Wolf's Head (secret society)

Wolf's Head (secret society)

The beginning of an esteemed Yale College (New Haven, Connecticut) tradition of students challenging the society system and then accepting its rewards was the decision of fifteen members of the Yale Class of 1884 to abet the incorporation of "The Third Society", later known as Wolf's Head Society (W.H.S.).Phelps Trust Association archives, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University] Incorporated in 1883 as "The Third Society" by the Phelps Trust Association, W.H.S. is the third oldest senior or secret society at the liberal arts college (accounting for the three extant societies—Book and Snake, Berzelius and St. Elmo's—associated with the Sheffield Scientific School, 1854–1956, a division of Yale for science and engineering students).

Members of the Yale class of 1884 joined over 300 Yale alumniPhelps Association Membership Directory, 2006] to counter the dominance of Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key societies in undergraduate and university affairs. Dissatisfaction with the society system was associated with three related trends among the late-19th century student body: dissatisfaction with the current pedagogy, matriculants from environs beyond New England, and matriculants whose fathers represented post-Civil War wealth.


The Yale administration was dominated throughout the 19th century by early alumni of Bones, founded in 1832, and Keys, founded in 1841. [Robbins, Alexandra. "Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths to Power". Little, Brown, 2002. p. 60] Toward the end of the century the New Haven scholars were ascendant in the administration. The New Haven scholars used the pages of "The New Englander", [Stephenson, Louise L. "Scholarly Means to Evangelical Ends: The New Haven Scholars and the Transformation of Higher Learning in America". The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, pp. 164–5.] the lectern and pulpit to preach to college men and the current reading public that they were "members of a national elite based in communities across the nation. Their moral example would draw other men toward moral improvement and transform them into agents of the millennium". ["Scholarly Means to Evangelical Ends", pp. 41–45.]

Almost in complete opposition to these gentlemen was the Young Yale movement. These alumni, reared or making careers in the nation's largest metropolitan areas, had a different point of view concerning the definition and aspiration of a man of culture. They were disinclined to think "that a man of culture could distinguish himself and gain leadership status in a community who respected him because of who he was, not what he has done. These young men tended to define success in terms of business achievement and acceptance by the new institutions of metropolitan life — social and athletic clubs". These alumni advocated for the secularization of the curriculum, so the education prepared best for professional careers now afforded by industrialization in the Gilded Age. ["Scholarly Means to Evangelical Ends", pp. 64–65.]

The undergraduate student body had changed since the 1850s, an acme for the New Haven scholars. Beginning in the 1850s "increasing numbers of students whose families tended not to come from New England and not be Congregationalists or Presbyterians entered the college. Yale was ceasing to be an institution of regional importance where cohesion stemmed from deeply held and shared religious and social beliefs." ["Scholarly Means to Evangelical Ends", pp. 64.]

Wealth created by industrialization overwhelmed the old upper classes of the older cities. "From the eighteen-seventies until the nineteen-twenties, the struggle of old family with new money occurred on a grandiose scale. Those families that were old because they had become wealthy prior to the [American] Civil War attempted to close up ranks against the post-Civil War rich." This included the first publication of metropolitan social registers and the popularization of Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor's 400. [Mills, C. Wright. "The Power Elite". Oxford University Press, 1956. p. 49.]

In 1873 "The Iconoclast", a once-published student paper, advocated for the abolition of the society system. It opined: "Out of every class Skull and Bones takes it men… They have obtained control of Yale. Its business is performed by them. Money paid to the college must pass into their hands, and be subject to their will…. It is Yale College against Skull and Bones. We ask all men, as a question of right, which should be allowed to live?" [Reynolds, John . "Secret Societies: Inside the World's Most Notorius Organizations". Arcade Publishing, 2006. pp. 237–8]

Phi Beta Kappa, originally a secret student group akin to contemporary fraternities with meetings devoted to debate and literature, was inactive at Yale, 1871 - 1884. Anti-Masonic agitation in the 1820s prompted discussion of the secrecy shrouding PBK. Associated with PBK's reorganiztion in 1881, secrecy disappeared as a practice among all chapters, quelling rivalry with social fraternities. [ [http://www.clubs.psu.edu/PhiBetaKappa/hist.htm Phi Beta Kappa - History ] ] From the mid-1840s until 1883, failure met attempts to incorporate and sustain new societies at Yale among the Academic Department or liberal arts students. [ "Secrets of the Tomb", pp. 61-62]


The Class of 1884 agreed to support the revolt against the society system with a vote of no confidence to coincide with its commencement. It had been understood that the society system was beyond reform and might well be abolished. However, over 300 alumni and fifteen members of the senior class incorporated a society in 1883. Those undergraduates were the society's initial delegation, and had met as such during their senior year. An appropriate meeting hall had been erected by 1884. The Third Society was accepted immediately among Yale undergraduates and alumni, and managed its affairs similarly to the extant groups. Members were known as "Grey Friars". By the late 1800s, "the campus was dominated by the three prestigious secret senior societies, Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, and Wolf's Head." [ "Secrets of the Tomb", p. 38]

"The New Haven Register" reported in 1886: "Wolf's Head is not as far out of the world, in respect to its public doings, as are the other two [Bones and Keys] . There is a sufficient veil of secrecy drawn around its mechanism, however, to class it with secret societies, and this gives it a stability and respectability in Yale College circles that it might not have otherwise." ["Secrets of the Tomb", p. 63] In 1888 the society changed its name to "Wolf's Head Society", consonant with the approval among undergraduates of the society's pin, a stylized wolf's head on an inverted ankh, an Egyptian hieroglyphic known as the Egyptian Cross or "the key of life". Eternal life is symbolized, rather than death or erudition; by contrast, members of Bones or Keys wore their pins faced down on lapel or cravat.

The founding was associated with new rites among undergraduates and graduates. Bright College Years, the alma mater, was penned by Henry Durand, ["Yale Alumni Magazine", Dec 1999, "Old Yale: The Birth, Near-Demise, and Comeback of 'Bright College Years'"] an alumni-supporter of the incorporation, in 1881, his senior year, with the encouragement of William L. Harkness, a fellow classmate and Grey Friar. Harkness's younger brothers, Charles, namesake of Harkness Tower, and Edward, the philanthropist, were members. (Their father had been a silent partner in the holding company that was forerunner to the Standard Oil trust. Paul Moore's grandfather helped "take public" United States Steel.)"Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J.P. Morgan invented the American supereconomy", Charles Morris, H. Holt and Co. 2005]

The incorporation continued successfully the tradition of founding a society if enough potential members thought they had been overlooked by the extant groups. Bones was organized after a dispute over elections to Phi Beta Kappa; likewise, Keys was organized after a dispute over elections to Bones. ["New York Times", September 13, 1903, "Changes in Skull and Bones, Famous Yale Society Doubles Size of its House - Addition a Duplicate of Old Building"] The society sat at the apex of a social pyramid with freshmen, sophomore and junior societies as well as student-run organizations, clubs and fraternities as brick. [Caro, Robert. "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York City". Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. p. 38] "By 1884, half the faculty and the Corporation were members of a Yale secret society. In control, they were careful to quash efforts at restricting the societies." ["Secrets of the Tombs", pp. 64]

The tone set by the Grey Friars, as had been written about the music of Charles Ives, "had a wicked sense of humor and deliberately set out to deflate every kind of pomposity". [Liner notes, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives Symphony No. 2, Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg, Stereo 429220-2GH] Grey Friars mocked as "poppycock" the seemingly Masonic-inspired rituals of Bones and Keys. Before the turn of the previous century, for example, a theater troupe visited New Haven to perform "The Pirates of Penzance". When members learned the pirate king wore a hat bearing a skull and crossbones, a visit was made to the actor to suggest he display the numbers 322 below the skull and crossbones. When the character appeared on stage with the altered hat, several students vacated the theatre to the howling delight of the remaining audience. ["Secrets of the Tomb", p. 67]

Stephen Benet mocked playfully the aspiration to join a society: "Do you want to be successful?/ Form a club!/ Are your chances quite distressful?/ Form a club!/ Never mind the common friendships/ That no politician has!/ Seek the really righteous rounders/ and the athletes of the class!/ And you'll get your heart's desiring-/ and the rest will get the raz!" [Oren, Dan A. "Joining The Club: A History of Jews and Yale", Second Edition. Yale University Press, 2000]

However, the society maintained many traditions, including the code of secrecy. Moore, whose father was a member and a past president of the society's alumni arm, recounted the night before he first saw battle in World War II: "I spent the evening on board ship being quizzed by [a Harvard friend] about what went on in Wolf's Head. He could not believe I would hold back such irrelevant secrets the night before I faced possible death." [Moore, Paul. "Presences: A Bishop's Life in the City". Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. pp. 55-56]

Architects of the Wolf's Head Halls

*Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. designed ca. 1924 and completed posthumously, York Street, gift from Edward Harkness. The "New Hall", with its stone wall enclosing a gracious private garden, is the largest secret society compound on campus. [http://www.facilities.yale.edu/Campus/Building1.asp?lstBldg=2438&submit1=Continue] Coincidentally, Goodhue was a protege of James Renwick Jr., architect of the first St. Anthony Hall chapter house in New York City.
*McKim, Mead and White, firm of. 1884, former or "Old Hall" at 77 Prospect Street, across the street from the Grove Street Cemetery, commissioned for the Phelps Association (Wolf's Head alumni trust organization) [http://www.facilities.yale.edu/Campus/Building1.asp?lstBldg=1250&submit1=Continue] , Richardsonian Romanesque. Purchased by the University in 1924, rented to Chi Psi Fraternity (1924-29), Book and Bond (defunct society) (1934-35), and Vernon Hall (defunct club) (1944-54). Currently houses the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies. [http://www.yale.edu/isps/] [http://www.facilities.yale.edu/Campus/Building1.asp?lstBldg=1250&submit1=Continue]

"The Hall" commands the most prominent location on campus beyond Harkness Tower and the Memorial Quadrangle, gifts from Anna M. Harkness, the mother of Charles Harkness and Edward Harkness. "The Hall" sits fronted by York Street and surrounded by the "Yale Daily News"' Briton Hadden Memorial building, the Yale Drama School and its theatre, and the former homes of the Fence Club (or Psi Upsilon), DKE and Zeta Psi. The "Old Hall" was noted by "The New York Times", September 13, 1903, as "the most modern and handsomest" of the society domiciles.

Notable members

*James Bush 1844: Episcopal Church priest; ancestor, 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States
*Charles Taft 1864: Taft Broadcasting, MLB Chicago Cubs; brother, 27th President of the United States
*John Clarke 1878: Presiding Justice, Appellate Division of Supreme Court, First Department, New York State
*Edward Phelps Hon: Envoy, Court of St. James's
*Edward Harkness 1897: philanthropist
*Charles Ives 1898: 1947 Pulitzer Prize, Music
*Stephen Benet '19: 1929 and 1944 Pulitzer Prizes, Poetry
*Reeve Schley '03: Chase Manhattan Bank, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; maternal grandfather, Christie Whitman
*Paul Moore '08: U.S. Steel, Bankers Trust, Republic Aviation
*Robert Hutchins '21: Dean, Yale Law School; University of Chicago: 5th president, then chancellor
*Ducky Pond '25: Head Coach, Yale football
*Whit Griswold '29: 13th president, Yale University
*Thurston Morton '29: Senator, Kentucky, U.S. Representative, Kentucky's Third District
*Erastus Corning '32: Mayor, Albany, NY
*Basil Henning '32: resident master of Saybrook College, namesake of Duke's Men, editor "The History of Parliament"
*Douglas MacArthur '32: U.S. Ambassador Japan, Belgium, Austria, and Iran
*Roger Milliken '37: Milliken & Co.
*Rogers Morton '37: 22nd Secretary of Commerce, 33rd Secretary of Interior, U.S. Representative, Maryland's First District
*Paul Moore '41: 13th Episcopal Bishop, New York Diocese
*Charles Bartlett '43: 1956 Pulitzer Prize, National Reporting, "Chattanooga Times"; introduced JFK to his future First Lady
*Malcolm Baldrige '44: 26th Secretary of Commerce; National Cowboy Hall of Fame
*William Ford '48: Ford Motor Company, NFL Detroit Lions
*Robert Fiske '52: Whitewater controversy
*Richard Gilder '54: 2005 National Humanities Medal
*William Wrigley '54: Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company, MLB Chicago Cubs
*Sam Chauncey '57: university administrator, Mayday
*Rusty Wailes '58: gold medal crew 1956 Summer Olympics, 1959 Pan Am Games and 1960 Summer Olympics
*Lewis Lehrman '60: 2005 National Humanities Medal
*Benno Schmidt '63: Dean, Columbia Law School; 17th president, Yale University
*Raymond Seitz '63: Ambassador, Court of St. James's
*Geoffrey Robinson Hon: MP, British House of Commons; "New Statesmen"
*William Matthews '65: 1996 National Book Critics Award, 1997 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
*Chuck Mercein '65: 1968 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers
*Jack Morrison '67: captain and leading scorer, U.S. hockey team, 1968 Winter Olympics
*Charles McGrath '68: "New York Times": editor "Book Review", then writer-at-large; "The New Yorker"
*Mark Dayton '69: Senator, Minnesota
*Glenn deChabert '70: Yale undergraduate admissions; Black Student Alliance at Yale, Afro-American Cultural Center
*Rashid Khalidi '70: Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies and director, Middle East Institute, Columbia University
*Ralph Dawson '71: Fulbright & Jaworski; Superdelegate, 2008 Democratic Party presidential nominating convention, advisor, 2004 Howard Dean campaign; Mayday
*Kurt Schmoke '71: Dean, Howard University School of Law; Mayor, Baltimore, MD; Honorary fellow, Balliol College, Oxford University, Rhodes Scholar; Mayday
*Paul Goldberger '72: 1984 Pulitzer Prize, Distinguished Criticism, "New York Times"; "The New Yorker"
*John Ettinger '73: Davis Polk & Wardwell; Rhodes Scholar
*Dick Jauron '73: Head Coach, NFL Buffalo Bills, 2001 AP NFL Coach of the Year, Chicago Bears
*Douglas Wick '76: 2000 Academy Award, Best Picture, Golden Globe, Best Drama
*William MacMullen '82: Headmaster, Taft School
*Roosevelt Thompson '84: Roosevelt L. Thompson Prize; Rhodes Scholar, Truman Scholar
*Douglas Wright '85: 2004 Pulitzer Prize, Drama, Tony Award, Best Play, 2005 Lambda Award
*Frances Ho 2005: captain, 2005 undefeated NCAA, Ivy League and Howe Cup squash squad
*Michelle Quibell 2006: 2004 and 2005 Collegiate Squash Association national champion, first team All-American, 2003-6
*Joslyn Woodard 2006: 20 Heptagonal track and field championships, five-time Outstanding Performer, Indoor and Outdoor Heptagonals

See also

*Collegiate secret societies in North America


Other references

*"Yale: A History", Brooks Mather Kelley, Yale University Press, 1974
*"School of the Prophets: Yale College, 1701 - 1740", Richard Warch, Yale University Press, 1973
*"The Founding of Yale: The Legend of the Forty Folios", George Wilson Pierson, Yale University Press, 1988
*"The Game: The Harvard - Yale Football Rivalry, 1875 - 1983", Thomas Bergin, Yale University Press, 1984
*"My Harvard, My Yale", edited by Diana Dubois, Random House, 1982
*"The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment", Geoffrey Kabaservice, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2004
*"Mayday at Yale: A Case Study in Student Radicalism", John Taft, Westview Press, 1975
*"Stover at Yale", Owen Johnson, The MacMillan Company, 1912 and 1968
*"The Great Gatsby", F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Scribners's Sons, 1925
*"Insiders and Outsiders in American Historical Narrative and American History", R. Laurence Moore, "The American Historical Review" (Apr. 1982)
*"Growing Up Republican: Christie Whitman, the Politics of Character", Patricia Beard, HarperCollins, 1996
*"Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years", David Talbott, Free Press, 2007

External links

* [http://www.yaledailynews.com/article.asp?AID=14002 Secret societies add to Yale mystique] , "Yale Daily News"
* [http://www.slate.com/id/1005048/ Say It Ain't So, Bones!] , Slate.com
* [http://www.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2004_09/old_yale.html How the Secret Societies Got That Way]

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