You’ve probably heard about the Order of Skull and Bones at Yale ““ George W. Bush and John Kerry were both members, among many other famous and/or influential men. But the Seven Society? Check out this secret fraternity and three others. But if anyone asks, I didn’t tell you…
Flat Hat Club
Formed in 1750 at William and Mary College, F.H.C. was the nation’s first secret society. The “Flat Hat Club” was a name given to the group by outsiders, likely because of the mortarboard caps they wore (caps that we now wear at graduations). F.H.C.’s initials stood for Latin words, but it is uncertain what they were. Some believe them to be “Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque” meaning “Brotherhood, Humanity, and Knowledge.” The society met regularly at Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg for drinking and discussion. They were not known for scholarly pastimes; the most famous known member, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in a letter that the society “served no useful object.” F.H.C. seemed to die within two decades of its founding due to the Civil War but has seen recent revivals.
When membership and interest waned in F.H.C. in the 1770’s, P.D.A. (now referred to as Phi Delta Alpha but called “Please Don’t Ask” at the time) imitated F.H.C. and established themselves as a secret society to take its place. A student at the college, John Heath, was repeatedly refused entry, and so in retaliation he created the first Greek-letter fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, which later spawned chapters in other colleges. Ta-da! Greek Life!
At the University of Virginia, Seven Society is the most secretive as well as (ironically) the most famous and visible on campus. It’s unclear when or how they were founded (one rumor is that seven men gathered for a card game created the society when the eighth man didn’t show up), but they first became public in 1905 when a white seven was painted on school grounds. Since then, the group has become a charitable powerhouse, buying a campus carillon, raising thousands of dollars for student loan funds, and awarding their own Seven Society Graduate Fellowship for Superb Teaching annually, which donates $7,000 to a teaching assistant nominated by students. Membership in the fraternity is so secret that it isn’t revealed until after a member has died. When this happens, a wreath of black magnolias shaped like a “7” is placed on the grave and the University Chapel’s bell tower chimes seven times in seven-second intervals on the seventh dissonant chord at seventh past the hour. The only way to contact the Seven Society is by hiding a letter at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue inside the University’s Rotunda.
Order of the Bull’s Blood
Established by five friends in 1834, this fraternity holds the high honor of being the oldest active secret society at Rutgers University. Known for encouraging escalating pranks by new members to “˜prove’ their allegiance, the Order caught the attention of nationwide newspapers in 1875 when they allegedly stole a canon from Princeton University. Other secret societies on campus, such as The Cap and Skull Honor Society, have made their activities and memberships public, but the Order is still so secretive that some question it even exists, calling it a hoax. In 2001, Spencer Ackerman wrote an unconfirmed article called “Degenerate Society” about how he had been asked to join the Order’s fraternity but refused. Some people who allegedly didn’t refuse: former Vice President Garret A. Hobart, former Director of the FBI Louis Freeh, and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.
The Adelphic Society was created by a group of 16 students at New York University in 1832. Shortly after, they changed their name to Eucleian, after Eukleia, the Goddess of Repute, Glory, and War. It became a literary society ““ with a stable source of money coming in from trusts ““ and hosted open forums and lectures (sometimes held with rival NYU society Philomathean). Although some members were known, most were kept secret, as were the inner workings of the organization. Documents and internal records kept by the group have had information removed, the name of the Society erased, and nearly all of it is written in symbolic shorthand. Regardless, the Society’s events were announced in newspapers and became well attended. One early lecturer and repeated guest was Edgar Allen Poe, who became an important influence. This also gave rise to the use of ravens in the fraternity insignia and the nickname “˜Raven Society.’
The Eucleian Society was one of the most progressive, supporting gender equality, abolition, and Native Americans’ rights. They printed two publications of their own, The Medly and the Knickerbocker, with articles lampooning and satirizing current events and people. Both became popular well beyond campus. Despite all of this, interest in the Society died down. Members were branded social elitists, and membership diminished as Greek fraternities gained prominence. In current years, the Society has opened up to those without University affiliation. A notable member of the Eucleian Society is John Harvey Kellogg, who invented corn flakes cereal with his brother, as well as Major Walter Reed, MD, a U.S. army physician who confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes.