The 10 Most Exclusive College Societies

The Seven Society, University of Virginia

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The Seven Society, founded in 1905, is the most secretive of all university collegiate societies. Members’ names are only revealed after their death, when a wreath of black magnolias in the shape of a “7” is placed at the gravesite, and the bell tower of the University Chapel chimes seven times at seven-second intervals on the seventh dissonant chord when it is seven past the hour. Nothing much is known about the society, and legends note that of eight men who planned to meet for a card game, only seven showed up,[4] and they formed the society. How the members are chosen are of an equal mystery. The only known method to contact the Seven Society is to place a letter at the Thomas Jefferson statue inside the University’s historic Rotunda, but one visible sign of society–the number 7 logo surrounded by the signs for alpha, omega, and infinity and several stars—adorn many buildings on the grounds of the University.

The Flat Hat Club, William & Mary

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The oldest student club founded in the United States is the Flat Hat Club, founded in 1750 at the College of William and Mary, which proudly counted Thomas Jefferson as one of its members. The initials of the F.H.C. Society doesn’t stand for Flat Hat Club, but for Latin, “Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio” (“brotherhood, humaneness, and knowledge”). The founding fathers of the modern fraternity traditions, the “brothers” of the F.H.C. devised and employed a secret handshake, wore a silver membership medal, issued certificates of membership, and met regularly for discussion and fellowship. The society ceased to exist during the American Revolution and WWII, and fully revived only in 1972. [The Flat Hat refers to a graduation cap.]

The Corps Hannovera Göttingen, Georg August University

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One of the oldest German Student Corps (Studentenverbindung), the Corps Hannovera Göttingen was founded in 1809 at the Georg August University of Göttingen. The name was chosen because the founders called the Kingdom of Hanover their home. It is a founder member of the Kösener Senioren-Convents-Verband (KSCV), the oldest governing body of student associations in Germany and Austria. A fencing society, Hannovera is a stringent follower of the blue principle—the promotion of gentlemanly conduct and social behaviour, as well as the common principles of tolerance and democracy. Its members wear cap and tricoloured sash, and its motto is Nunquam retrorsum, fortes adiuvat fortuna! (Never backward, fortune favours the bold). Corps Hannovera’s parties in their club house (Corpshaus) are the best parties in the town.

The Philomathean Society, University of Pennsylvania

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The oldest continuously-existing literary society in the United States, the Philomathean Society took its name from the Greek word for “a lover of learning.”The Society emphasizes the arts of rhetoric, oratory, and writing and its three-step membership process reflects this. Governed by a Cabinet of eight officers (Moderator, First Censor, Second Censor, Scriba, Recorder, Treasurer, Librarian, Archivist), the society meets eight times per semester on the top floor of College Hall, and has regular afternoon teas with professors and sponsors. The Society publishes several books and anthologies every year, and was the publisher of the first complete English translation of the Rosetta Stone—a translation done by three undergraduates. The motto is sic itur ad astra (“thus we proceed to the stars”).

Final Clubs of Harvard

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Increasingly stigmatized by their elitism, sexism and racism are the final clubs of Harvard. There are eight all-male clubs, whose reputations are marred by the frequent charges of sexual assaults and five all-female clubs, and most clubs have historical traditions that make them more of a reflection of Harvard’s predominantly white, trust-fund wealthy, Protestant past. The societies differ greatly in their exclusivity, wikipedia notes, “the clubs have an undergraduate membership of around sixty a piece, amounting to nearly 20% of the eligible male undergraduates and 5% of eligible female undergraduates. Some final clubs often hold parties and open their doors to women and male guests of members. Others, like the A.D., have only in recent history opened their doors to female guests of members and still do not allow male guests. Porcellian never allows non-members past “the bicycle room” in the building’s foyer, while the Delphic permits its guests access only to its basement by a separate entrance.

St. A’s. Columbia

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Although the chapters of the Society of Saint Anthony (or commonly St. Anthony Hall) now exists all over the United States, the society still retains its secrecy, exclusivity and gravitas. The national chapters are known variously as social fraternities, clubs, secret societies, or literary clubs, but Columbia’s original society is known for its members’ extraordinary wealth. Founded in 1847, St. A’s at Columbia is usually at the center of controversy because of the alleged discrimination practiced by the young men and women of the society. Although Baird’s Manual referred it in 1897 as “the most secret of all the college societies,” and many novelists, some as prestigious as F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote slantingly about it, the society’s mystic as a secret society slowly withered as it expended its chapters.

Quills and Daggers, Cornell

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First of the Ivy League Honors societies to open its membership to women, Quill and Dagger society, founded in 1893, recognizes exemplary undergraduates at Cornell University. Many professors, deans, trustees and administrators themselves are the alumnae of the prestigious society, and so are many famous American businessmen and CEOs. The society also has been responsible for starting numerous campus traditions. The meetings and proceedings of Quill and Dagger are closed, and the society’s activities on campus are typically concealed. The public is not admitted to the society’s sanctuary on the top floor of Lyon Tower.

Skull and Bones, Yale

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The most secretive of all societies on this page is Yale’s Skull and Bones, which was formed in 1832. Alternately referred to as The Brotherhood of Death or Eulogia, the society’s macabre emblem is a skull with crossed bones, over a mysterious number “322”. The Skull & Bones Hall is known as “Tomb”, and members meet in the “tomb” on Thursday and Sunday evenings of each week over the course of their senior year. Some accuse Bonesmen of involving in Satanic practices in the tomb or conspiracy theories. Every year, fifteen seniors on the society “tap” fifteen new junior members to replace them. Although this is the highest honor a Yale undergraduate can receive, historically many members has been drawn from the same great American families. Members are assigned nicknames, chosen from literature. The society also owns an island retreat in the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York named Deer Island. Another equally secretive group, Scroll and Key exists on the Yale campus.

Cambridge Apostles, Cambridge

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Many don’t fail to notice that many energetic people who participated in Cambridge Union (the university’s debating society) ends up in the British Parliament. However, even more exclusive than the Union is the other debating society, the Cambridge Conversazione Society, known commonly as the Cambridge Apostles. Founded in 1820, the society takes its name from the idea that its members are the 12 cleverest students at Cambridge. The members were traditionally chosen from King’s and Trinity Colleges [Great court of Trinity College, above] (though this is no longer the case). Once a week, on Saturday evenings, a debate and discussion is held while the members eat sardines on toast, called “whales”. The Apostles retain a leather diary of their membership stretching back to its founder (George Tomlinson, who went on to become the Bishop of Gibraltar), which includes handwritten notes about the topics each member has spoken on. Former members are called “angels” and undergraduates being considered for membership are called “embryos.” Becoming an Apostle involves taking an oath of secrecy and listening to the reading of a curse, originally written by Apostle Fenton Hort, the theologian in 1851. The Apostles became known outside Cambridge because of the infamous Cambridge spy ring, in which two “angels” were found to have passed information to the KGB.

Bullington Club, Oxford

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Satirized again and again inside the British High Society and inside the House of Lords and Commons for its excessive rowdiness and destructive binges, the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University is a club that England loves to hate. The New York Times informed, it is “the acme of exclusiveness at Oxford; it is the club of the sons of nobility, the sons of great wealth; its membership represents the ‘young bloods’ of the university”. Founded around 1780 as a hunting and cricket club, the club slowly evolved into a dining club at towards the end of the 19th century. Extreme drunkenness and destruction of private property (usually windows, glasses) usually couple the club meets, which led to the club being banned for long periods of time from the University. The membership is only by invitation, and membership elections are held twice a year, when successful new members are visited in their rooms, which are then ‘trashed’ as a symbol of their election. [In above photo, current opposition leader David Cameron is in the back row on the left.]

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