Shhhh! A Peek Into the World of Collegiate Secret Societies

Most colleges have loads of student organizations that you can join. But there are some that are hard to find, and even harder to join -- and they'd like to keep it that way . . .

You’re probably already aware that most colleges and universities have dozens—if not hundreds—of student organizations. Whether you’re into art or literature, or you’re looking to make friends who share your political leanings, or you’ve always dreamed of joining a sorority or fraternity, you’re bound to find a group that suits even the most specific of your interests (pizza crust, anyone?). But did you know that there are some groups that are shrouded in mystery and spoken of only in whispers?

Secret societies have long had a presence on college campuses. Though the history, traditions, and purposes of each are unique, they all share at least one common trait: the mystique of utmost secrecy. Some of them keep their membership anonymous, and others go so far as to deny their society even exists.

There may or may not be underground tunnels, passwords and handshakes, or mandatory cloak-wearing, but there’s certainly something enigmatic—and even a little creepy—about these groups. Just in time for Halloween, here’s a look at a few of the most mysterious collegiate secret societies.

Wesleyan University: Skull and Serpent

Wesleyan University’s Skull and Serpent society was formed in 1865. Membership was originally restricted to the officers of three of Wesleyan’s most prestigious fraternities. Rumors abound that the society still exists today, with some students reporting that they’ve received invitations to a nearby graveyard at night. The society recently sent an open letter to Wesleyan’s community after their alleged meeting place, known as “The Tomb,” was vandalized.

College of William and Mary: The Flat Hat Club

The College of William and Mary reportedly has at least three secret societies. Thomas Jefferson was a member of the school’s mysterious F.H.C. Society, which was founded in 1750 and rebranded and revived as the Flat Hat Club in 1916. Though little is known about the goings-on of the Flat Hat Club, its members' actions reportedly “seem to consist only of anonymous philanthropic acts that benefit William and Mary and people at the College.”

Cornell University: Quill and Dagger

Cornell University’s Quill and Dagger is a senior honor society that was founded in 1893. Though its existence is widely known and its members’ names are published in The Cornell Daily Sun, its meetings and campus contributions are still kept under wraps.

Auburn University: The Spades

The Spades were founded in 1915 at Auburn University. Each year, 10 seniors are selected to join the highly exclusive society. Though originally only open to male students, membership is reportedly now open to female students as well. The group’s activities are largely secret and its meetings allegedly take place in the woods, and they’re even rumored to be a college branch of the Illuminati.

Washington and Lee University: Cadaver Society

Washington and Lee University’s Cadaver Society was founded in 1957 and is strictly anonymous. According to the school’s website, the Cadavers are a secret society of undergrads who appear after dark, clad in black capes and hoods, and play pranks. It is rumored that they are mostly pre-med students. “The Cadavers manage to operate while keeping their identities 100% secret. [They] leave their seal, a ‘C’ with a skill inside, around campus. The secret society is also a philanthropic organization.”

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Order of Gimghoul

Not only does the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have a secret society, the Order of the Gimghoul, but its members supposedly meet in an actual castle. Gimghoul Castle, which is located just east of the campus, is itself steeped in mystery. A popular legends holds that the body of Peter Dromgoole, a young student, was buried on the property in 1833 after he lost a duel over the woman he loved; the Order of the Gimghoul was then founded in his honor and dedicated itself to Arthurian chivalry. Today, the society (if it does indeed exist . . .) is exceedingly confidential.

University of Virginia: The Seven Society

The University of Virginia is thought to have several secret societies, but the Seven Society is reportedly the most secretive of them all. No one even knows for certain when the society was formed, but its symbol first appeared in the 1905 edition of the student yearbook. The most popular legend speculates that the society was founded when eight students had planned to meet for a game of bridge and only seven showed up. Throughout the society’s history, members have only been revealed upon their death, when a Seven Society banner appears at the funeral.

New York University: Eucleian Society

Founded in 1832, New York University’s Eucleian Society was established to further the literary arts. Early members would have clandestine meetings every Friday afternoon to hold debates, which were preceded by literary readings. They even went so far as to create their own library, and they published several literary magazines, which can now be found in the school’s archives. Today, membership and the society’s activities are as secretive as always, though Eucleians do make their presence known from time to time.

Yale University: Skull and Bones

Perhaps the most famous of all the collegiate secret societies, Skull and Bones was founded at Yale University in 1832. Just 15 new members are “tapped” each year. The group stopped publishing its membership in 1971, so one can only speculate about more recent members, but some of the most famous confirmed Bonesmen include Secretary of State John Kerry; Henry Luce, founder and publisher of magazines such as Fortune and Sports Illustrated; James Jesus Angleton, former chief of the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff; and former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

These are just a handful of the many collegiate secret societies—that we know of. There could be many more out there, its anonymous members meeting by candlelight in caves and castles and underground tunnels, partaking in age-old traditions and speaking in whispers as the outside world keeps spinning, none the wiser . . .

And let’s be honest: they probably throw the best parties.

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