For the most part, you can find everything you need to know about a college by visiting its website or reading what the public relations department puts out. But for many schools across the country, there is an element of mystery surrounding certain aspects of campus traditions, and possibly even the student sitting next to you in class. Secret societies aren't isolated to the Ivy Leagues, and their purposes and methods vary from school to school. Some keep their members' identities secret; others maintain the mystery around their activities and proceedings. You can't help but wonder what goes on at the meetings of these secret organizations and how you can get in one.
Flat Hat Club at College of William & Mary
The original F.H.C. Society, which really stood for some secret Latin phrase but is more commonly referred to as the Flat Hat Club, was the first collegiate society in the U.S., formed in 1750. Thomas Jefferson himself was a member, and the group had a secret handshake (like any good organization does) and met to discuss the day's issues. The group disbanded during the American Revolution, and it wasn't until the early 20th century that the society came back, in a slightly different form. It now includes 12 undergrad guys and four professors, while the original had only six students. The activities of the all-male group are kept secret, though they are assumed to be altruistic.
The Noble NoZe Brotherhood at Baylor University
At a huge Baptist university, there's bound to be some people who just aren't ready to take it all so seriously. Founded in 1924 around the joke that one guy's nose was so big you could form a club around it, the NoZe Brothers main jobs are putting out the satirical Baylor paper, The Rope, pulling pranks on unsuspecting students and university officials, and wandering around at campus events in the Groucho glasses that hide members' identities. Several important people with ties to Baylor have been named "ornery" brothers, including university president Ken Starr, Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, and President George W. Bush, while Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, was revealed in 2010 to be a former member.
The Machine at University of Alabama
What started as Theta Nu Epsilon became known as The Machine after being referred to as such in an article in the school paper in the '20s. This group is a campus political machine made up of members of the school's sororities and fraternities who take actions to sway the student government elections at Alabama. Since the university is located in the Deep South, it's not surprising that the Machine has been accused of racism in the past, though many who may or may not be part of the group say that the stories are all highly exaggerated. Some of these legends include assaults, office break-ins, and cross burnings. A school administrator even suggested an editor at the school newspaper change his locks after running a story about the Machine. Whether the tales have gotten out of hand or not, only a handful of student government presidents have won without being backed by the Machine.
The Bullingdon Club at Oxford University
It's hard to say whether this society is actually secretive or whether it's so elitist that people wish it was secretive. Started way back in 1780, The Bullingdon Club has been causing destruction wherever they go for centuries. The group is made up of only the richest, most prestigious students, and many go on to become important in the world of British politics and business. We're talking Prime Minister David Cameron, BBC commentator David Dimbleby, and numerous kings. Many of the members try to keep a low profile about the club while they're in it (thus its secretive nature), and for good reason: the main events for the club are to rent out restaurants and clubs for extravagant dinners, get drunk, and then make a contest out of destroying the place.
Skull and Bones at Yale University
The most well-known collegiate secret society, Skull and Bones has made a name for itself through its famous alumni (President George W. Bush, Supreme Court justices, and spies, for instance) and mysterious activities perpetuated by movies and the media. Since 1832, the group has tapped 15 seniors a year for membership who then go through an initiation process at a tomb-like building said to contain the skull of Geronimo, stolen by previous Bonesmen. The aim of the group seems to be to get members to positions of power later in life, though conspiracy theorists will tell you that they were behind the Kennedy assassination and the nuclear bomb. That's how you know it's a good club — the crazies love to talk about it.
The Spades at Auburn University
Each year, 10 seniors are selected to become a Spade, based on their contributions to the university or position of influence. Depending on who you talk to, the mission of the Spades is either the noble deed of establishing scholarships and the like or the not-so-noble task of manipulating campus activities. It's hard to say since their activities are anonymous and they supposedly meet in the woods. Many acts of kindness have been attributed to The Spades, but they have also been accused of pressuring editors of the school paper to nix certain stories, influencing student elections, and hazing new members with firearms. Members of the group aren't kept secret, but mystery still surrounds their purpose and actions.
Seven Society at University of Virginia
If you want to raise your chances of getting into a secret society, look into attending the University of Virginia. There are at least 10 well established groups, with the possibility of others being formed recently. The nature of the societies varies from being service-oriented to the bizarre — the Rotunda Peers are rumored to exist with the purpose of urinating on the campus Rotunda at night. The Seven Society is one of the most secretive groups, said to have originated when a group of eight agreed to meet for a card game but only seven showed up. Members' identities are kept secret until they die; then a wreath of black magnolias shaped like a seven is supposedly placed on their grave. To let the university know a former member has died, the bell tower at the chapel on campus chimes every seven seconds at seven past the hour, striking the seventh dissonant chord.
Quill and Dagger at Cornell University
This infamous club was founded in 1893 and was actually the first Ivy League group to let women run in their old boys' club. Members are chosen based on their character and reputation of service on campus, and the names of new members are published in the school newspaper every semester. The secret part is what they do and what goes on in meetings. They meet on the top floor of a campus tower, and entry onto the floor by anyone outside of the group is forbidden. Quill and Dagger, along with another society on campus, Sphynx Head, supposedly work for the betterment of the Cornell community and campus, but most people are unsure of exactly what each contribute.
Eucleian Society at New York University
This literary group keeps most of its members' names under lock and key, and its internal procedures are even more thoroughly shrouded. All documents and records have been redacted and most are written in a strange shorthand (though it seems like a bad idea to be keeping records of your secret society to begin with). The society used to hold publicized literary events (with frequent lecturer Edgar Allen Poe) and became a progressive voice on campus and in the city, speaking out in their two publications in favor of gender equality (though they don't accept female members) and Native Americans' rights and satirizing news items of the day. Today, the group is quieter and their activities are largely unknown.
Cadaver Society at Washington and Lee University
Members of the Cadaver Society know how to have fun but also know that it's important to contribute to their alma mater. The identities of the group members are kept secret but it's said they are mostly pre-med students (where do they find the time?). You can see their mark around campus — a letter C with a skull inside — and it often accompanies one of the pranks the group likes to pull. They only appear after dark and even then, they wear black capes and hoods to conceal who they are. On the kinder side of things, though, Cadavers have also contributed money to different university endeavors, including the fitness center and new stadium.