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David Alan Richards Skulls And Keys The Hidden History Of Yales Secret Societies

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    Berzelius’s fifteen-year monopoly of Sheff student society organization from its founding in 1848 lasted only five years longer than Skull and Bones’ monopoly of Ac’s senior society system. The supply of interested students was outstripping the membership limitation, and Berzelius’s solution in 1863 was to create a “brother” society, called the Literature and Science Society, to meet weekly in South Sheffield Hall for literary exercises and debate. Book and Snake’s historian has claimed that Berzelius’s true aim here was to stop the formation of any other society that might oppose their social hegemony, by appointing to “L. and S.” any students who appeared to be restive or on the verge of founding a new group.

    This farm-league system collapsed after less than a season, as a band of disgruntled junior class members of this class of 1865 broke away to form Cloister, first known as Sigma Delta Chi and later as the Book and Snake society. The new club did not take long to ape the bad manners of the Ac side societies Bones and Keys. French windows opened from the Berzelius hall onto a flat roof, where on pleasant evenings the members adjourned with their chairs. Professor Benjamin Silliman Jr., the society’s first honorary member, attended a meeting where a “spread” from the Shelf Committee had been placed on the roof to keep cool. When the Berzelius delegation went up to eat, the comestibles had disappeared, the first recorded act of “crooking” against the older society, for which its new rival was suspected.61

    The founders of Cloister, on November 17, 1863, were James Bishop Ford, William James Mitchell, Sanford Robinson, Harry Rogers, William Wheelwright Skiddy, and John Whitman, together with a freshman, Joseph Thompson Whittlesey. Like Berzelius, it was a secret society, and rented a small hall-end room on the top floor of 851 Chapel Street, furnished with plain wooden chairs and a small table for meeting purposes. In 1876 its members chose to set up a residential home of their own, taking a brick structure at 36 Elm Street adjoining St. Thomas Church for living quarters, while ultimately expanding into the full top floor on Chapel Street for their society functions.

    The name they chose was the Sigma Delta Chi Society, for a purely Scientific School organization without other college affiliations. When the new group’s existence became known within Sheff and its founders identified by anxious members of Berzelius, the rebels were approached and offered immediate membership in Berzelius if they would abandon their plans. The offer was promptly rebuffed and soon Sigma Delta Chi openly solicited new members, electing from all three Sheff classes. After the pledges’ initiation in their first rooms, all members the following day appeared wearing pins on their cravats, diamond-shaped with their three Greek letters, in gold on a black enameled ground. Rules of secrecy were laid down: no discussion of the society with outsiders, and no notice to be taken of their remarks about it. By 1868, a sinking fund was started to enable a proper tomb to be constructed.

    When the delegation of 1876 rented 36 Elm Street for a members’ dormitory, with one toilet and one tin bathtub, that became the first of the Sheff society dormitories, named the “Cloister” by John Hays Hammond of that class (later to become Cecil Rhodes’s chief mining engineer in South Africa, a professor of mining at Yale, and a Taft-appointed special ambassador to Great Britain). The same year, the society’s name was changed to Book and Snake from Sigma Delta Chi, in determination that there should be no confusion with any national Greek-letter fraternity. The Stone Trust Corporation, named after early member Lewis Bridge Stone, was incorporated in Connecticut to hold the society’s property and funds, and, echoing the corporate charters of Bones and Keys, “for the purposes of the social, intellectual and moral improvement of its members.”

    The Trust secured an option on land at the southeast corner of Grove and High Streets, ultimately purchased for $10,000, but not until 1901 were the funds raised to build a tomb of Vermont marble in the Greek Ionic style, at a total cost of $81,000 for land and building. The architect was a Book and Snake member, Louis Metcalfe ’95-S, and upon its completion the two-story structure, forty feet tall, sixty feet long and forty-two feet wide, with four marble ionic pillars framing its doors, was deemed by some “the most perfect example of Greek architecture in America.” The steel used in the construction of its alcove was that material’s first use in a domestic building in the United States. It has been said that this archeologically correct temple stands as a “solid classisistic answer” to the Egyptian-gated cemetery across the street. “It is the perpetual attempt of establishing an official perfect order on earth, a sort of platonic reflection of heavenly secret societies.”62

    Its front door is a replica of the north door of the Erechtheion building on the Acropolis in Athens. Without a single slit or window in the solid marble walls (and more remarkably, a roof of huge marble tiles), it is surrounded by an iron fence, and the original wooden doors were in time replaced by bronze ones. Smoke from the furnace was carried by pipes to the chimney in the neighboring Commons building. A New Haven newspaper article reported that visiting strangers were told the building was a crematory, and that the snakes or “caduceuses” entwined around the iron pickets (the society’s symbol is a book surrounded by the ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail) represented that “all Yale men were bachelors, and the snake was put there to remind all the students of Eve so they would remain bachelors.”

    When the Yale residential college plan was announced, immediate speculation followed that private dormitories, such as the Cloister and the Colony, would not be permitted to intrude on the university’s plans that all undergraduates were to live together. W. W. Skiddy, one of the founders of Book and Snake, had long wanted to dispose of the Cloister and convert Book and Snake into a senior society along the lines of those in Ac, and offered a considerable sum to support that conversion, but found no majority in favor after a substantial and seemingly final discussion of the possibility at the graduate reunion in 1920.

    The announcement of the Harkness college plan gift, with residency commencing in fall 1933 and the last distinction between Sheff and Ac disappearing, compelled the Stone Trust to poll its members in May 1932. The votes in June were 189 to become a senior society, 2 to become a junior society, and 32 to await further developments. In spite of the protests of many graduates and undergraduates, the Trust voted in February 1933 to dispose of the Cloister at 1 Hillhouse—the property is now the university provost’s office, with a memorial plaque on the first floor—and to make Book and Snake a senior society. The conveyance of the Cloister was announced as a gift, but in truth Yale paid $25,000 for the building, said to then be the oldest society dormitory still standing in the country, and $5,000 for the furniture, with the income used by the society for a complete interior renovation of the Grove Street tomb.

    Although the graduate members had pressed for conversion to a senior society, the truth was they could give the undergraduates no help in establishing a new raison d’etre, and in shaping traditions that had to be made into the pattern established by others. In May 1934, Book and Snake went onto the campus for elections. They had taken in seven Yale College seniors as members in March, who now worked with the twenty Sheff side seniors and juniors to plan their selections—knowing that taking in a regular complement of fifteen on Tap Day, or as close as may be, was crucial to the new senior society’s future. They decided not to pledge any juniors beforehand, as some of the Ac side societies were still said to do, although, without extracting a pledge of acceptance, they told several juniors that their names were under serious consideration, a policy that was to continue. They also decided (as did Berzelius) that they would take in men not only from Yale College but from Sheff and the Engineering School, an ecumenism not at first shared by the original senior societies. In May 1934, Book and Snake received eleven acceptances from candidates they felt to be worthy, and had no trouble filling their full complement in the years thereafter.63

    Interestingly, undergraduates at the Sheff fraternity St. Anthony’s Hall at this time also wanted to become a senior society, but their graduate members forbade it, determining to stay a “final” organization and not allowing their members to accept election in any of the senior societies. Of the remaining Sheff societies, the St. Elmo Club, Vernon Hall (Phi Gamma Delta), and York Hall similarly survived the advent of the College Plan, but the Sachem Club (Phi Kappa Sigma) and Franklin Hall (Theta Xi) expired; all six sold their dormitories to the university as well, although for a while their members continued to live in them.64


      In “Senior Societies and the Lord Jehovah,” an article appearing in the Harkness Hoot issue for the month of 1933’s Tap Day, an anonymous society member celebrated the irony that the accession of Berzelius and Book and Snake to the old Ac system of such organizations was that system’s very salvation. The recurrent challenges to the senior society social regime since 1928 had set their constituents back on their heels, beginning with the numerous Bones turndowns of that year and continuing through the Hoot editors’ call for juniors to stay in their rooms. Now, old snobberies were to be eliminated by the College Plan: “Every undergraduate would be just as good as everyone else. No more of the old system that had crystallized while Yale was half as big as it is now,” and “a new social order . . . [brings] chiefly new benefits for Yale College’s recurringly remembered Forgotten Man. For him, left out of the fraternities and Senior Societies alike, are social reforms such as the House Plan created.”

      The senior societies, the author reflected, had two possible courses of action to “serve the forgotten undergraduate better (and regain prestige), by taking in a larger percentage of each class,” effected by electing more than fifteen men or by founding new societies. The first alternative was unsatisfactory: fifteen men per class had been found to be the optimally sized unit for their purposes. And as the rough births of Spade and Grave, Wolf’s Head, and Elihu had shown, “it takes an unusual set of circumstances, combining nerve, luck, good men ‘overloked,’ a new philosophy, and some financial backing, for the second alternative to succeed. And right here, in walks the College Plan and plunks down in the lap of the undergraduates two new Societies with history, buildings, and famous members equal to any,—Berzelius and Book and Snake.”65

      Edward Harkness had aimed by his gift to induce Yale College to offer its students a satisfactory form of fellowship and social companionship on a common basis, not subject to man-made distinction. Not at all anticipated was the further consequence of the buttressing of the very system which celebrated those distinctions, through the subsequent choices of Berzelius and of Book and Snake to join the other societies in chancing their fortunes on the Tap Day field. Similarly unforeseen by the four senior societies which had preceded their joinder in the May contest were the electoral successes of the two Sheff societies, which were strong from the outset.

      The corporate parent of Wolf’s Head, the Phelps Association, noted in surprised consternation to its membership in December 1936: “Lacking in prestige, as perforce they must, the two new societies are looked upon by many as being ‘as important as any of the others.’ As new College generations make their appearance, these new societies will appear always to have existed. This is true not because they have unearthed any newer or more important formulae for the advancement of senior societies at Yale, but because the majority of opinion feels that these societies are ‘still a most important phase of Yale life.’ It is only natural, then, in view of this feeling, that men will choose from among our newer rivals should they feel that their chances with the others are poor.” Wolf’s Head could not—nor could any other senior society on the Academic side—“either individually or as an organization dismiss our present status with a cursory pat on the back,” but must instead maintain “decent contact with undergraduate opinion in its ever-changing attitudes.”66 In May 1935, Wolf’s Head had suffered sixteen refusals on Tap Day, unhappily noted by the New York papers as a Yale record, and did not fulfill its quota until 10:45 P.M. that evening: the wound was hurtful, and better organization the following year yielded only one rebuff.67

      The annual election ceremony settled into relative equilibrium for the balance of the decade, ninety men being tapped within the established hour for the six societies, about one in five men being chosen from the pre–World War II classes averaging about 450 senior class members. Light relief was provided in the elections for May 1937, with the appearance of six solemn members of the new mystic order, “The Donkey’s Ear,” who lock-stepped in single file through the York Street gate, their heads hooded in black cotton stockings, followed by two unhooded men bearing a stretcher. Seemingly finding his man, the chief Donkey gave a worried and bespectacled undergraduate a resounding tap, whereupon he fainted, to be carried away by the stretcher-bearers, followed by the hooded band, lock-stepping out of the courtyard before the clock chimed five.68

      That year, the New York Times was to report, Scroll and Key elected as its last man Willard Brown ’38, chairman of the charitable Yale Budget Committee and the first man to be elected secretary of his class as the leader not only in Yale College but in the Sheffield Scientific School and the School of Engineering as well. A wave of rebellion again stirred the junior class in 1938, and hundreds of signatures were obtained on a petition whose adherents pledged not to appear on campus on Tap Day, but virtually all did so, and the leader of the insurgents accepted the supreme accolade, that of being the last man tapped for Bones. That year, the Yale News noted that at least five of the Bones taps were working their way through college, and in 1939, that Lit. chair Richard Wilcox ’40 refused both Bones and Keys for Berzelius.69

      Thus, despite persistent attack, the senior societies retained their degree of eminence through the 1930s. This was not attributable to their secrecy, according to an informed contemporary journalist, “which is more and more regarded by non-members as a joke, but to the simple fact that, despite the obvious injustice of some of their elections and omissions, they have always managed to collar most of the outstanding men in every class. Just as the legendary American boy keeps a corner of his eye everlastingly fixed on the White House, the Yale undergraduate still doesn’t lose hope of seeing the inside of one of those sinister windowless crypts until the heavy bronze doors have clanged shut without him.”70

      Several of those elected in the five years before World War II began were to become well known in the decades after that war: to Bones, went Lyman Spitzer ’35, to become Princeton astronomer and astrophysicist; Jonathan Bingham ’36, ambassador and congressman; Brendan Gill ’36, New Yorker writer; John Hersey ’36, journalist and novelist; Potter Stewart ’37, U.S. Supreme Court justice; J. Richardson Dilworth ’38, financier; William Bundy ’39, assistant secretary of state and editor of Foreign Affairs; his brother McGeorge Bundy ’40, Harvard dean of faculty and national security advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson; Reuben Holden IV ’40, secretary of Yale University; and Harold Howe II ’40, U.S. commissioner of education. To Keys went Robert Sargent Shriver ’38, first director of the Peace Corps and ambassador to France; Stanley Resor ’39, secretary of the Army; and Cyrus Roberts Vance ’39, secretary of Defense.

      Elected to Berzelius were William Proxmire ’38, U.S. senator from Wisconsin, and William Scranton ’39, governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and to Book and Snake, David Dellinger ’36, antiwar leader in the ’70s, and Henry Ford II ’39, leader of the family automobile company (who gave each of the ushers at his first wedding, including Mac Bundy, a Ford car). The class of 1936 has often been called “Yale’s greatest class,” but several of its later luminaries were not elected to any of the six senior societies in May 1935, including William Beinecke, donor with his brothers of Yale’s rare book library; August Heckscher, author and President Kennedy’s special consultant on the arts; and Walt Rostow, a Rhodes scholar and senior counselor to President Lyndon Johnson.

      The most remarkable tap, that of football halfback Albert Hessburg II by Skull and Bones, was ignored in the newspaper reports, despite its lack of precedent: Hessburg was Jewish, and thus the first Jew ever to be elected to a senior society. Co-captain of the freshman football squad, and later outstanding in track, he was best known as a swift-footed star halfback on the legendary Yale teams of the 1935–1937 seasons, playing with Larry Kelley and Clint Frank, both football team captains and back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, and both in their respective years Bonesmen. It is said that Hessburg’s tap in 1937 sent shock waves through the Yale community, not of anger, but amazement. For the Bones delegation that chose him, his faith was irrrelevant, since Hessburg’s achievements in their eyes merited election, and when interviewed years later about this seeming anomaly, Hessburg said he was treated just like everyone else. But a significant social barrier had at last been breached in the undergraduate body. Almost three more decades were to pass before there was a Jew sitting at the Yale Corporation table in Woodbridge Hall.71


        In the late nineteenth century, Yale’s senior society system and Tap Day had figured as plot points in the occasional popular periodical, reflecting the sophistication of magazine readers in New York City and other metropolitan centers, mostly in the nation’s eastern half, who were aware of the details of Yale College life. The New Yorker ran cartoons for its knowledgeable metropolitan subscribers, one published during Tap Day week showing a dowager at a tea party informing a companion, “Oh, yes, Harold is doing very well at Yale. He’s been tapped for Skin and Bones.”72

        In these two twentieth-century decades between the world wars, four major American authors—William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and John O’Hara—reached a much larger public in frequent mention of these organizations, drawing on the societies’ national and even international notoriety, and often on close acquaintance with their prominent graduate members. By way of contrast, Harvard’s final clubs were to figure in only one well-known novel of the era, John P. Marquand’s The Late George Apley, the Pulitzer Prize winner for 1938, concerning a family whose legacy membership is maintained—“It is the fondest hope of your mother and me that you will be taken into the Club [Porcellian] which has had an Apley for a member for many generations”—but the name of “the Club” is never actually found in the book.73

        Although from the upper middle class, the Irish-Americans Fitzgerald and O’Hara felt they were outsiders and sought the perquisites, both outward and inward, of their Protestant betters, with their country clubs and their cars and, above all, their assurance. In the words of an O’Hara biographer: “In those days Yale as a concept permeated the national mind, with various degrees of meaning related to wealth, social position, natural leadership, and the achievement of worldly success. The big block ‘Y’ had the effect of a Chinese ideogram, signifying all those things, wrapped in a romantic aura of ivy-covered walls, secret societies that met in windowless stone buildings, the music of close harmonizers, and the longest list of football victories in America. . . . The complicated Yale social system of clubs and fraternities also gave the outside something to marvel at, for it appeared to provide enough paneled barrooms, hung with portraits, team photographs, and sporting prints, to accommodate hundreds of well-dressed young men. The world outside believed that most of these youths, for all their genial manners, were engaged in hard and bitter competition within the system of undergraduate Yale. Popular belief had it that the offices and the societies the young men achieved by senior year indicated the leaders not only of Yale College at the time, but of the entire country, a few years in the future.”74

        Yale as such a trope is easily seen in the short stories of William Faulkner. Unlike his fellow authors of these decades who wrote about Yale but had not attended it, Faulkner actually lived in New Haven for a while, working as a clerk in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in the spring of 1918. He was visiting his Oxford, Mississippi, hometown friend, Phil Stone, a member of the Yale class of 1914, who entered as a senior after graduation from the University of Mississippi and so was not a senior society member, but lived on High Street up from the Bones tomb. Yale, New Haven, and the North were an abrupt shift for the twenty-year-old Faulkner, with considerable exposure through Stone to the college’s high culture and social sophistication.

        Faulkner’s short story characters include Oklahoman Hubert Jarrod of “Dr. Martino” (1931), “with his aura of oil wells and Yale . . . three years now in New Haven, belonging to the right clubs and all and with money to spend”; Allen of “Fox Hunt” (1930), another “Yale boy” whose “poppa had found an oil well;” and “shanty Irish” Monaghan, in “Ad Astra” (1930), a pilot in a Camel squadron whose father’s wealth “from digging sewers in the ground” enabled his son’s attendance at Yale, and whose own bravery had earned him a Military Cross from Great Britain and friendship with the southerner Gerald Bland, an American “Rhodes Scholar transferred out of an Oxford battalion.” In “Turnabout” (1932, and to be included in Hemingway’s anthology Men at War), worked up from the war stories told to him by Robert Lovett, Faulkner combined the enlarging attributes of education at Yale and Oxford, describing his protagonist Bogard, modeled loosely on Bonesman Lovett, as “not Phi Beta Kappa, exactly, but Skull and Bones perhaps, or possibly a Rhodes Scholarship.”75

        Stover at Yale’s fascination for Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald (class of 1918) has already been described. When he and his wife moved to Paris in 1924, that fire was further fueled by his friendships with aesthete and painter Gerald Murphy (Yale class of 1912), poet Archibald MacLeish (1915), and author and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (1916), all Bonesmen living in France in the American expatriate community of authors and artists in the 1920s. Gertrude Stein was to tell Ernest Hemingway that they were “all a génération perdue,” a lost generation.

        Fitzgerald had sent Don Stewart to the magazine Vanity Fair to help start the Yalie’s writing career and would have known Stewart’s 1921 article in H. L. Mencken’s Smart Set which celebrated the system and his own senior society; the two writers were later paired in Hollywood for the screenplay for Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women. Stewart may well have introduced the Fitzgeralds to Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gerald and Archie MacLeish were both appropriated as models for characters in Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night—to the fury of another Murphy family friend, Ernest Hemingway.76 Beyond occasional mention in his short stories, the Princetonian was to reference the Yale senior societies in all four of his completed novels.


        • In Fitzgerald’s autobiographical first novel of 1920, This Side of Paradise, his protagonist Amory Blaine describes the high point in a traveling student production of Princeton’s Triangle Club, “a brilliant place in ‘Ha-Ha Hortense!’” “It is a Princeton tradition,” Fitzgerald wrote, “that whenever a Yale man who is a member of the widely advertised ‘Skull and Bones’ hears the sacred name mentioned, he must leave the room. It is also a tradition that the members are invariably successful in later life, amassing fortunes or votes or coupons or whatever they choose to amass. Therefore, at each performance of ‘Ha-Ha Hortense!’ half-a-dozen seats were kept from sale and occupied by six of the worst-looking vagabonds that could be hired from the streets, further touched up by the Triangle make-up man. At the moment in the show where Firebrand, the Pirate Chief, pointed at his black flag and said, ‘I am a Yale graduate—note my Skull and Bones!’—at this very moment the six vagabonds were instructed to rise conspicuously and leave the theatre with looks of deep melancholy and an injured dignity. It was claimed though never proved that on one occasion the hired Elis were swelled by one of the real thing.”77

          Fiztgerald’s heroine’s father in “The Popular Girl,” published in the Saturday Evening Post in February 1922, “had never quite lost the air of having been a popular Bonesman at Yale.” In the last of eight Basil Duke Lee stories, “Basil and Cleopatra,” also published in the Saturday Evening Postand taking Basil from boyhood in the Midwest through eastern prep school to Yale, Basil muses: “‘I want to be chairman of the News or the Record,’ thought his old self one October morning, ‘and I want to get my letter in football, and I want to be in Skull and Bones.’” Scroll and Key was not overlooked: The Beautiful and the Damned, Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel of café society in New York during the Jazz Age, finds the heroine Gloria Patch having a brief fling with “Tudor Baird, an ancient flame” who “came by way of the Aviation Corps.” “A Scroll and Keys [sic] man at Yale, he possessed the correct reticences of a ‘good egg,’ the correct notions of chivalry and noblesse oblige.”78

          In his 1925 masterpiece The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald reimagined himself, or at least that novel’s first person narrator Nick Carraway, as a Yale graduate of 1915, chairman of the Yale News, and a senior society clubmate of star football end Tom Buchanan, the brutish and philandering husband of Jay Gatsby’s lost love Daisy. Although no specific society is named, it is telling that a few months after The Great Gatsby appeared, the New Yorker published a “suggested bookplate” for the library of F. Scott Fitzgerald, featuring a skull-topped figure in a tuxedo and waistcoat reveling at a party. While the book’s sales initially languished, in 1998 the Modern Library editorial board voted it the twentieth century’s best American novel.79

          Dick Diver, the protagonist of Tender Is the Night (1933) and a Rhodes scholar from Connecticut in 1914, hears “about fraternity politics in New Haven” from a classmate: “‘Bones got a wonderful crowd,’ he said. ‘We all did, as a matter of fact. New Haven’s so big now the sad thing is the men we have to leave out.’” Diver’s internal monologue shows a great familiarity with the tensions of Tap Day and the Yale collegians’ customs. “Could I help it that Pete Livingstone sat in the locker-room Tap Day when everybody looked all over hell for him? And I got an election when otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten Elihu, knowing so few men. He was good and right and I ought to have sat in the locker-room instead. Maybe I would, if I’d thought I had a chance at an election. But Mercer kept coming to my room all those weeks. I guess I knew I had a chance all right. But it would have served me right if I’d swallowed my pin in the shower and set up a conflict.”80

          Ernest Hemingway, friend of Fitzgerald and another intimate of the Murphys’ circle on the Riviera, also used the Yale society system in his work, but his attitude was distinctly not that of a worshipper. Satire counterbalanced his regret at having had no share in the cultural rituals common to his new friends. Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson and Harold Loeb (Hemingway’s model for the ridiculed Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises) had attended Princeton; John Dos Passos had gone to Harvard; and MacLeish, Stewart, and Murphy all went to Yale. Hemingway had declined to apply to college, and feelings of inferiority showed in his aggressiveness.

          Ironically, his remote ancestor Jacob Hemingway, born in East Haven in 1683, was the first—and for his first half year, the only—student to receive instruction at Yale College, to which Connecticut had granted a charter in 1701; Ernest’s grandfather retailed the story to him as a “family legend.”81 While the fledgling author formed friendships with writers in Paris, including MacLeish and Stewart, by 1937 he had quarreled with virtually every one. In his posthumously published memoir about the Parisian years, A Moveable Feast, he omitted Stewart entirely and mentioned the Murphys and the MacLeishes in only one sentence. While in 1930 he had written MacLeish that he was “the best living writing poet,” by 1945 he told another correspondent, disparaging Archie’s “‘Patriotic’ verse”: “You know his bro[ther] Kenny was killed in the last war and I always felt Archie felt that sort of gave him a controlling interest in all deads.”82

          Unlike the references of his fellow authors to the Yale society system, Hemingway’s were aimed to provoke or wound. He began cautiously: in 1932, he had inserted into Death in the Afternoon, his nonfiction treatment of bullfighting in Spain, the phrase “Bones face,” the designation for the hard stare assumed by a member of that society when suddenly challenged in conversation by casual mention of his club.

          Not many years later, he was unrestrained, crafting a novel enlarged from his two published stories about Harry Morgan and set in a shabby, corrupt Key West. The protagonist is a rugged individualist betrayed by the forces of wealth and privilege, in a story full of rich and poor people, many of them versions of individuals Hemingway knew, or with whom he wanted to settle scores. When published, winning the author a cover story in Time in October 1937, the novel’s multi-page passage at the end described the occupant-owners of the yachts lying at night at the Key West fringe piers, and said of one millionaire’s daughter: “The fiancé is a Skull and Bones man, voted most likely to succeed, voted most popular, who still thinks more of others than of himself and would be too good for any one except a lovely girl like Frances. He is probably a little too good for Frances too, but it will be years before Frances realizes this, perhaps; and she may never realize it, with luck. The type of man who is tapped for Bones is rarely also tapped for bed; but with a lovely girl like Frances intention counts as much as performance.”83

          The longest reference is found in his play of 1938, The Fifth Column, where Philip and Dorothy, the author’s stand-ins for himself and Martha Gellhorn in Madrid, are reporting on the Spanish Civil War. Dorothy claims not to understand his plans for the future, provoking the following colloquy:

          PHILIP: And because you don’t understand, and you never could understand, is the reason we’re not going to go on and live together and have a lovely time and etcetera.

          DOROTHY: Oh, it’s worse than Skull and Bones.

          PHILIP: What in God’s name is Skull and Bones?

          DOROTHY: It’s a secret society a man belonged to one time that I had just enough sense not to marry. It’s very superior and awfully good and worthy, and they take you in and tell you all about it, just before the wedding, and when they told me about it, I called the wedding off.

          PHILIP: That’s an excellent precedent.84


          • Perhaps Hemingway thought any Bonesmen in this play’s audience would be forced to leave the theater, like those in the Triangle Club production described by Fitzgerald. Since Gellhorn, Dorothy’s model, is not known to have aborted a wedding with a Bonesman, the play’s otherwise incongruous swipe in this script at the senior society of Murphy, Stewart, and MacLeish seems to have been in general derision for the club of his college-educated friends.85

            Stewart, who had run with the bulls alongside Hemingway in Pamplona, was instrumental in getting his In Our Time published in New York, and gave him large checks to tide him over, said of him: “He was charismatic; and it was for this very reason that the mean streak startled you so much when it came to the surface.” Five years later Hemingway attempted to repair the breach of several quarrels with MacLeish by inviting him to Cuba and promising not to be “self-righteous, no-good, and bastardly” as during his “great 37–38 epoch when [I] alienated all of my friends (who I miss like hell).” But what had been committed to paper in abusive letters as well as sarcastic fiction does not come so easily unsaid, and it does not seem possible that either Stewart, who had promoted his early publications, or MacLeish, who had funded Hemingway’s skiing vacations, or Murphy, who had loaned the author his artist’s studio in which to write, was ever able to feel, after 1938, the same sort of affection for Ernest Hemingway that they had once felt.86

            The fourth major writer of these decades whose work often referenced Yale and its senior societies was the Irish American John O’Hara. He seems to have been a confirmed Yale man by the time he started prep school. What one individual or event triggered his Yalephilia is obscure: as a boy, he read Yale professor William Lyon Phelps’s newspaper columns, which made him impatient with the parochial views of his schoolteachers, and he later claimed Stover at Yale’s author Owen Johnson as an influence on his writing.

            Still, he seems to have selected the college in New Haven, in the words of one biographer, “because in his youth it was the objective correlative for all the things he admired, which may be summed up in the word class. Harvard was effete or intellectual; Princeton was agreeably social; but Yale represented power and an automatic assumption of privilege and style.” While it is not clear whether he passed the Yale entrance exams and been accepted, the valedictorian-designate of Lewiston, New York’s Niagara Prep went on a drunken bender the night before his commencement and was not allowed to graduate, with his furious father insisting on the reprobate son’s working to prove his seriousness (“I’ll be damned if I’ll send a drunk to Yale!”).87

            When his father died the following year, the consequent alteration in family finances put an end to his ambitions for entering Yale in the fall of 1925—or at least his chances of being a gentleman who browsed at the clothier J. Press and danced at the Fence Club, instead of a bursary boy who waited on tables.88 Like Hemingway, he never did attend college. After a stint as a reporter, he got a job through the New York Yale Club’s placement office at Briton Hadden and Henry Luce’s Time, then three years old, where he became friends with Wilder Hobson, the wittiest member of the Yale class of 1923, “Most Likely to Succeed,” and a member of Scroll and Key, but O’Hara was shortly fired. Meanwhile, he patronized the famous gin joint “21,” where he once saw a group of undergraduates from New Haven and invited them to join him, to question them closely about Yale, as he was eager to have up-to-the-minute information about social customs and college slang. He was also dating Margaretta Archbald, a Bryn Mawr graduate who roomed with her cousin Mary Brooks, then being successfully courted by Wolf’s Head graduate A. Whitney Griswold. In later years, O’Hara would claim that he always knew Whit Griswold would become president of Yale.89

            So O’Hara had always wanted to go to Yale. Years later, when he was thirty-seven years old and a famous, established author, an anecdote circulated that when Hemingway, James Lardner, and Vincent Sheean were soliciting funds during the Spanish Civil War and trying to figure out what to do with an unexpected payment, Hemingway said, “Let’s take the bloody money and start a bloody fund to send John O’Hara to Yale.” Now, spending time with graduates of Yale and other prominent universities, he imagined that he had missed something important, and that if he had gone to New Haven, his career problems would be over (more likely, he would have rebelled against the system and sneered at those who strove for a place within it).

            To compensate, he made himself a close student of the customs and benefits he thought accrued, devouring in his study the Social Register, Who’s Who, Baird’s Manual of American College Fraternities, and the Yale yearbook for 1924, his never-realized freshman year. He shared with Colonel James Archbald, Margaretta’s father and a Yale graduate (some Archbalds were in Scroll and Key), a passionate interest in the arcana of university fraternities and clubs and secret societies.90

            He put this knowledge to use in his life’s literary work of fourteen novels, beginning with the bestseller Appointment in Samarra in 1934, and 402 short stories—he virtually invented what the world came to call the “New Yorker short story.” BUtterfield 8, the sexually frank (for 1935) cautionary tale of Winston Liggett, “a yacht racer . . . a big Yale athlete,” and the married paramour of Gloria Wandrous, played by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960 movie version, a woman well known in the smarter speakeasies, and willing to go home with a casual acquaintance. O’Hara—a self-described “Mick” in this novel as James Malloy, “is often taken for a Yale man, by Yale men. That pleases me a little, because I like Yale best of all the colleges”—showed a keen appreciation in this novel of the caste-ridden Yale senior society system, and the place in it of Jews, likely to hail from Connecticut.


            • In the book, the architect Paul Farley, Irish Catholic product of Lawrenceville and Princeton, and his client Percy Kahan, a Jewish businessman, run into Liggett; after prompting that they were classmates, Liggett pretends to remember Kahan from New Haven, before breaking away. “‘I didn’t know you went to Yale,’ said Farley. ‘I know. I never talk about it,’ said Kahan. ‘Then once in a while I see somebody like Liggett, one of the big Skull and Bones fellows he was, and one day I met old [former Yale president] Dr. Hadley on the street and I introduced myself to him. I can’t help it. I think what a waste of time, four years at that place, me a little Heeb from Hartford, but last November I had to be in Hollywood when the Yale-Harvard game was played, and God damn it if I don’t have a special wire with the play by play. The radio wasn’t good enough for me. I had to have the play by play. Yes, I’m a Yale man.’”91

              In his 1949 bestseller, A Rage to Live, O’Hara revealed to his many thousands of readers more of his knowledge of the inner workings of the senior society he most admired, in describing the program of “Death’s Head,” an amalgam of Skull and Bones and Wolf’s Head, with the added suggestion of inherent scandal. The novel’s protagonist Sidney Tate seeks advice on buying a farm from Paul Reichelderfer. “He had also been tapped for Death’s Head, the Yale senior society to which Sidney belonged.”

              The passage that follows shows a deep familiarity with the interior life of the senior societies at Yale. “As part of his initiation into Death’s Head a neophyte was required under oath to reveal any and all facts concerning his L.H., or Life History, and C.B., or Connubial Bliss. The life history part was not so embarrassing as details of connubial bliss. ‘C.B.’ was so called because in spite of the fact that most of the members of Death’s Head were bachelors, now and then it would turn out that a neophyte was secretly married and it became necessary to hold a ceremony in which his wife was made a Death’s Head wife. But married or not, the neophyte was compelled to tell the members of the society all they wanted to hear about his relations with women, and more than once it had happened that a man had to admit to maximum intimacies with a girl whose brother or fiancé was present. The theory was that one Death’s Head Man could have no secret from another, and that the brotherhood existing among the members transcended all outside considerations.” At Tate’s wedding, his wife “was initiated with the brief ceremony reserved for all brides of Death’s Head men,” and his funeral is attended by “four out-of-town members” of his senior society.92

              O’Hara was haunted by the mystery of the real “Death’s Head,” accepting it as a fact of life that the men elected every year became a part of the tiny power structure that ran the country. He spoke with reverence the names of the great men who had been tapped for Skull and Bones, the innumerable Tafts, Binghams, and Bundys, and took pride in mentioning as well the names of his several personal friends in the society. Over the years, the writer contrived to accumulate a startling amount of Bones lore, which he would reveal only to Bonesmen: sharing with them his samples of their secrets made him, in a fashion and for the time being, one of them. It was, according to Brendan Gill, the most cherished of his daydreams that if he had attended Yale, he would have been tapped by the oldest senior society.93

              In his vain quest for an honorary degree, O’Hara presented the manuscript of BUtterfield 8 and the proofs of Appointment at Samarra to the Yale Library. He was invited in March 1948 to speak at the Elizabethan Club, Yale’s undergraduate literary society, with remarks titled “Writing, What’s in It for Me?” Divulging that he had not gone to Yale, he referred to his friends Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. Completely off the mark both times, he alluded to Cole Porter as “one of the founders of the Elizabethan Club” and “the only man ever” to “display a special kind of independence: he resigned from Skull and Bones.” The event was not a success. O’Hara with universities was the same as O’Hara with clubs: he did not know how to be a diffident gentleman.94

              In 1959, O’Hara wrote New York city planner Robert Moses, who had graduated from Yale in 1909, that “Yale has no one, and since Red [Sinclair] Lewis has had no one who went to Yale and from there to the typewriter to comment on 20th Century America and 20th Century Yale. For that combination you have to come to me, Niagara Prep ’24.”95


              • TAPPED FOR SKULL AND BONES, 1920–1939
                Henry P. Davison Jr. 1920 president, J. P. Morgan
                Briton Hadden 1920 founder, Time magazine
                Francis Thayer Hobson 1920 chairman, William Morrow & Co.
                David Ingalls 1920 assistant secretary of the Navy
                donor, Ingalls Rink
                Henry Robinson Luce 1920 cofounder, Time, founder Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated
                Stover Boardman Lunt 1921 chairman, W. W. Norton, Inc.
                Langdon Parsons 1921 professor of Obstetrics, Harvard
                Malcolm Pratt Aldrich 1921 chairman, Commonwealth Fund
                Frederick Whiley Hilles 1922 professor of English, Yale
                Robert Guthrie Page 1922 chairman, Phelps Dodge Corp.
                John Sherman Cooper 1923 U.S. Senate (Ky.)
                ambassador, India, Nepal, German Democratic Republic
                Russell Davenport 1923 creator, Fortune 500 list
                Francis Otto Matthiessen 1923 professor of Literature, Harvard
                Henry Elisha Allen 1924 professor of Humanities, University of Minn.
                Edwin Foster Blair 1924 partner, Hughes Hubbard Blair
                Walter Edwards Houghton 1924 professor of English, Wellesley
                William Thompson Lusk 1924 president, Tiffany & Co.
                Charles Merville Spofford 1924 president, Metropolitan Opera
                brigadier general
                Charles Stafford Gage 1925 treasurer, Yale
                William Bunnell Norton 1925 professor of History, Boston University
                Benjamin Crawford Cutler 1926 orchestra leader
                Charles Graydon Poore 1926 book critic
                Frank Ford Russell 1926 chairman, National Aviation Corp.
                Wallace Parks Ritchie 1927 professor of Neurosurgery, University of Minn.
                Frederic Flavor Robinson 1927 president, National Aviation Corp.
                Anson Phelps Stokes Jr. 1927 Episcopal bishop, Mass.
                George Herbert Walker Jr. 1927 director, White Weld & Co.
                Edward Rogers Wardwell 1927 partner, Davis, Polk & Wardwell
                Lancelot (“Lanny”) Ross 1928 singer and movie actor
                Charles Alderson Janeway 1930 professor of Pediatrics, Harvard
                Gaylord Donnelley 1931 chairman, R. R. Donnelley & Sons
                chairman, trustee, University of Chicago
                Henry John Heinz II 1931 chairman, H. J. Heinz Co.
                Lewis Abbot Lapham 1931 president, Grace Lines
                president, Bankers Trust
                William Learned Peltz 1931 professor Clinical Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
                John Mercer Walker 1931 CEO, Memorial Sloan Kettering
                Frederick Baldwin Adams Jr. 1932 director, Morgan Library
                Robert Frank Fulton 1931 professor of Religion, Union College
                Samuel Hazard Gillespie 1932 U.S. attorney, Southern District of N.Y.
                John Reagan “Tex” McCrary 1933 inventor, radio/TV talk shows
                James Quigg Newton Jr. 1933 president, University of Colorado
                mayor of Denver, Colo.
                Amory Howe Bradford 1934 vice president, business manager, New York Times
                Hugh Terry Cunningham 1934 director of training, CIA
                Harry Halstead Harper Jr. 1934 executive editor, Reader’s Digest
                Frederick Peter Haas 1935 general counsel, Liggett Group
                John Sargent Pillsbury Jr. 1935 chairman, Northwestern National Life Insurance
                Charles Seymour Jr. 1935 professor of Art History, Yale
                Lyman Spitzer Jr. 1935 professor of Astronomy, Princeton
                conceived Hubble Space Telescope
                George Schley Stillman 1935 secretary, Museum of Modern Art
                Charlton “Sunny” Tufts 1935 entertainer
                Jonathan Brewster Bingham 1936 U.S. ambassador to UN
                U.S. Congress (Conn.)
                Brendan Gill 1936 writer, The New Yorker
                John Richard Hersey 1936 journalist and novelist
                John Merrill Knapp 1936 dean, Princeton University
                Richard Anthony Moore 1936 president, Times Mirror Broadcasting
                U.S. ambassador to Ireland
                Louis Walker 1936 managing partner, G. H. Walker Co.
                Richard James Cross 1937 professor of Medicine, Rutgers
                John Warner Field 1937 chairman, Warnaco, Inc.
                William Horsley Orrick Jr. 1937 U.S. Cistrict Court judge (Northern Calif.)
                Potter Stewart 1937 justice, U.S. Supreme Court
                James Howard Dempsey Jr. 1938 founder, Squire Sanders & Dempsey
                Joseph Richardson Dilworth 1938 chairman, Rockefeller Center
                chairman, Metropolitan Museum of Art
                chairman, Institute for Advanced Study
                Lawrence Dunham Jr. 1938 director, Yale Office of Development
                John Edwin Ecklund 1938 treasurer, Yale University
                Joseph Carrière Fox 1938 founder, Fox International Fellowships
                Gaspard D’Andelot Belin 1939 general counsel, U.S. Treasury
                William Putnam Bundy 1939 U.S. assistant secretary of state
                editor, Foreign Affairs


                • TAPPED FOR SCROLL AND KEY, 1920–1939
                  Elisha Boudinot Fisher 1920 chairman, U.S. Radium Corp.
                  Benjamin Brewster Jennings 1920 chairman, Socony Mobil Oil Co.
                  Seymour Horace Knox 1920 chairman, Marine Midland Bank
                  Richardson Dilworth 1921 mayor of Philadelphia
                  Charles Shipman Payson 1921 principal owner, New York Mets
                  John Archer Gifford 1922 undersecretary of Navy
                  Charles Albert Wight 1922 president, Freeport Sulphur Co.
                  Wayland Farries Vaughan 1923 professor of Psychology, Boston University
                  James Stillman Rockefeller 1924 chairman, First National City Bank of New York
                  Frederick Sheffield 1924 founder, Webster, Sheffield law firm
                  Ostrom Enders 1925 chairman, Hartford National Bank
                  Augustus Newbold Morris 1925 president, New York City Council
                  Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock 1925 author, Baby and Child Care
                  Frederick Augustus Potts Jr. 1926 chairman, Philadelphia National Bank
                  Joseph Warren Simpson Jr 1926 chairman, First Wisconsin National Bank
                  Carlos French Stoddard Jr. 1926 executive secretary, Yale University Council
                  Andrew Varick Stout Jr. 1926 chairman, Dominick & Dominick
                  John Hay Whitney 1926 publisher, New York Herald Tribune
                  U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom
                  president, Museum of Modern Art
                  founder, J. H. Whitney & Co.
                  William McFarlane Hinkle 1927 professor, Art History, Columbia University
                  Henry Barnes Potts 1927 chairman, Philadelphia National Bank
                  Robert Hawthorn Wylie Jr. 1927 professor, Clinical Surgery, Columbia University
                  Robert Chesney Osborn 1928 artist/cartoonist
                  James Cox Brady Jr. 1929 chairman, Purolator
                  Winthrop Gilman Brown 1929 U.S. ambassador to Korea, Laos
                  Paul Mellon 1929 donor, Yale Center for British Art, Morse and Stiles Colleges
                  president, National Gallery of Art
                  Horace Reynolds Moorhead 1929 treasurer, Gulf Oil Corp.
                  Ernest Brooks Jr. 1930 president, Old Dominion Foundation
                  Thatchere Magoun Brown Jr. 1930 managing partner, G. H. Walker & Co.
                  Robert Ward 1930 professor of Pediatrics, University of Southern California
                  Dale Hale Clement 1931 professor of Pediatrics, Yale
                  Raymond Richard Guest 1931 U.S. ambassador to Ireland
                  Robert Manueal Heurtematte 1931 Panamanian ambassador to U.S.
                  undersecretary, United Nations
                  Ethan Allen Hitchcock 1931 board chairman, Educational Broadcasting Corp., Olivetti Underwood Corp.
                  John Holbrook 1931 president, New York Philharmonic Orchestra
                  Donald Roderick McLennan Jr. 1931 chairman., Marsh & McLennan
                  Maynard Herbert Mack 1932 Sterling Professor of English, Yale
                  director, National Institute for Humanities
                  William Marvel 1932 chancellor, Delaware Court of Chancery
                  Chales Henry Tenney 1933 U.S. District judge, Southern District of New York
                  Robert Ferdinand Wagner Jr. 1933 mayor, City of New York
                  U.S. ambassador to Spain
                  Sidney Norwood Towle Jr. 1934 headmaster, Kent School
                  Joseph Peter Grace Jr. 1936 president, CEO, W. R. Grace & Co.
                  Horace Havemeyer Jr. 1936 president, National Sugar Refining Co.
                  Bayard Dominick 2d 1937 chairman, Dominick & Dominick
                  Waldo Cory Melrose Johnston 1937 director, Mystic Seaport Museum
                  Henry Emerson Butler Jr. 1938 professor, University of Arizona
                  Francis Cowles Cady 1938 professor, University of Connecticut Law School
                  Gordon Grand Jr. 1938 president, Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp.
                  U.S. Congress (Conn.)
                  Burton Allen McLean 1938 president, Educational Management Services, Inc.
                  Robert Sargent Shriver 1938 first director, U.S. Peace Corps
                  director, Office of Economic Opportunity
                  U.S. ambassador to France
                  Thaddeus Reynolds Beal 1939 president, Harvard Trust Co.
                  Andrew Nicholas Brady Garvan 1939 professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
                  Stuart Clayton Hemingway Jr. 1939 president, Towle Manufacturing Co.
                  Gilbert Watts Humphrey 1939 chairman, CEO, Hanna Mining Co.
                  Malcolm Muir Jr. 1939 executive editor, Newsweek
                  Stanley Resor 1939 secretary of the Army
                  U.S. ambassador for force reductions
                  undersecretary of defense for policy
                  Cyrus Roberts Vance 1939 secretary of the Army
                  deputy secretary of defense
                  secretary of state
                  chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
                  chairman, Rockefeller Foundation
                  TAPPED FOR WOLF’S HEAD, 1920–1939
                  Walter Millis 1920 journalist and historian
                  Robert Maynard Hutchins 1921 president, University of Chicago
                  Philip Pillsbury 1924 chairman, Pillsbury Corp.
                  Clark Millikan 1924 professor of aeronautics, California Institute of Technology
                  Douglas MacArthur II 1932 ambassador to Japan
                  Rogers C. B. Morton 1937 chairman, Republican National Committee, secretary of Interior, secretary of Commerce
                  TAPPED FOR ELIHU, 1920–1939
                  Jake Anthony Danaher 1920 U.S. Senator (CT), federal judge
                  Eli Whitney Debevoise 1921 co-founder, Debevoise Plimpton
                  William S. Symington 1923 first sec’y of Air Force, U.S. Senator (Mo.)
                  James T. Babb 1924 Yale librarian
                  John Collins Pope 1925 professor of English, Yale
                  Winston F.C. Guest 1927 international polo player
                  Edward H. Dodd Jr 1928 president, Dodd, Mead publishers
                  William McChesney Martin Jr. 1928 chairman, Federal Reserve
                  William Horowitz 1929 first Jewish Yale Corporation member
                  George B. Young 1934 chairman, Field Enterprises
                  John Marks Templeton 1934 founder, Templeton Investments
                  Alexis W. Thompson 1936 owner, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles
                  Ray D. Chapin Jr. 1937 chairman, American Motors
                  TAPPED FOR BERZELIUS, 1920–1939
                  David Dellinger 1936 peace activist
                  William Proxmire 1938 U.S. Senator (Wis.)
                  William Scranton 1939 governor of Pennsylvania
                  TAPPED FOR BOOK AND SNAKE, 1920–1939
                  Whitelaw Reid 1936 chairman, New York Herald Tribune
                  Henry Ford II 1939 chairman, Ford Motor Co.


                  • CHAPTER ELEVEN

                    WORLD WAR AGAIN, AND OTHER CASTES BROKEN (1940–1949)
                    After 1942 nothing at Yale was the same as it had been before and . . . whatever the so-called “normality” of the fifties, certain radical changes, in American education and in those who would pursue it, had occurred . . . [N]othing that had seemed stable and enduring in, say, 1940, and wasclearly a verity in, say, 1914, remained as it had been. . . . [T]here sets in an extraordinary series of changes in Yale, and therefore in the Hall: changes in who came to Yale, in where they came from, in what they chose to do here, in what they were compelled to do, and in what they did afterward.

                    —A. Barlett Giamatti, History of Scroll and Key, 1942–1972 (1978)

                    Yale had been largely rebuilt under Angell, who found it in brownstone and left it in granite. The college also changed socially and intellectually during his presidency. By 1941, a fellow Harvard alumnus in John Marquand’s novel H. M. Pulham, Esq. is described complaining: “That’s one of the things that gripes me about Yale. The Elis are always wheeling out the Yale poets and the Yale literary group. Why, hell, we have a lot of the same thing in the Class, except we don’t shout about them.”1 A more mature and sophisticated curriculum had emerged with the conversion of Yale into a university college, where the existence of art, music, graduate and other schools added immensely to the undergraduate experience.

                    In the educational sphere, over that time, the first definite distributional requirements for the freshman and sophomore years were established, and the Latin requirement for Academic and the PhB degree of Sheffield extinguished. Majors were slowly enlarged under the aegis of the academic departments, reading periods were created, comprehensive examinations (beginning with the class of 1937) were established, and, by 1940, a senior essay was required. It has been estimated that, between the era of Noah Porter and the end of Angell’s term in 1937, “the education of Yale undergraduates had gained almost three years in general maturity.”2

                    Socially, too, in college life, there had been major milestones of change. The attitudinal transformations of the 1920s, taken together with the growth in numbers of the college, finally killed daily chapel—a tradition over two hundred years old, brought to an end by faculty recommendation and Corporation vote in May 1926. Then, the presence of the residential colleges, the first seven of which opened officially on September 25, 1933, began the demolition of the ancient walls between professors and students (unlike the new Harvard houses, no Oxbridge high tables on raised daises for faculty alone had found their way to New Haven), while the forced admixture of the students from Ac, Sheff, and Engineering removed the old structural divisions, bridging the social chasms among their respective undergraduates. More students were enabled to participate in a wide variety of sports, organized by residential colleges playing one another and, in due course, championship matches against the best Harvard houses on the weekend of the Yale-Harvard football game. Singing and drama groups, individual college newspapers, and special interest clubs sprung up, populated by the three upper classes now housed together in their distinctive quadrangles, fabulous palaces compared to the tradition-wrapped, Spartan community of the 1890s.

                    Self-help students enjoyed new dignity in the contemporaneous bursary plan which had been envisioned by Harkness. The development of in-college and out-college employment made it possible to eliminate the invidious board jobs of waiter or busboy which had hitherto carried at least a third of the financial load. These were exchanged for posts as advisors and tutors to freshmen, nonworking fellowships for the best scholars, and appointments to help run the colleges themselves, and for outside jobs in other university departments as research and project assistants. A number of bursary men were set to managing the teams, attending the college library, preparing for entertainments, and running errands for the college master’s office, gaining in the process considerable experience in dealing with their class- and college-mates, and competing against each other for the top posts. The residential college senior aide became a man of note, in his own community and beyond. Marks of consideration came his way, including recommendtions for professional or business school, and election to a senior society (Harold Howe of the class of 1940, self-supporting in college and later President John Kennedy’s commissioner of education, was appointed senior aide of Davenport College, and elected to Bones). Soon men who did not need the money sought entrance into the bursary system, and one father even complained that Yale was discriminating against the rich.

                    Members of the class of 1936, who entered the residential colleges from their Old Campus dormitories as sophomores, gave the new system their wholehearted loyalty and devotion. With the addition of Berkeley College to the original seven in 1934, Timothy Dwight the following year, and finally Silliman in 1940, all finally found places in the new residential regime. Yet, while this elaborately organized intimacy permitted recapture of some of the smaller Yale College of yore, newly to be shared with the privileges of a great university, the demographic composition of the student body had not altered very dramatically.3

                    The physical Yale College had changed considerably more than had its collegians. Remarkably, the pre–World War II class of 1941 was not that different, even in size, from the pre–World War I class of 1916. The percentage of high school students in the class of 1916 was actually higher than in the class of 1941—29 percent to 26 percent. While most of 1916’s high schoolers were from Connecticut, its number of them from outside Yale’s top six states, comprising twenty-five from sixteen states plus Hawaii, compares favorably with 1941’s count of thirty-two high school graduates from thirteen states and Washington, D.C. The 860 members of the class of 1941 boasted little diversity, including no blacks, one Filipino, and two Armenians. Of the 780 students in the class of 1916, a quarter century before, five were African Americans, three Chinese, two Armenians, two Turks, a German (leaving Yale halfway through sophomore year to fight for his fatherland), and a Brazilian.


                    • Furthermore, after the limitation of numbers policy was put in place in 1923, the percentage of students who were sons of Yale graduates soared upward: 1916’s class had 85 legacies, a bit less than 11 percent of the class, while the class of 1941 had 262 members whose fathers had attended Yale, or 30.5 percent, almost triple that of a quarter century before. Moreover, it appears that over half the 1941 class’s undergraduates had a male relative who preceded them in New Haven (the 1916 figure is about 23 percent). Adding the curious fact that almost one third of the ’41ers came with a “Jr.” or Roman numeral after their names, it might be maintained that there was more inherited privilege at Yale on the eve of the Second World War than perhaps at any time since the American Revolution.

                      For 1941’s graduating class, there was about a 10 percent Jewish enrollment, and a 5 percent Catholic enrollment. One-quarter of these young men came from five prep schools (Andover, Hotchkiss, Exeter, Taft, and Choate), and if St. Paul’s, Kent, and Hill were added in, a third of the class was included in their collective rosters. The 226 high schoolers in the class were fewer than the intake from the top six prep schools. A letter to the Yale Daily News in March 1940 pointed out that “Yale students, as a whole, are rich,” and that at their preparatory schools, “the annual tuition due is around $1400, which is only about $1000 less than the annual income of 71% of the families of this country.”4

                      The arguments about the merits and horrors of the senior society system remained familiar ones. Sophomores in the class of 1940 were readers of a News editorial published shortly before Tap Day in 1938, holding that “There is little to be gained by taking issue with the Senior Societies, or even, it seems, by discussing them: every year they recruit groups of worried and often skeptical juniors and convert them into bands of devoted and sincerely inspired Seniors. This fact has always loomed large enough in all considerations of the societies to silence questioning on their value to Yale.” The editor claimed that “nearly all of the Societies are packed,” and hoped that, since the days of Dink Stover were over, “Juniors will manage to keep their sense of proportion on Tap Day.”5

                      Sophomore McGeorge “Mac” Bundy was the son of a Bonesman (Henry Hollister Bundy 1910, Supreme Court clerk for Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and during World War II, Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s top deputy on the development of the atomic bomb), and his older brother Bill was a prominent candidate in the immediately upcoming society selection for the class of 1939. Nonetheless, Mac used the column—which his News vice chairman brother had specially arranged for him—to attack the societies, while calling for higher standards. He pointed out in his weekly “Visions & Revisions,” shared on alternative days with junior Richard Morris Jr., that, unlike the old days of discussion only by anonymous writers of tipsheets, the News had printed sober and carefully considered editorials in four of the last five years, analyzing and criticizing the societies.

                      “One of them,” Bundy noted, “has stressed the fact that the Societies enforce a dubious Success Standard; another has excoriated the unnecessary brutality of Tap Day; a third has described mumbo-jumbo and secrecy; a fourth, the most recent, has pointed to the dangers of packing and has deplored the new eminence, in the Societies, of the Social Type.” But, he continued, “It should be noted that thus far all of the Chairmen whose comments we mentioned have joined a Society and conformed to its traditions. And this is no blind betrayal of their views. . . . [W]hatever they may fail to do today, the Societies represent a noble tradition of the frank and intimate association of admirable men. Their meetings are not wasted; many of their rewards are life-long in duration. No man can surely analyze the source of their values; no man can deny that it exists.”6 The senior societies, in other words, continued to succeed, because they had succeeded in Yale’s past.

                      His co-columnist, brother Bill Bundy’s classmate Richard L. Morris Jr., denied in the succeeding opinion piece that good ends are necessarily compatible with bad means, and deplored the “present morass of subterranean dickering and jockeying for post positions in Yale’s most portentous Derby.” He maintained that “as a result of secrecy, least important of the considerations surrounding the million-dollar corporations erected in honor of the successful undergraduate, many an avoidable tragedy and many a regrettable corruption is made possible.”7

                      In the third column completing the series, the sophomore Bundy agreed that the “monkey business” of “hush hush” went along with “the other besetting dangers of the Senior Societies—packing, family bias, selections based on mere Reputation or physical prowess, and the social emphasis generally”—what he styled “False Gods.” Still, he saw another attitude “on its way” which “recognizes the gradual decline of bulldogism; it refuses to have anything to do with the boys; it elects eminent men only when they are justly eminent; it gives honor to the man and not to his position. The partisans of this new attitude will seek quality, knowing that they cannot judge it by the standards of the past.”8 On the date this column appeared, the junior Morris gathered with his classmates in the main court of Branford College at 4:45 P.M. for Tap Day, to be chosen by Scroll and Key (which classmate Bill Bundy turned down for Bones). After Pearl Harbor, Morris was to enter the Signal Corps in 1941 and perish in Kunming, China, in October 1944. His fellow columnist and iconoclast Mac Bundy, more of a reformer in intent, and later to become dean of the faculty at Harvard, special assistant for national security affairs to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and president of the Ford Foundation, was the last man tapped by Bones the following year, in May 1939.9

                      Four months before that, Bundy had penned a leader for the February 1939 Yale Lit., “For the Defense.” “[T]he senior societies,” he wrote, “whatever their minor imperfections, have contributed notably to a high ideal of friendship and have held up standards of human character that were not perfect but certainly good enough to keep most of those interested pushing up. . . . It may be bad that we have a system that attracts a blind desire and rewards on arbitrary and half-true bases. It would be worse if the ordinary aspiring freshman were drawn by nothing more compelling than the double-feature at Loew’s Poli or the dubious glories of the Knickerbocker.”10

                      Nevertheless, not two months later he and two classmates, Harold Howe and Charles Glover III, circulated a pledge agreement under which upward of two hundred juniors swore to stay in their rooms, by way of protest against the traditional election method of Tap Day, deemed “needlessly unkind and undignified.” Then older heads recollected the chaos of the 1933 election, when a similar protest had been mounted, resulting only in confusion, some double-dealing, and a process protracted over several hours. The senior society mandarins advised the pledge organizers that similar disasters were likely to occur this time around and, against an inferred promise that things might change next year when the junior class protesters were themselves seniors, these rebel leaders told their classmates in an open letter that the election would be held in Branford Court, in the usual manner, and no junior was now bound by any commitment to stay in his room.

                      On the day, Howe, Glover, and Bundy (reportedly also pressured by his mother, who traveled to New Haven to do so) all accepted offers from Bones. Still, Mac Bundy said later that he followed his brother Bill into Bones only because “it became clear to me that it would be a blow to my father if I didn’t join. He believed then in the institution as I do now. But at the time a big part of me was ambivalent. If my father hadn’t been a member of Skull and Bones, I am sure I would not have joined.”11 (Senior society legacies, it must be admitted, were not always pleased at first with the opportunity.) As an adult, Bundy kept a ceramic skull and bones propped on his desk in his study, and received correspondence more than fifty years after his initiation addressed with his society name “Odin,” the Norse god of war, poetry, wisdom, and the dead.12


                      • Several incremental changes were indeed apparent the following year, in the spring of 1940. In April, two weeks before Tap Day, the Yale Political Union held a public debate, unprecedented in the twentieth century and like nothing so much as the senior class debate and vote back in February 1884, the replay resolving 38 to 17 that “the influence of the senior societies is not in the best interests of Yale.” An outvoted supporter of the societies had argued: “As for their Democracy. I invite you to show our American Government a more just democracy than the Yale system in which the poorest boy can rise by pure achievement to the highest honor. Playthings for the idle rich perhaps, but there are no less than five bursary [scholarship] students out of the present fourteen members of the most representative of the societies.”13

                        Prior to Tap Day this year, all the senior class members of Bones, Keys, Wolf’s Head, Berzelius, Book & Snake, and Elihu were scheduled to meet to discuss changing the election procedure to employ a private event in juniors’ rooms, instead of a public event at the campus’s center. Yale administrators who were Skull and Bones alumni asked that their society’s seniors not attend, and without the participation of the eldest senior society, the matter was dropped.14

                        The News ran a front-page article on Tap Day, May 9, which went beyond the customary simple announcement of when and where the juniors were to gather for election. Titled “Annual Tap Day Ceremonies Attract Juniors to Branford Where Six Senior Societies Will Seek 1941 Delegations,” it included a potted history of the system drawn from Bagg’s (uncited) Four Years at Yale. News columnist W. Liscum Borden reported in his “Society Sweepstakes” in the same issue that “Time and Life plan to be on hand to cover one of the greatest shows on earth . . . while down at the Yale Club in New York, dignified alumni (so ’tis said) will slip into mint juleps as they watch the election returns coming in by ticker tape directly from Branford Court.” Borden ran a morning line on prospects for Bones (naming seven of the final fifteen, none of the remaining going to Keys) and Keys (ten correct picks, and none of the remaining five accepting Bones). But—forecasting his own fallibility—he noted that “the societies are so on the defensive this year that they are likely to pass over some of the more obvious B.M.O.C.s in favor of lesser known entries with sterling character, and hence, lots of long shots may gallop home with the bacon.”15

                        One of those correctly predicted for Bones by Borden, William Jackson (“because he looks so spooky in a dark suit”), had been a main organizer of the Political Union debate and wrote his own unprecedentedly public post-election reflections in his newspaper column the following week, “Now It Can Be Told.” Although tapped himself (and not actually in Branford Court that day), Jackson wrote in the voice of one passed over in the arena. “How bestial the watchers looked, lined up on the walks, hanging out of windows, morbid curiosity staring from their bulging eyes—a sort of collective Madame Defarge, sans knitting, assembled at the place de guillotine, waiting for the kill.” Overcome by “a feeling of unutterable loathing and revulsion,” he concluded that “just because the ends are good doesn’t justify any means. Rather, the means should be consistent and of equal dignity with the ends.”16

                        Time magazine indeed ran the article which Borden’s column had predicted, titled “Skull and Bones.” Time chairman Henry Luce was in Paris that week, or a tell-all article on his beloved society might not have run that reported that “Not strictly accurate is the legend that a Bones man is never without a job, but a Bones man on his uppers often gets handouts from his fellow Bonesmen,” and “The [Bones] ritual is said to include wrestling matches (from which they often emerge in tatters) and critical bull sessions in which members tell each other their faults, prod each other to strive for Success.”

                        Also quoted was an editorial from Yale Daily News chairman Kingman Brewster Jr.: “Six o’clock will bring a general sigh of relief and a sudden realization that after all the day of judgment is still a matter for the Gods and not 90 Yale men.” The piece concluded with the news that nine men turned down Bones, “including Kingman Brewster whom a Bones man found [Harold Howe] in the News office. . . . Absent from the Branford Court but eventually bagged by Bones in his room was another critic of the societies, Kingman Brewster’s roommate, William Eldred Jackson, son of U.S. Attorney General Robert H. Jackson.” In a way that would be difficult for non-Yale people to appreciate fully, Brewster’s refusal was seen as a magnificent act of heroism that resonated through the decades and was still a leading signifier of Brewster’s reputation at the time of his selection as president of the university a quarter century later.17

                        In a 1968 reissue of Stover at Yale, President Brewster reflected once more on the system. “[In Stover’s time] it was a pyramid, with Skull and Bones sitting aperch the top. But it was a pyramid of merit to a remarkable extent and reward did not exclude the rebel nor guarantee the legacy.” He did not reflect on, let alone mention, his own rejection of election.18 Although this was viewed by his peers as a rebellion against the system, his actual reasons for refusal were more varied. “I have no scunner [state of disgusted irritation] against the Senior Societies,” he later protested. “I didn’t join one as an undergraduate for the publicly expressed reasons that they were taking themselves too seriously and flaunting their secrecy as an ornament of exclusiveness: and for the more important private reason that I didn’t want to give up my Saturday commute to Northampton [home of the women’s college, Smith, where he was dating his roommate Jackson’s sister].”19 Jackson was later to say that Brewster believed a secret society membership would be a political liability in the approaching democratic age. On Tap Day in 1940, Brewster bicycled out to Whit Griswold’s house, no doubt expecting that his mentor, then an assistant professor of Government and International Relations (and to be Brewster’s predecessor as Yale president), would be pleased by his youthful independence and iconoclasm. Instead, he learned from Mary Griswold that her husband was back downtown participating in the Wolf’s Head tapping effort.20

                        The class of 1941’s election was again held in Branford Court, to which admission could be gained only by a card to be procured from the juniors’ college masters; those unable to attend by reason of illness or otherwise were requested to inform the dean’s office. The societies were provided with a list of the attending juniors, and each society was given twenty-five admission cards for their respective guests. Tapped juniors were instructed to go to a corner of the main court or other spot in Branford College designated by the tapping senior, to conclude the election, all to be done before six o’clock. A News editorial remarked that the new system would “certainly be an improvement over the former Roman holiday technique,” and that “the Societies have shown a willingness to try something new, for which even their severest critics must give them some credit.” Liscum Borden’s cheeky column on the prospects for Bones and Keys did not prevent an offer from Bones, which he rejected, and no other society tapped him.21

                        The Yale College dean’s office was watching too, and promptly prepared a graph which recorded the average grades of the new men in the six societies (Berzelius with the highest marks, followed in order by Keys, Bones, Wolf’s Head, Elihu, and Book and Snake), their fraternities, and their residential colleges. Once more a world war, commencing for the U.S. the previous December, was not permitted to interfere with their initiation. High army and navy officials, with the approval of secretary of war Stimson, authorized home leaves and furloughs to the new members of the six societies, elected offsite because of having left school in February, to return in May to their alma mater from their aviation training in Pennsylvania and upstate New York.


                        • Before that election, in the December 1940 bulletin of the Wolf’s Head corporate body, the Phelps Association, members were reminded that in their official history, published in 1934 at the advent of the residential college system, author John Williams Andrews, noting the new peril in which the fraternities were placed, had argued that “The senior society groups, too, are unhappily aware of the Sword of Damocles. ‘Whether or not they are to survive,’ said a high official of the University, whose guess should be better than average, ‘will be settled in the next seven years.’” Andrews asked, “Will the segregation of life in the Colleges eliminate or intensify the demand for University-wide contacts which the societies can so naturally supply? Do the societies now offer, or can they be shaped to offer, an additional something which the Colleges will always be impotent to meet in spite of their superb equipment for social intercourse?”22

                          The seven years had now passed, and there was no dangerous prospect of the societies’ demise. For the Yale undergraduate, according to the Wolf’s Head bulletin, “his college, rather than the university, had become the hub of his college existence.” Eating together regularly, as required by the system, “day after day and month after month, goes a very long way to cementing friendships, as well as a long way toward making acquaintanceships that may ripen into friendships. Only lodging in the same entry of the same building, playing on the same team, taking the same trips with the same organization, can compare with the magic of food shared,” and now there were “special college entertainments, special college traditions, special college jokes, literary magazines, crafts (such as printing, photography, wood and metal working and so forth).”

                          Nevertheless, this message concluded, segregation in the colleges had not only not eliminated the Andrews-identified “demand for the University-wide contracts which the societies can so naturally supply,” but this demand had been “enormously intensified—and not only are the societies meeting this demand, but they must go on meeting it with ever increasing intensity year by year, if the University idea is not to be wholly submerged in the college idea, with Yale [College] becoming no more than a fiction as is the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge.” Wolf’s Head celebrated the fact that in their 1936–37 delegation, there were men from six residential colleges out of seven, and in 1939–40 from five, but over the four years past, all the nine colleges as their number was expanded had representation in their tomb.23


                          • WAR COMES AGAIN
                            When the radio reported the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, Yale students poured out of their rooms and began spontaneous demonstrations on the Old Campus, singing “Over There” from the last world war and chanting “Let’s go to Tokyo!” By January 1942, thirty undergraduates had departed New Haven to enlist (one-half of one percent of the student body, as opposed to 700 in World War I’s first month, when the duration and brutality of that conflict were not fully appreciated). Yale officials had been expecting this day for at least the two prior years, and the ROTC and Engineering School had begun shaping courses to meet such an emergency.

                            Yale was the first university in the country to make a definite statement of a progressive policy to prepare its students for war and war work. The “Yale Plan” announced on February 25, 1942, structured a course of studies to prepare a man mentally and morally for his duties as an officer in the armed forces, and created liaison plans attempting to accommodate the needs of the army, navy, and industry with the capacity of the facilities of the college. Men were divided into the Navy V-1 class (“V” for volunteer) and the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps plan, and before month’s end, almost 30 percent of the student body—nearly nine hundred students—had enlisted in military and naval programs, which kept them temporarily in college. Army, navy, and marines enlisted reserve units were established in the summer of 1942. Put in charge of the marine corps enlisting unit was graduate Lt. Elliott R. Detchon Jr., ’41, a star football player and Keys alumnus. Put in charge of Yale recruiting for the Navy’s preflight training group was the current football team’s captain and All-American center, Spencer Moseley ’43, who was then a member of Bones.

                            There was no longer any place for the usual three months’ summer vacation: an accelerated academic program was laid out whereby the university would operate on a year-round basis, dividing its work into three school-year terms instead of the former two. Each term would run approximately sixteen weeks with a brief week’s breathing space between. Attending through the summer, students in all departments might graduate ahead of schedule, reducing the time for a full college course from four years to less than three—to two years and eight months, in fact. Except for the week between terms, classes were held every day except Christmas, and this included Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Thus men under twenty-one would complete their college training before entering into active national service.

                            The six hundred seniors of the class of 1942 enjoyed the last normal graduation, advanced only a week from the customary date, with the ROTC seniors in uniform and the rest in mufti, as only the faculty wore academic gowns. The first summer session of the accelerated program began in July 1942, and 98 percent of Yale’s undergraduates returned for it (the comparable numbers were 75 percent at Princeton, and 60 percent at Harvard). That same month, 1059 new freshmen of the class of 1945W—W meaning “War”—entered Yale, and were addressed by Harvey Bundy ’09, special assistant to the secretary of war, and his fellow Bonesman Henry Stimson ’88.

                            The election calendar for the senior societies was necessarily distorted by these events. The class of 1945, 981 of them, had arrived at the normal time in September 1941, just three months before Pearl Harbor, and their class’s Tap Day was April 29, 1943, following by only five months the senior society elections for the class of 1944, held in December 1942. For 1945W, the expectation of their total term at Yale was two years and seven months, with a Tap Day of January 1, 1944, in the Timothy Dwight courtyard attended only by juniors and society members (when Bones tapped only a mere ten men, and Keys fourteen), but even those who stayed the longest had less time than that. Men were constantly lost to different branches of the service, and before their graduation in February 1944 the 1,059 freshmen who had entered had suffered on-campus attrition of 86 percent, to fewer than 150 men.

                            The crowding-in began, as Yale lost control of much of its own campus to the services: the U.S. Army Air Force rented Silliman College, the Freshman Commons, parts of the Law and Graduate Schools, laboratory facilities, and almost the entire Old Campus—where no Yale student was now allowed to step—for the duration. Six of the Yale College fraternities became officers’ eating clubs. An advance guard of the Air Corps, coming around to see the possibilities, had stopped in delight before the Skull and Bones tomb, seeing it as “The very thing for the Guard House!” University treasurer Lawrence Tighe, who was handling the renting of the campus buildings, as a good Bonesman not suprisingly refused (and it was not Yale’s property anyway). Yale College now resembled an armed camp, housing a student population by the summer of 1943 of 8,000, up from 5,000 before the war.

                            President Charles Seymour’s message in the classbook for 1943 foretold the end of extracurricular activities: “During the years before us, perhaps most of that which characterized the old Yale life will of necessity be sacrificed. . . . Traditional student activities are bound to be strictly curtailed, the pleasant frivolities of leisure hours will rapidly disappear.” Shrink in size they did, ultimately to vanish, although through 1942 they struggled to endure. On March 26, 1943, the Whiffenpoofs announced their discontinuance, with the Yale Daily News, the only Ivy League college newspaper which was continuing as a daily, reporting the “Temporary demobilization of the little black sheep.” The News had announced that it intended to keep on publishing for the war’s duration if possible, but the self-styled Oldest College Daily succumbed with a last issue on May 8, 1943, one of its final editorials commenting that “Yale is writing ‘the end’ temporarily to a chapter which has often spelt the neglect of proper study, and which has often created a goddess out of success after the fashion of America.”24


                            • THE SENIOR SOCIETIES IN WARTIME

                              The life of the senior societies was naturally impacted deeply by the enforced disciplines of military training and the severe reduction in optional leisure time. Members of the army, navy, and marines awoke at 6:00 A.M. and attended classes or the gymnasium all day until 6:00 P.M., six days a week; after mess, ninety minutes’ free time was followed by a study period, with lights out at 11:30 P.M. Society members could now only squeeze in meetings on Wednesday nights, when at least the Navy men had the evening off, and before the end of the war some of the societies temporarily ceased to function. The Navy laid no ban on extracurricular activities, “insofar as it does not interfere with prescribed hours or courses of study”—which was exactly backward, as it was the prescribed hours and courses which interfered with extra-curricular activities.

                              Still, enlisted naval students could join all previously established fraternities on campus available to all students, but were forbidden “to join in any activity or organization not available to membership to all students either civilian or enlisted on the campus,” which eliminated the senior societies. With accelerated graduations coming every four months instead of annually, the cascade of blows fell quickly on the societies’ seemingly immemorial rhythms, first limiting meetings, then scattering junior class candidates and senior class electors to far corners of the country or to overseas battlegrounds, then making even fifteen members hard to find, and finally forcing the complete cancellation of elections.

                              The centennial of Scroll and Key arrived in May 1942, and the invitation to their graduates hoped that every one “will make the necessary effort to return to the Hall on these occasions in spite of the obvious difficulty of the times.” Attendees were advised that, in recognition of the society’s one hundredth anniversary, Wolf’s Head had sent over one hundred American Beauty roses (“thornless!”) with an autographed poem by Stephen Vincent Benét, read in the Keys tomb on June 9, 1942, by George Parmly Day, the university treasurer and presiding officer for the centennial ceremonies.

                              The Benét verses recollected that, years before on the fiftieth anniversary of the third oldest College society, Keys had sent “thornless flowers” to Wolf’s Head, and reflected the wartime threat to civilization:

                              For, as in Rome, Briton and Gaul

                              Alike could man the Roman Wall

                              And citizens from near and far

                              Though born beneath a different star

                              Remarked, with zeal, “S.P.Q.R.,

                              Civis Romanus sum.”—so we,

                              Whatever else we chance to be,

                              Remain “cives Yalenses” still

                              And hail our city with a will.

                              So, though the Wolf our totem be,

                              Tonight we honor Scroll and Key

                              And in our mildly vulpine way

                              Extol your glad centennial day,

                              The years as honorably worn,

                              The honors still so lightly bourne,

                              The gaiety through years maintained,

                              The courtesy that is not feigned,

                              And gaily may your troubadour

                              Greet the next hundred years, and more!25

                              Tap Day, seemingly forever a fixture of late May afternoons, was for the first time since the original election of 1833 seriously accelerated, to December 3, 1942, for the elections for the class of 1944, to graduate on December 19. Because of the shortened winter day and evening blackout rules on campus, juniors were asked to report to Branford Court at 4:15 P.M., with the ceremony to begin at 4:30 (or, predicted a News columnist, “perhaps earlier unless the societies want to look for the last few men with kerosene lamps.”) Admittees held tickets mailed in individual envelopes to all juniors in the College, and obtained by Sheff and Engineering juniors from the Sheff dean’s office.

                              The traditional News election day editorial observed that, unlike in recent years past, “no opinions have been expressed to the public either in condemnation or in affirmation of the senior society system,” but also noted that “each junior must enter Branford Courtyard this afternoon with some basis for either refusing or accepting election to one of the six senior societies. A real basis, and perhaps the only fool-proof one, which alone does not involve penetrating the societies’ perfectly valid secrecy and mystery, is whether one wants the rare privileges and benefits, together with some of the burdens, of fourteen intimate, life long friends.” Men taken in as members were fine men, opined the editorial, but probably would have been fine men without such membership. “In the last analysis,” the News chair wrote, “the best basis for deciding for or against the senior society system is the friendship tradition, which is its unique gift to Yale life.”

                              That News columnist had asserted that about sixty men of the ninety knew they would be tapped. To Bones that day went Dean Witter Jr., son of the founder of the eponymous stock brokerage house, tapped by Spencer Moseley, James Lane Buckley, later United States senator from New York and thereafter senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, James Whitmore, future Hollywood actor, slapped by Zeph Stewart, future Harvard professor of Classics and Lowell House master, and Townsend Hoopes, to be undersecretary of the air force during the Vietnam War and then president of the Association of American Publishers. Joining Keys that day was John Vliet Lindsay, future mayor of New York City, tapped by Cord Meyer Jr., future president of the United World Federalists, joined in the courtyard by his clubmate George Roy Hill, future Academy Award–winning director of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. In 1965, when all three mayoral candidates—Lindsay, William F. Buckley Jr., and Robert F. Wagner Jr.—were Yale graduates, a newspaper columnist facetiously observed that while Buckley was in Skull and Bones, Lindsay and Wagner were only in Scroll and Key, and “ That makes them sensitive to the aspirations of minority groups.”

                              To Wolf’s Head that day went Sam Wagstaff, who after surviving Omaha Beach on D-Day became a renowned American art curator and collector (his photography collection purchased by the Getty Museum) as well as the artistic mentor, benefactor, and companion of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and poet–punk rocker Patti Smith. Tapping for Berzelius in Branford Court was Elias Clark, later Yale law professor and longtime master of Silliman College. The tally of refusals, eleven in all, showed that the mismatch of society intents and candidate desires continued in a democratic mix: three turndowns each for Bones, Keys, and Book and Snake, and one for Elihu, with only Berzelius completely successful in choosing its first fifteen without rebuff.

                              As for meetings in 1942, the Bones clubs of the graduating classes of 1944 (with only four men on campus) and 1945 were sharing Skeleton Hall on Wednesday evenings, eating together, then switching off debate sessions while the non-debating club bided its time, before all rushing back to barracks at ten o’clock, on Saturdays, 1945’s contingent had the hall to itself while the older club went to New York City or to a summer beach house in Madison, Connecticut, loaned by an alumnus. Elections were successfully mounted for the class of 1945W on New Year’s Day in 1944, a Saturday, although only ten men were elected, the fewest in the society’s history (Keys managed to elect fourteen).

                              By the spring of 1945 with the current members expected to leave for war service in June—since the atomic bomb’s existence was unknown and its dramatic impact unforeseen, not being mentioned in occasional talks given in New Haven by those working in Washington with Secretary of War Henry Stimson—it was determined that, for the first and last time in the society’s storied history, no elections would be conducted for the class of 1946. The Yale News Digest simply if grimly announced: “The Skull and Bones Society will offer no elections this spring.”

                              Fulfilling the prediction made in the Nineteen Forty Four Class Book, which had postulated in the spring of 1943 that “should the [extracurricular organization] groups be forced out of existence, some provision will be made for handing over the organization to the trusteeship of faculty members for the duration,” a group of local Bones alumni, including Yale faculty and administrators and recently graduated members, formed an ad hoc club, which they styled the “Committee of Fifteen,” to continue the life of the society, meeting on Thursday nights from the remainder of 1945 and into 1946, and this group after V-J Day in August 1945 planned for the coming spring of 1946, when normal campus life was expected to resume. Not until May 16, 1946, for the class of 1947, was there to be an incoming club for Skull and Bones chosen at the customary time in the customary way (although men selected for the societies were informed in their rooms), with the full complement of fifteen, after three refusals. Eleven members of the classes of 1944, 1945, and 1945W were on that date still in attendance at Yale as undergraduates, rescheduled after their respective enlistments to graduate in 1946, 1947, and 1948.

                              As for Keys, its group photographs for the classes of 1942, 1943, and 1944 each show fifteen men, but for 1945, there are twenty-seven faces: an amalgamation of the classes of 1945, with fifteen, and 1945W, with twelve, and at least six military uniforms. For the class of 1946, eight men were photographed, six again in uniform, with four not shown, constituting the second delegation in Keys’ modern history with less than a full complement of fifteen. For 1947, ten members are pictured, none in uniform, so over two years in three classes, the canonical number was not achieved. And while the portraits for the classes of 1948 and 1949 once more reflect the prewar pattern, fifteen young men in dark suits, nine of that 1948 crowd were World War II veterans and three would go to Korea, while in 1949 all but two were veterans.

                              The 1945W Class Book, published in conjunction with the 1947 Yale Banner, evidences the confusion and attrition in annual intake of fifteen, in printing the standard page listings beneath their symbols of the various societies’ members. The Bones page lists thirty-eight names, and the Keys page thirty-three, hailing from the classes of 1944, 1945, 1945W, 1946, and 1947, while Berzelius and Book and Snake each lists twenty-five, and Wolf’s Head twenty.

                              These Bones and Keys groups of 1949—the former club, similarly all veterans, including two legacies, Henry Sloane Coffin ’97’s nephew William Sloane Coffin, who had worked in the army’s intelligence service as a liaison with the French and Russian armies, before becoming famous two decades later as Yale’s chaplain and civil rights crusader, and Trubee Davison ’17’s son Daniel Pomeroy Davison, a lieutenant in the USAF from 1943 to 1945—would, after some debate, offer election to a man who would have been the first black member in either society’s history.

                              WHEN THE SHOOTING STOPPED
                              Although the Japanese surrender in August 1945 relieved the tension in the battlefields, Yale did not immediately resume its former peacetime status, having officially opened its 245th academic year with the summer term on July 2. At the special graduation held on October 23 for 53 members of the class that had entered in February 1943, President Charles Seymour gratefully noted that “For the first time in four years and five months a class goes forth from the halls of Yale into a world that will concentrate its power on something other than the annihilation of human possessions and the destruction of human lives.” The last navy men did not leave until June 1946, and the boys in uniform could not immediately come home, since demobilization took time. The university resumed its prewar two-term schedule in September.29

                              The pamphlet “Studies for the Returning Service Men” was prepared for eager inquirers: the government was lending a financial hand with the GI Bill, and many men who had no previous college experience were planning to give it a try. At the beginning of the 1945 summer term, 580 freshmen had entered Yale as the class of ’48. On November 1 another 250 came, and these together with the 228 who arrived with the beginning of the spring term of March, 1946, constituted the class of 1949. These entering freshmen and their counselors were put directly into those colleges which by now had been turned back to Yale by the navy.

                              A quota of 650 applications had been set for the fall term of 1946, and more than twice as many applications were received. Furthermore, six thousand former undergraduates wanted to return to qualify for a degree, and Yale received 5,175 formal applications from veterans who had either never attended a college or wanted to switch to Yale. In its inaugural issue for 1946, the war-suspended Yale Daily News reported that 5,000 veterans were included in the total registering, with the undergraduate body jumping in number from the normal limit of 3,100 to a total of about 5,600. Over a quarter of the returning veterans, some 1,300 of them, had brought new wives along. Some of them in due course had children, including among those newborns George Walker Bush, to be the 43rd president of the United States, born in New Haven on July 6, 1946.

                              On Commencement Sunday in 1946, a service of commemoration for the war dead was held in Battell Chapel, a long list, 514 names. The following day saw once again the normal commencement exercises with nearly seven hundred student degrees and the conferring of honorary degrees for the first time since 1942. By the fall of 1946, the physical conversion of the entire University to peacetime status was complete, with the Old Campus available again to entering freshmen.30 What have been called “the veteran years” which followed, between 1946 and, roughly, 1949, were to change the senior societies, as the veterans elevated and dignified Yale in many ways. It was their battle-worn skepticism which first permitted the intensification of the organized mockery of the societies, forcing them to reassess their standards.


                              • RESUMPTION OF (MOST) TRADITIONS
                                Tap Day on May 15 in the spring of 1947 for the class of 1948 still did not allow revival of the prewar tradition of elections held in the Branford College courtyard. Elections were offered between 4:00 and 6:00 P.M. to the collegians in their rooms, and those not living in the residential colleges were told to say in their places of residence, whether in or out of New Haven. The campus radio station, WYBC, announced the completion of elections to the several societies as soon as might be done after each society closed its list.

                                The last man tapped for Bones was George H. W. Bush, whose Yale blue veins and senior society antecedents came from several ancestors and from both sides of the families reflected in his full name. The first Bush to attend Yale was the forty-first American president’s great-grandfather, James Smith Bush, class of 1844. His other great-grandfather, David Walker, had built the largest dry goods import firm west of the Mississippi, and the investment firm of his son, George H. Walker and Company, founded in 1900, had become one of the more important in the Mississippi Valley. Walker became president of the W. A. Harriman & Co. investment firm, where Prescott Bush, Yale 1917 and Bones, became vice president in 1924, having first become Walker’s son-in-law in 1921.

                                Prescott’s first job after his 1919 discharge from his World War I service as an army captain of field artillery had been at the Simmons Hardware Company, owned by Walter Simmons, Yale 1890 and Bones, in St. Louis, Missouri, where he met George Walker’s daughter Dorothy. In 1931, Prescott became a partner of the newly merged Brown Brothers Harriman, where Averell Harriman was chairman of the board and his younger brother Roland, Prescott’s Bones clubmate, also worked. In 1952 Prescott Bush was named to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, serving until 1962. He had lost his first race, in 1950, his ties with Planned Parenthood hurting him in heavily Catholic Connecticut, where he also served as chairman of that state’s branch of the United Negro College Fund.32

                                Within the family, his son George H. W. Bush became “Poppy” (a nickname which persisted at Yale), because he had been named by family agreement after his maternal grandfather Walker, known as “Pop” to his sons. He attended Phillips Andover, which many said was modeled after Yale, in terms of social—even secret—clubs and fraternities and Yale-educated leadership. Bush became captain of both the soccer and baseball teams, playing manager of the basketball team, president of the senior class, and (before such societies were abolished after the Second World War) a member of Andover’s own secret society AUV (Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas—Authority, Unity, Truth).

                                At his graduation in 1942, where Secretary of War Stimson, the commencement speaker and chairman of the Andover Trustees, had warned against early enlistment in the new war, George overrode Prescott’s intent that he go directly from Andover to Yale and enlisted on his eighteenth birthday as a naval aviator, the youngest in the service to that date. He was shot down on September 2, 1944, near the Bonin Islands, and later rescued from an inflated raft by a submarine. Dying in that crash was a Bush family friend, Lt. (jg) Ted White, a squadron ordnance officer, Bonesman of the class of 1942 and son of a classmate of Prescott’s who had begged a ride on a combat mission in the turret gunner’s seat to observe the plane’s weapons system. For his 58 combat missions and 126 carrier landings, George Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded his ship the USS San Jacinto.33

                                While the GI Bill helped not only Bush but others who ordinarily would have attended Yale, funding $500 of the $600-per-year tuition and $105 for a married couple’s monthly subsistence, it also helped thousands more who would not have even thought of Yale, and the social complexion of the campus changed considerably. (Specific scholarships for black students, paid for the by college’s “Budget” charity drive for which Bush was an officer, evidenced that the diversification of the student body had solid support within the college.) The veterans were as a group older than the usual undergraduate body, certainly more seasoned, by virtue of their war service, involving 60 percent of the class of 1948. Their ethnicity was radically more diverse: the 1947 Yale football team for the Harvard game included players named Prchlik, Nadherny, Dluzniewski, Tataranowicz, Setear, Pivcevich, Loh, and Booe. They sat in classrooms attentively and struggled with examinations which represented not the pleasure of a gentlemanly collegiate style, but the doorway to a postwar world.

                                The outward display of collegiate customs and traditions, such as the Whiffenpoofs, Mory’s, and yes, the senior societies, had less central a place than before the war. “It is undeniably true that these social organizations were not easily going to regain their previous importance and prestige positions in the history of the new Yale,” opined the editors of the 1948 classbook. Still, it was college, not a battlefield, and the yearbook noted that “Yale at war had seen many difficulties” and “studies came first,” meaning that “values tended to be somewhat distorted, with studies actually being overemphasized.” Yet, “Eli was peeling off the vestiges of militarism. The return of the sports jacket and gray flannels gave rise to the feeling that Yale was, once again, her old self.”

                                That was not quite true for the senior societies, to go by the opinion expressed by Horace D. Taft, Senator Robert Taft’s son (and future dean of Yale College), in his social history of the class of 1949: “Tap Day came around for our class and was held in Branford Court once more. Being a new and extraordinary process for most of us, it evinced a great deal of curiosity, but for the great majority it was too incongruous a procedure to be very impressive. These societies, as well as fraternities and other groups, have not recaptured the position of importance they held before the war. There is too much else offered by the University.”34

                                Only weeks after his return from the Pacific, on January 6, 1945, Bush married Barbara Pierce. In overcrowded New Haven, the young married couple lived, over the two and one-half years of his college education in the still-accelerated course, in three apartments, losing the first because of Barbara’s pregnancy with their first son. The last residence was at 37 Hillhouse, formerly a single-family dwelling next to the one inhabited by President Seymour, now divided into thirteen separate apartments for nine families including eleven children, where the kitchen and bathroom had to be shared with others. Despite having a young family, Bush entered fully into the college’s frenetic social and athletic life, joining and then serving as president of the junior fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon; captaining the Yale baseball team and playing in the first two College World Series (the pregnant Barbara Bush sat in the extra-wide seat in the Yale stadium which had been designed for William Howard Taft to use while teaching at the law school); and being elected to Phi Beta Kappa, an achievement perplexing those who had known him at Andover.

                                Barbara’s father wrote to a childhood friend, updating him on the Pierce family after his son-in-law’s graduation, that his daughter’s husband was “by all odds the biggest man on the campus, having been the last man tapped for Skull and Bones and having been awarded a faculty prize [the George Gordon Brown Prize for “all around student leadership”] for having done the most for Yale.” The 1947 club tapping him included another political scion, John Chafee, great-grandson of a governor and grand-nephew of another governor and of a U.S. senator, but blooded differently as a marine at Guadalcanal and Okinawa, and later to serve as governor of Rhode Island, secretary of the navy under President Nixon, and then four-term United States senator.35

                                In his senior society life, too, Bush participated fully, albeit married, and his clubmates, all war veterans themselves and seven of them pilots, included Thomas William Ludlow (“Lud”) Ashley, subsequently thirteen-term Democratic congressman from Ohio; Howard Sayre Weaver, future dean of the Yale School of Art and Architecture; and David Grimes, to chair the founding board of the Association of Yale Alumni. This club discussed admitting both blacks and Jews to their institution.36

                                George Herbert Walker Bush, of course, had the most remarkable political career of all these veterans, and one of the most remarkable of all American politicians, serving one term as congressman from Texas’s 7th District, then ambassador to the United Nations for twenty-two months. Thereafter he served as chair of the Republican National Committee for twenty months, then chief of the China liaison office—functionally, ambassador—in Beijing for sixteen months, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency for a year, then vice president of the United States (sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Bones 1937) under Ronald Reagan for eight years. Finally, when no sitting vice president had been elected to the presidency since Martin Van Buren one hundred fifty years before, he became the forty-first president of the United States for a single term.

                                His clubmates and graduate members of his senior society were instrumental over the years in funding this rise and in allowing him to unburden himself at reunions and dinners: a Washington Post article in the run-up to the 1988 presidential election was titled “Bush Opened Up to Secret Yale Society” and detailed the group’s programs of C.B.s and L.H.s, even describing Bush’s anguished retelling of the wartime death of his San Jacinto shipmate Ted White.37 These intersections of intimacy and political power, noted by the media, only served to fuel the conspiracy theories which swirled around Skull and Bones.

                                While it would have been easy for Bush to go down to New York and be an early success on Wall Street—his 1948 class yearbook lists twenty-five separate affiliations and achievements during his scant twenty-seven months in New Haven—young men of his background had begun looking southwest and west for different opportunities in the bursting economy. But even here, his senior society connections helped. He was taken on as the only trainee, an equipment clerk, for Dresser Industries, an oil services company later known as Halliburton, by its president, Neil Mallon, who had been an intercollegiate All-American basketball player and a member of the 1917 Bones club with Prescott. As George H. W. Bush had been the navy’s youngest pilot in World War II, Mallon, at twenty-three, had been the army’s youngest major in World War I.38