The society system.
“It has its faults. But it’s the best system there is …”
“… And it makes Yale what it is today.”
This is how savvy sophomore Hugh Le Baron explains the world of Yale to freshman Dink Stover his first night on campus in 1900 in Owen Johnson’s 1911-12 serial novel “Stover at Yale.” For the Stovers of the time, the society system was the reason to attend Yale — the reason, even, to exist in “a crowd you’ll want to know all through life.” The lists of those “tapped,” selected by the graduating class, were published in The New York Times every year until the 1970s.
The great and the best. The politicians and the powerbrokers. And practically all of Yale’s most illustrious alumni. To be tapped is to be, on Yale’s campus and around the world, what Stover would deem “a big man.”
100 years have passed since the time of Stover and Le Baron. Today, most Yale students do not wear letterman sweaters and tweed. Yale’s big men are no longer all white, Anglo-Saxon and class-obsessed. Indeed, they are not even all men. When women were admitted to the school in 1969, all but the senior societies at the top of the social hierarchy allowed them to join.
And when the members meet, dine and debate on Thursday and Sunday nights, they do not drink 15-year old scotch; they drink Keystone Light or, in the case of Skull and Bones, Snapple. Times have changed, and perhaps the role of secret societies has evolved. Or maybe, just maybe, the old boys’ clubs have failed to adapt to the modern world.