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ARTICLE VI.-THE SOCIETY SYSTEM OF YALE
" Zeal for the public good is the characteristic of a man of honor, and a gentleman, and must take place of pleasures, profits, and all other private gratifications. Whoever wants this motive is an open enemy, or an inglorious neuter to mankind, in proportion to the misapplied advantages with which nature and fortune have blessed him.”
Of late years the secret society system of Yale College has been challenged with increasing frequency. In 1875 the Sophomore societies were abolished by the faculty ; in 1876 an organized band of students broke into and claimed to have ritled one of the Senior Society halls. This unprecedented vandalism was continued, in 1878, by another set of collegiate marauders defacing with paint both Senior buildings. The offenders were tried in the City Court, but escaped free of fine or imprisonment, through technicalities, much to the disappointment of some of the most prominent citizens and best legal talent in New Haven.
During this year a daily anti-Senior Society newspaper was started and vigorously conducted so as to thwart the society men in every way.
Soon afterwards the Freshmen Societies ceased to exist, by order of the fates which control the destinies of the University—and the marking-books! Following this period of unrest came an elaborate pamphlet from a man who had belonged to the societies of each year, from first to last, who sought to prove that the whole system was pernicious and should be abolished. Lastly, this year, the crusade against the societies was transferred to the columns of prominent inetropolitan journals, where alumnus and undergraduate emulated each other in striving to point out enormities committed by the societies.
To deny that such a retrospect is in the highest degree unsatisfactory would be insincere ; for there are many first class colleges possessing a greater number of societies than Yale, at VOL. VII.
which the utmost good feeling prevails on this subject, among the faculty and the students themselves. Whether the Yale Societies are guilty or not of the charges made against them is not the first question in order. The very fact that almost every year the students are more or less divided on this score, that twice within the past ten years the faculty have thought necessary to exercise their rarely used prerogative of suppressing time-honored student customs——the Freshmen and the Sophomore Societies—augurs that germs of further dissension may exist fatal to that harmony which is indispensable to the greatest usefulness of the University.
Silence has always been the policy of the societies when assailed, however unjustly, because they have realized that to do justice to their cause they would have to reveal much which, even though highly commendable in itself, rightly concerned no men excepting their members. The Societies have never yet, even with a mob at their doors, been forced to capitulate or offer explanations to their assailants, and it is extremely improbable that they ever will condescend to do so.
But when the controversy concerning them is taken from the · college arena and the reading public is invoked to act as judge, when the good name of the University is dragged through the mire by her own sons, and the faculty and the corporation directly appealed to, “ to right a crying evil,” we believe the usual conditions of “society etiquette" to be altered—that plain words, between man and man, are best; that reformers should be held to prove their damaging charges, or silenced with the deserved contempt which awaits men who have not hesitated, intentionally, or unintentionally to compromise the innocent. The time for delay, for allowing things to “adjust” themselves would appeår to have passed. The charges against the societies themselves and against the management of the College for allowing them to exist, have been formally presented ; and now, in common justice, the condemnation of the body of the alumni should be centered against the societies on their demerits, or in case no valid objections can be raised against their existence, they should frankly be bidden to go their way unmolested, without the constant reproach that the advantages which they offer are selfish admay chance
vantages, for a few, obtained at the expense of the many. A mere attempt at friendly discussion will often go far toward the settlement of a serious difficulty, unless the parties are hopelessly estranged. Surely no society abolitionist, however radical, will claim that the body of society men and the body of “neutrals” are hopelessly estranged from each other or from their college. Perhaps, too, a simple statement of the points at issue and of the principles which underlie them, will disclose the remedy for any evils which to cause this "misunderstanding”-if that word is strong enough to explain “why graduates of Yale have boasted that they dissuade young men from joining their Alma Mater and that they will never give of their own means to her so long as the present society system exists."
Few simple things have been more misstated and misunderstood, than this same system. It dates from 1832. In that vear a Senior Society of fifteen men was established. A second Senior Society followed in 1842. The first Junior Society was founded in 1836; a second in 1838 ; the third in 1814. They each took about twenty men from a class. The tirst Sophomore Society—a relic of “ Bully Club” days—was acknowledged to the public in 1838 ; a second dates from 1846. On the death of these, two more Sophomore Societies were established, in 1864. Their membership was larger than that of the Junior Societies. One Freshman Society saw the light in 1840; a second in 1845; a third in 1855. They included virtually the whole Freshman class. The very rapid succession of these societies-no less than nine within fifteen years—indicates that there was a positive need of their existence. The opportunities for literary and social culture afforded by the College were then far fewer than now. Textual instruction in belles-lettres was furnished by one Professor.
The library facilities were comparatively small. The College press was not yet in existence. The old College dormitories were too small and uncomfortable to allow any considerable gathering of undergraduates in one room for purposes of relaxation and culture. The houses of public entertainment in the neighborhood of the College were ordinary hotels or saloons, unattractive in appearance, or perhaps of disreputable character. An undergraduate club, with smoking and billiard rooms, and restaurant attached, was yet an undreamed dream of the far future. True, there was, at the beginning of the epoch alluded to, a place of daily though hardly popular resort, man aged entirely by students, anything but exclusive in character, for its name was- Commons ! But if tradition is not misleading on this point, or unless the said institution has degenerated very rapidly of late years, the frugal cheer of that ancient establishment was not such as to induce its patrons to linger long about the festive board. The venerable open debating societies, Linonia and Brothers, were then in a transition pe riod. The loss of good fellowship, engendered by their fre quent theatricals, finally prohibited by an edict of the faculty, had not yet been atoned for by the establishment of grand tourneys of debate, nor had the noisy strife for the largest membership, characteristic of their later days, begun to hold full sway. Of course real society pride was not to be fostered where membership in either society was placed wholly at the option of every unproved Freshman. Nor was devotion to society interests expected except in so far as it would promote selfish ends or consume idle moments.
The tendency, therefore, for men of congenial tastes and similar habits to form themselves into small groups for wider and more positive culture, than they could otherwise obtain in the Yale College of those days, and, also, for the cementing of intimate friendships, was both natural and altogether praiseworthy. That these small groups should be kept strictly within class lines, was wholly in accord with the traditions and character of the College. Following the ceremonious etiquette in vogue in the English Universities at a corresponding period, our oldest Eastern Colleges enjoined many tokens of respect upon the new comers towards those whose residence among the classic shades was of greater standing. The years are recorded when in those institutions the Freshmen became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Seniors, to say nothing of their attending to the tutors' coal—though this was sometimes put through the window instead of coming in by the door! Yale, the most conservative of the large colleges, has always been noted for preserving these class distinctions. Long ago her students learned not only to endure cheerfully, but to glory in class feeling. In the early days of the societies there were no “ optional” studies which brought together students from different classes. All classmates studied the same portion of the curriculum at the same time, underwent the same “polishing” process at the hands of the faculty--and the other classes ! hence always became devotedly attached to the leaders of their own class, intellectually, socially, and physically. Given these conditions, it followed almost inevitably that if there were to be secret societies at Yale, they would be class societies.
The theory of the system is equally clear and no less reasonable. The Freshman societies flung wide open their doors to every Verdant Green who chose to knock at them; or rather, unless he had been pledged and instructed beforehand, he was hustled through those doors at a very lively rate, on recommendation of the Scylla or Charybdis delegation of Sophomores --whichever had happened to meet him first--on his advent into the old New Haven R. R. Hades. The one and only useful feature of the Freshman societies was that they made men acquainted with each other early in the course. Recommendation to a Sophomore society was mainly of a social character. Cards and theatricals gave the lighter element of a class a chance to have its day, or rather its nights. In Junior year when the discipline of the curriculum had begun to tell and men's abilities were recognized at their true worth, these conditions were reversed. The Junior societies aspired to, even if they did not always attain, scholarship and literary work of a high order. The Senior societies became the necessary and logical climax to the others, recognizing friendships, which bad been formed, perhaps, in Freshman year, appreciating the sociability displayed in the Sophomore societies, looking critically though justly at the literary work of Junior year, seeking to mingle in fair proportion in their membership all of these elements without slighting any one of them. So that viewed from the vantage-ground of historical knowledge this same system, which has often been called “ hopelessly confused and purposeless," is seen to be at once simpler and fairer to all conditions of men, and likely to prove more lasting than