Secret societies at the University of Virginia

Secret societies at the University of Virginia

Secret societies have been a part of University of Virginia student life since the first class of students in 1825. While the number of societies peaked during the 75 year period between 1875 and 1950, there are still five societies (Seven Society, Z Society, IMP Society, Eli Banana, T.I.L.K.A.) active that are over 100 years old, and several newer societies (the P.U.M.P.K.I.N., Purple Shadows, 21 Society, and the Sons of Liberty). The earliest societies, Eli and Tilka, functioned as social clubs; the Sevens, IMPs, and Zs have built a record of philanthropy and contribution to the University; and the later societies have focused on recognition or disapprobation of positive or negative contributions to the University.

Historical context

The earliest secret society at the University was probably the no-longer-secret Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, which at its 1825 founding was secret, with expulsion the penalty to any member who exposed the society's secrets.Patton (1906), 235.] . Student society activity for the first period of the University appears to have been confined to similar literary societies, including the Patrick Henry Society, Philomathean Society, Parthenon Society, Columbian, and Washington Society, which were not secret societies; only the last is still active.Patton (1906), 237.]

At the same time, Greek organizations that were purely social in function (today's fraternities) began to play a role in student life. In 1853, students petitioned the Faculty to set up a "secret" colony of Delta Kappa Epsilon. The first request was rejected by the Faculty, coming as it did on the heels of years of riotous behavior; according to University historian Philip Alexander Bruce, the faculty feared "orderly spirit of the student body acting as a whole or in segments, whether organized into secret fraternities or into Calathumpian bands"; in another session or two, the chapter became established, and other Greek fraternities followed.Bruce, III:167.] It can be said generally about the early UVA fraternities that the only "secret" aspect of them was their operation and meeting location; the membership was not kept secret.

The growth of student organizations was interrupted by the Civil War, but resumed thereafter with the establishment of additional fraternities. A few secret societies are recorded during the years 1865 - 1878, of whom the only one of any note is the Dedils, most notable for being shut down by the Faculty after their minutes were found where they had been dropped by the drunken president of the organization.Bruce, IV:95-96.]

The Eli Banana Society, established in 1878, represented a new kind of secret society at the university. The new "ribbon society" tended to operate as an upperclass society, drew its members from the "upper class", and sought to exercise control of other student groups such as the Jefferson Society. Other ribbon societies included T.I.L.K.A., the Lotus Society, the O.W.L. (a semi-secret society drawing its membership from the newspaper, magazine, and yearbook staff), the Zeta (later the Z Society), and O.N.E.Bruce, IV:99-100.]

The suppression of Eli Banana in 1894 and of the Hot Feet/IMP Society in 1908 coincided with the rise of academic societies, including the semi-secret Raven Society, whose members are initiated in a secret ceremony but is otherwise public. At around the same time, the Seven Society, a group so secret that its members are not made known until their death, appeared. The Seven Society established a new model for secret society operation on Grounds. While the ribbon societies were observed to draw their membership from the fraternities, and the IMPs and Zs from the ribbon societies,cite book |url= |title=The Shield: Official Publication of the Theta Delta Chi Fraternity |pages=209 |year=1897 |editor=Theta Delta Chi] the Seven Society's extreme secrecy meant that the society had no apparent formal connections to the social secret societies. At the same time, its exclusive focus on philanthropy meant that, unlike the Elis and Hot Feet, it functioned as an important contributor to the aims of the University.cite journal |url= |last=Domagal |first=Jennifer |title=Keeping Secrets: Student Secret Societies in Historical Context |journal=The Vermont Connection |date=2002 |volume=23 |pages=62-70 ] The other societies founded after 1905 likewise define themselves in relation to supporting the University, whether through recognizing notable or notorious individuals (P.U.M.P.K.I.N.s, 21 Society, Sons of Liberty) or upholding University traditions (Purple Shadows).


The T.I.L.K.A. Society, commonly called Tilka, was founded in 1889 as a ribbon society after the model of Eli Banana. The name of the society is said to reference "five mystical words," though these are unknown.Dabney, 37-38.] The society rose in prominence after the Elis were suppressed in the late 1890s, capturing most of the student offices.Bruce, IV:99, 339-340.]

Like Eli Banana, the Tilkas combined a focus on student leadership with a social function. Dabney notes that from the 1920s to the 1950s both organizations regularly sponsored formal dances at the university.Dabney, 89-90, 305.] The organizations were sufficiently integrated into student life by the late 1940s that a Virginia Glee Club album of University songs included the Tilka anthem ("Come Fill Your Glasses Up for T.I.L.K.A.").citation
title=Virginia U. Band and Glee Club Put Songs 'On the Record' |date=1951-04-22 |year=1951 |newspaper=Washington Post |pages=L7 |accessdate=2008-01-27

Notable members of T.I.L.K.A. included founding member and UVA Law professor Raleigh C. Minor,Dabney, 123.] past UVA football quarterback and alumni association president Gilbert J. Sullivan;Dabney, 398.] University president Frank HerefordDabney, 595.]

The Tilkas are still active at UVA; a 2004 article in the Cavalier Daily describes their "tapping" ceremony.cite news |url= |title=Ribbons and Trashcans |work=Cavalier Daily |last=Meeks |first=Brett |date=2004-11-23]

Purple Shadows

The Society of the Purple Shadows, named after a line from the poem "The Honor Men" that refers to the purple shadows of The Lawn, [citation |url=
last=Hay, Jr. |first=James |contribution=The Honor Men |editor-last= Patton |editor-first=John S. |editor2-last=Doswell |editor2-first=Sallie J. |editor3-last=Crenshaw |editor3-first=Lewis D. |title=Jefferson's University: Glimpses of the Past and Present of the University of Virginia |publisher=The Michie Company |location=Charlottesville, VA |year=1915 |pages=98
] was established in 1963.Dabney, 501.] The group's stated mission is "to contribute to the betterment of the University and to safeguard vigilantly the University traditions."cite news |url= |title=Noted For Eccentricity, Mysteriousness: Societies Beneficial to University |last=Steer |first=Jay |work=Cavalier Daily |date=1968-09-11] The group is notable for appearing in public in purple hooded robes that have drawn comparison to Ku Klux Klan attire.cite news |url= |title=One-Horned Purple Trust Eaters |work=Cavalier Daily |date=2007-04-23 |accessdate=2008-05-13]

Past activities of the Purple Shadows have included anonymous political statements. In the 1970-1971 term, the society gave an ambiguous welcome to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Annette Gibbs, whose responsibilities included the advising female undergraduate students at the newly coeducational university, by tying the doors to her office shut with a purple ribbon.cite news |url=
title=Whatever Happened To The Dean Of Women? |work=Cavalier Daily |accessdate=2008-05-13 |last=Kyle |first=Patti |date=1971-10-26
] In 1982, following the decision of Dean of Students Robert Canevari to ban the traditional Easters celebration, the group left a letter and a dagger expressing their displeasure. The Dean filed charges against the group with the University Judiciary Committee, which were never answered.cite news |url= |title=Illuminating the Shadows |work=Cavalier Daily |last=Lee |first=Patrick |date=2007-10-29]

The principal contribution made by the Purple Shadows today is ongoing support of the honor system. The Shadows leave notecards for first year students during Convocation to formally welcome them to the Honor System; present the James Hay Jr. award for contributions to the honor system; and send letters in defense of the honor system when the existing single sanction system is challenged.cite news |url= |title=Traditional Changes |last=Breece |first=Jon |work=Cavalier Daily |archiveurl= |archivedate=2007-10-16 |date=2004] The group has taken other stands recently, including encouraging students to end the practice of chanting "not gay" when The Good Old Song is sung. cite web |url= |title=People Power (letter) |archiveurl= |archivedate=2008-04-19|last=Martinez |first=Patrick |work=Cavalier Daily |date=2007-11-05]

P.U.M.P.K.I.N. Society

The P.U.M.P.K.I.N. Society appeared sometime prior to 1967, when the earliest known dated citation of the group was published in the Cavalier Daily.; its purpose is to recognize "meritorious service" to UVA.cite news |url= |title=Pumpkins Planted |work=Cavalier Daily |date=1967-11-01 ] The earliest account of the group takes a humorous tone, claiming a connection to a 14th century "Societe de la Citrouillie" and establishing the society's secret "mystic" motto, "When the Corn's in the bin, Gourds are on the vine." The group distributes actual pumpkins, along with letters of commendation, annually.cite news |url= |title=P.U.M.P.K.I.N.'s To Make Yearly Roll |work=Cavalier Daily |date=1970-10-30] The society historically also presented a rotten gourd to an individual whom it felt deserving of criticism, but this practice was ended in 2000.cite web
url= |title=P.U.M.P.K.I.N. Power |work=Cavalier Daily |date=2000-11-01

Recent societies

Other secret societies have appeared on Grounds in the last ten years, including the 21 Society and the Sons of Liberty. The 21 Society announced its founding on June 21, 1999, stating that it intended to promote "student self-governance and the preservation of Mr. Jefferson's ideals."cite news |url= |title=21 Society formed |work=Cavalier Daily |date=1999-07-08 |archiveurl= |archivedate=2008-08-13] The society has subsequently contributed to the University's Center for Politics.cite news |url= |title=An inspired gift |work=Cavalier Daily |archiveurl= |archivedate=2008-07-09 |date=2005-02-14]

The Sons of Liberty were founded sometime before 2008, and follow the model of the P.U.M.P.K.I.N. Society by singling out individuals in the University community for commendation or disapprobation. In 2008, they were criticized for a prank of a University grad student that included pouring tea down his chimney; the same year the group immersed the podium of the Jefferson Society in a trash can full of tea and left a "tarred and feathered" red jacket with a letter on the podium.cite news|url=|title=Sons of Liberty will issue apologies for recent prank|last=Hoffman|first=Laura|date=2008-04-17|work=Cavalier Daily|accessdate=2008-04-17] The group appears to have no connection to the student-organized company of volunteer soldiers, also called the Sons of Liberty, who conducted training drills on the Lawn in 1861 after the outbreak of the Civil War.Dabney, 25.]

The Rotunda Burning Society is a secret organization, presumably founded sometime after 1974 and before 1993,cite web |url= |title=Quotes III |work=loQtus |last=Fuchs |first=Michael |date=1993-10 |accessdate=2008-05-16] Dates for the Rotunda Burning Society: the organization did not mention a merit in Dabney's "Mr. Jefferson's University", covering the University's history to 1974, but is cited in the form of a quotation from its "assistant fire marshall" in the Fuchs source from 1993.] that commemorates the 1895 burning of the Rotunda by burning an effigy of the building each year at the base of the south steps.cite news |url= |title=A Mark to Remember |work=Cavalier Daily |date=2003-09-04 |last=Cooper |first=Patricia ]

List of societies

The following is a list of some of the known secret societies at the University of Virginia. Much of the information has been paraphrased from information compiled by University Guide Service alumni and former University Guide Service historian Charles Irons.

This list includes societies that are well attested by reliable sources. It excludes some societies, such as the Raven Society, that have public membership and therefore are not secret societies by definition.

ee also

*Collegiate secret societies in North America

External links

* [ University of Virginia]



General references

*cite book |last=Bruce |first=Philip Alexander |authorlink=Philip Alexander Bruce |title=History of the University of Virginia: The Lengthening Shadow of One Man |location=New York |publisher=Macmillan |year=1921
*cite book|last=Dabney|first=Virginius|authorlink=Virginius Dabney |title=Mr. Jefferson's University: A History |url= |publisher=University of Virginia Press|location=Charlottesville|year=1981|pages=305-306
*cite book |url= |title=Jefferson, Cabell, and the University of Virginia |last=Patton |first = John S. |publisher=Neale Publishing Company |location=New York |year=1906 |pages=235

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