Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones, The Order, Order 322 or The Brotherhood of Death is an undergraduate senior secret student society at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The oldest senior class society at the university, Skull and Bones has become a cultural institution known for its powerful alumni and various conspiracy theories. It is one of the “Big Three” societies at Yale, the other two being Scroll and Key and Wolf’s Head Society.
The society’s alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, owns the organization’s real estate and oversees the membership. The society is known informally as “Bones”, and members are known as “Bonesmen”, “Members of The Order” or “Initiated to The Order”.
Skull and Bones was founded in 1832 after a dispute among Yale debating societies Linonia, Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society over that season’s Phi Beta Kappa awards. William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft co-founded “the Order of the Skull and Bones”. The first senior members included Russell, Taft, and 12 other members. Alternative names for Skull and Bones are The Order, Order 322 and The Brotherhood of Death.
The society’s assets are managed by its alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, incorporated in 1856 and named after the Bones’ co-founder.
The association was founded by Russell and Daniel Coit Gilman, a Skull and Bones member.
The first extended description of Skull and Bones, published in 1871 by Lyman Bagg in his book Four Years at Yale, noted that “the mystery now attending its existence forms the one great enigma which college gossip never tires of discussing”. Brooks Mather Kelley attributed the interest in Yale senior societies to the fact that underclassmen members of then freshman, sophomore, and junior class societies returned to campus the following years and could share information about society rituals, while graduating seniors were, with their knowledge of such, at least a step removed from campus life.
Skull and Bones selects new members among students every spring as part of Yale University’s “Tap Day”, and has done so since 1879. Since the society’s inclusion of women in the early 1990s, Skull and Bones selects fifteen men and women of the junior class to join the society. Skull and Bones “taps” those that it views as campus leaders and other notable figures for its membership.
The 1920 delegation included co-founders of Time magazine, Briton Hadden and Henry Luce.
Skull and Bones’s membership developed a reputation in association with the “power elite“.
Regarding the qualifications for membership, Lanny Davis wrote in the 1968 Yale yearbook:
If the society had a good year, this is what the “ideal” group will consist of: a football captain; a Chairman of the Yale Daily News; a conspicuous radical; a Whiffenpoof; a swimming captain; a notorious drunk with a 94 average; a film-maker; a political columnist; a religious group leader; a Chairman of the Lit; a foreigner; a ladies’ man with two motorcycles; an ex-service man; a negro, if there are enough to go around; a guy nobody else in the group had heard of, ever …— Lanny Davis, quoted by Alexandra Robbins, “George W., Knight of Eulogia“
Like other Yale senior societies, Skull and Bones membership was almost exclusively limited to white Protestant males for much of its history. While Yale itself had exclusionary policies directed at particular ethnic and religious groups, the senior societies were even more exclusionary.
While some Catholics were able to join such groups, Jews were more often not.
Some of these excluded groups eventually entered Skull and Bones by means of sports, through the society’s practice of tapping standout athletes. Star football players tapped for Skull and Bones included the first Jewish player (Al Hessberg, class of 1938) and African-American player (Levi Jackson, class of 1950, who turned down the invitation for the Berzelius Society).
Yale became coeducational in 1969, prompting some other secret societies such as St. Anthony Hall to transition to co-ed membership, yet Skull and Bones remained fully male until 1992. The Bones class of 1971’s attempt to tap women for membership was opposed by Bones alumni, who dubbed them the “bad club” and quashed their attempt. “The issue”, as it came to be called by Bonesmen, was debated for decades.
The class of 1991 tapped seven female members for membership in the next year’s class, causing conflict with the alumni association.
The trust changed the locks on the Tomb and the Bonesmen instead met in the Manuscript Society building.
A mail-in vote by members decided 368–320 to permit women in the society, but a group of alumni led by William F. Buckley obtained a temporary restraining order to block the move, arguing that a formal change in bylaws was needed.
A second alumni vote, in October 1991, agreed to accept the Class of 1992, and the lawsuit was dropped.
Judith Ann Schiff, Chief Research Archivist at the Yale University Library, has written: “The names of its members weren’t kept secret—that was an innovation of the 1970s—but its meetings and practices were.”[
While resourceful researchers could assemble member data from these original sources, in 1985, an anonymous source leaked rosters to Antony C. Sutton. This membership information was kept privately for over 15 years, as Sutton feared that the photocopied pages could somehow identify the member who leaked it. He wrote a book on the group, America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull and Bones. The information was finally reformatted as an appendix in the book Fleshing out Skull and Bones, a compilation edited by Kris Millegan and published in 2003.
Among prominent alumni are former president and Chief Justice William Howard Taft (a founder’s son); former presidents and father and son George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush; Chauncey Depew, president of the New York Central Railroad System, and a United States Senator from New York; Juan Terry Trippe, Founder & CEO, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am); Joseph Gibson Hoyt, the first chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis; Supreme Court Justices Morrison R. Waite and Potter Stewart , James Jesus Angleton, “mother of the Central Intelligence Agency“; Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War (1940–1945); Robert A. Lovett, U.S. Secretary of Defense (1951–1953); William B. Washburn, Governor of Massachusetts; and Henry Luce, founder and publisher of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated magazines.
John Kerry, former U.S. Secretary of State and former U.S. Senator; Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone Group; Austan Goolsbee Chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers; Harold Stanley, co-founder of Morgan Stanley; and Frederick W. Smith, founder of FedEx, are all reported to be members.
In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican nominees were alumni. George W. Bush wrote in his autobiography, “[In my] senior year I joined Skull and Bones, a secret society; so secret, I can’t say anything more.”
When asked what it meant that he and Bush were both Bonesmen, former presidential candidate John Kerry said, “Not much, because it’s a secret.”
The number “322” appears in Skull and Bones’ insignia and is widely reported to be significant as the year of Greek orator Demosthenes‘ death.
A letter between early society members in Yale’s archives suggests that 322 is a reference to the year 322 BC and that members measure dates from this year instead of from the common era. In 322 BC, the Lamian War ended with the death of Demosthenes and Athenians were made to dissolve their government and establish a plutocratic system in its stead, whereby only those possessing 2,000 drachmas or more could remain citizens. Documents in the Tomb have purportedly been found dated to “Anno-Demostheni”.
Members measure time of day according to a clock 5 minutes out of sync with normal time, the latter is called “barbarian time”.
One legend is that the numbers in the society’s emblem (“322”) represent “founded in ’32, 2nd corps”, referring to a first Corps in an unknown German university.
Members are assigned nicknames (e.g., “Long Devil”, the tallest member, and “Boaz”, a varsity football captain, or “Sherrife” prince of future). Many of the chosen names are drawn from literature (e.g., “Hamlet“, “Uncle Remus“) religion, and myth. The banker Lewis Lapham passed on his nickname, “Sancho Panza“, to the political adviser Tex McCrary. Averell Harriman was “Thor“, Henry Luce was “Baal“, McGeorge Bundy was “Odin“, and George H. W. Bush was “Magog“.
Skull and Bones has a reputation for stealing keepsakes from other Yale societies or from campus buildings; society members reportedly call the practice “crooking” and strive to outdo each other’s “crooks”.
Rumors about the club
The group Skull and Bones is featured in books and movies which claim that the society plays a role in a global conspiracy for world control.
Writers such as Alexandra Robbins suggest that Skull and Bones is a branch of the Illuminati, having been founded by German university alumni following the order’s suppression in their native land by Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria with the support of Frederick the Great of Prussia, or that Skull and Bones itself controls the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Ivy League
History of the Ivy League
|Harvard University||1636 as New College||Nonsectarian, founded by Calvinist Congregationalists|
|Yale University||1701 as Collegiate School||Calvinist (Congregationalist)|
|University of Pennsylvania||1740 as Unnamed Charity School||Nonsectarian, founded by Church of England/Methodist members|
|Princeton University||1746 as College of New Jersey||Nonsectarian, founded by Calvinist Presbyterians|
|Columbia University||1754 as King’s College||Church of England|
|Brown University||1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations||Baptist, founding charter promises “no religious tests” and “full liberty of conscience”|
|Dartmouth College||1769||Calvinist (Congregationalist)|
Note: Six of the eight Ivy League universities consider their founding dates to be simply the date that they received their charters and thus became legal corporations with the authority to grant academic degrees. Harvard University uses the date that the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony formally allocated funds for the creation of a college. Harvard was chartered in 1650, although classes had been conducted for approximately a decade by then. The University of Pennsylvania initially considered its founding date to be 1750; this is the year which appears on the first iteration of the university seal. Later in Penn’s early history, the university changed its officially recognized founding date to 1749, which was used for all of the nineteenth century, including a centennial celebration in 1849. In 1899, Penn’s board of trustees formally adopted a third founding date of 1740, in response to a petition from Penn’s General Alumni Society. Penn was chartered in 1755, the same year collegiate classes began. “Religious affiliation” refers to financial sponsorship, formal association with, and promotion by, a religious denomination. All of the schools in the Ivy League are private and not currently associated with any religion.
U.S. presidents in the Ivy League
See also: List of Presidents of the United States by educationFranklin Delano Roosevelt, third from left, top row, with his Harvard class in 1904
Of the 45 men who have served as President of the United States, 16 have graduated from an Ivy League university. Of them, eight have degrees from Harvard, five from Yale, three from Columbia, two from Princeton and one from Penn. Twelve presidents have earned Ivy undergraduate degrees. Three of these were transfer students: Donald Trump transferred from Fordham University, Barack Obama transferred from Occidental College, and John F. Kennedy transferred from Princeton to Harvard. John Adams was the first president to graduate from college, graduating from Harvard in 1755.
|John Adams||Harvard University||1755|
|James Madison||Princeton University||1771|
|John Quincy Adams||Harvard University||1787|
|William Henry Harrison||University of Pennsylvania||(withdrew)|
|Rutherford B. Hayes||Harvard Law School||1845|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Harvard University|
Columbia Law School
(withdrew) (Awarded J.D. in 2008, class of 1882)
|William Howard Taft||Yale University||1878|
|Woodrow Wilson||Princeton University||1879|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||Harvard University|
Columbia Law School
(withdrew) (Awarded J.D. in 2008, class of 1907)
|John F. Kennedy||Princeton University|
|Gerald Ford||Yale Law School||1941|
|George H. W. Bush||Yale University||1948|
|Bill Clinton||Yale Law School||1973|
|George W. Bush||Yale University|
Harvard Business School
|Barack Obama||Columbia University|
Harvard Law School
|Donald Trump||University of Pennsylvania||1968|