Yale's secret societies are a strange, subdued version of Harvard's final clubs. They serve as a contact network and bonding group for members without including a social aspect. The societies contain only seniors. There are five societies which own "tombs," or buildings of their own, and these are the oldest and most prestigious. Recently, though, students have begun to form their own new societies, sometimes renting apartments as space for their activities.
Each year, senior members of the societies "tap" 15 members of the junior class to be members for the following year. Considering there are only five societies with tombs and they only tap 15 new members each year, charges of elitism are well-founded. However, the goal in choosing new members is to assemble a diverse group of students from different backgrounds of different races, and of both sexes. "Kind of the opposite of final clubs," says one Harvard freshman proctor who was a member of a secret society. The group of 15 is simply chosen--there is no "rush" or initiation process. They pay no dues or fees during their year as members; all funding comes from alumni of the societies.
The central activity of four of the five societies (Skull and Bones, Wolf's Head, Brazelius, and Book and Snake) is something called the "audit" which goes on all year. Members share their life story with the group. In Scroll and Key, the other of the five societies, the experience is one of debating issues, instead of the audit. The point of the societies is not social but rather to get to know a group of people intensely and learn about yourself in the process. Though the proctor claims the societies can be considered elitist because of the incredibly small number of students who have the opportunity to be members, he claims the principle of the organization is possible anywhere.
Societies eat meals together and meet twice a week. Students claim that though the societies--because they are so secret--play a small role on student life, for members they are a large time commitment.
Certainly, the name doesn't lie: The societies are well contained. Many students interviewed admitted to having no idea what goes on within the societies. Despite the relatively small influence they have on general student life at Yale, the societies are no secret on the Web, especially the most prestigious and oldest of the societies: Skull and Bones. Grouped with such organizations as the Illuminati and the Knights Templar, conspiracy theorists have had a heyday describing just how Skull and Bones conceives of further plots to psychologicallycontrol and manipulate the human race. An essayfound on the Web about Skull and Bones begins:"Everything you wanted to know about Skull andBones but were afraid to ask: three threads ofAmerican social history--espionage, drug smugglingand secret societies--intertwine into one." Theessay explains the origins of Yale and Skull andBones, tying the latter institution to the CIA,the Kennedy assassination, opium trade with China,the Illuminati and Nazi Germany. WilliamHuntington Russell 33 founded Skull and BonesSociety, also supposedly called the Russell TrustAssociation. The secret organization alsosupposedly spread to Phillips Academy in Andover,Mass. in the 1870s.
According to this essay, "each initiate isgiven $15,000 and a grandfather clock. Far frombeing a campus fun-house, the group is geared moretoward the success of its members in thepost-collegiate world." This may be true, butjudging from students' reaction to questions aboutthe societies, a Harvard reporter would never findout either way.
Early in the society's life, it flourished inspite of occasional squalls of controversy. Therewas dissension from some professors who didn'tlike its secrecy and exclusiveness, as well asbacklash from students showing concern about theinfluence "Bones" was having over Yale financesand the favoritism shown to "Bonesmen." The essayexplains: In October of 1873, Volume 1, Number 1,of The Iconoclast was published in New Haven. Itwas only published once and was one of very fewopenly published articles on the Order of Skulland Bones.
From The Iconoclast:
"We speak through a new publication. Becausethe college press is closed to those who dare toopenly mention 'Bones'.... "Out of every classSkull and Bones takes its men. They have gone outinto the world and have become, in many instances,leaders in society. They have obtained control ofYale. Its business is performed by them. Moneypaid to the college must pass into their hands andbe subject to their will. No doubt they are worthymen in themselves, but the many, whom they lookeddown upon while in college, cannot so far forgetas to give money freely into their hands. Men inWall Street complain that the college comesstraight to them for help, instead of asking eachgraduate for his share. The reason is found in aremark made by one of Yale's and America's firstmen: 'Few will give but Bones men, and they carefar more for their society than they do for thecollege...' "Year by year the deadly evil isgrowing. The society was never as obnoxious to thecollege as it is today, and it is just thisill-feeling that shuts the pockets of non-members.Never before has it shown such arrogance andself-fancied superiority. It grasps the collegepress and endeavors to rule it all. It does notdeign to show its credentials, but clutches atpower with the silence of conscious guilt."
Further allegations in the essay involvePresident George Bush as a player in the Kennedyassassination, head of the CIA and a helper of theChina's drug trade during his supposed "war ondrugs." Also on the Web is a copy of a 1977Esquire magazine article making similaraccusations-written by a Yale grad investigatingthe mysterious group. Allegedly, juniors beingtapped for the society undergo ordeals such asbeing immersed in mud and a coffin as well asdescribing to the members his entire past sexlife. However, no member will admit to thesetrials, and "[the members] are legendary for thelengths to which they'll go to avoid pryinginterrogation. The mere mention of the words"skull and bones" in the presence of a true-blueBonesman, such as Blackford Oakes, the fictionalhero of Bill Buckley's spy thriller, 'Saving theQueen', will cause him to 'dutifully leave theroom, as tradition prescribed.'"
The Esquire article tells of the Skull andBones aversion to going co-ed, as most the othersocieties had done by that time--1977. In fact,it's reported that Skull and Bones didn't go co-eduntil the early 90s and when it did alumni chainedshut the doors out of anger about the change.Women joined the society that year anyway--but theactions of the alumni show how devoted to theirold ways the Bones alums are
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