
The steeped tradition of the Porcellian hurts its members academically too, Birge feels. "There's a fetish about a lack of commitment. To care too much about something is square. Big as it is, there's not one room in the place set aside for studying. This is part of a confusion between complacency and maturity."
Birge thinks that the constant reminders of distinguished alumni are a detrimental influence. "There are enough pictures in the place to make it clear that graduates of the Porcellian are famous, but the average member turns this around and figures that it was the Porcellian that made these people famous. They don't figure that when the old guys were at Harvard, they didn't spend their time around the club staring at pictures."
Those who contend that the clubs are a good thing for members have a more difficult time arguing that they perform a valuable Service to the University. The clubs' exclusionist philosophy would seem to be out of step with the University's democratic ideals.
Dean Watson answers that "only about one half of one per cent of the people not in clubs are terribly unhappy about it." It is no doubt true that non-members are far more content than the undergraduate who wants to get into the Porcellian Club but is forced to settle for a club farther down the ladder.
Racial prejudice and anti-Semitism are still vital factors in the selection of club members. The Porcellian Club is reputed never to have admitted a Jewish student, and the story is told that the only Jew ever to enter the Delphic Club did so under an assumed name.
"Judging from my experience, I would say that there is no doubt that the Porcellian Club--as an institution --is anti-Semitic," Birge said. "Many of the individual members may not be, but the Club definitely is."
The Spee Club broke tradition this year by electing a Negro, the first ever to join a Harvard Final Club. But it would be a mistake to assume that this step indicates a change in the attitudes of most club members.
William Coleman III '65-4, president of the Delphic Club at the time of the election, expressed the majority view in a statement to the CRIMSON. "I don't want to say that this is a precedent that all the clubs at Harvard should follow, or that the Delphic Club is definitely going to take in a Negro or a Chinese or whatever," Coleman said.
Club members are often willing to acknowledge that racial and religious prejudices exist, but most excuse it because "that's the way the world is." Few worry that Harvard will use this or any other excuse to end or drastically change the club system. Club alumni, a remarkably loyal group, are among the biggest contributors to Harvard, and this is the clubs' ace in the hole.
A University circular in the early fifties dared to state that clubs were not influential in undergraduate life, and the report brought scores of angry letters from outraged alumni. The error has not been repeated.
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