The story and lore of Harvard's unique social organizations
By Jessica Tisch
For students outside the final club scene, those semi-secret societies rarely merit attention. Only for their alleged sexism, vacuous social opportunities, or degrading initiation practices do the clubs attract much limelight. In fact, however, there is a rich and largely untold story of the origins of final clubs and how they evolved into the organizations they are today. The final clubs that existtoday—the Porcellian, the Fly, The Spee, the AD, the Phoenix SK, the Fox, the Owl, and the Delphic—were not all always called "final clubs." Most of them were founded not as independent entities but as local chapters of nationally organized fraternities. And when the clubs independently made the jump from fraternities to private social clubs around the turn of the century, three types, or tiers, of clubs emerged: Final clubs for upperclassmen, waiting clubs for sophomores and juniors aspiring to get into final clubs the next year, and freshman clubs.
A Harvard male could have been a member of three social organizations by the time he graduated from the college—a freshman, waiting, and final club. The original freshman club at Harvard was the Hasty Pudding Club. The Fly, the Spee and the Phoenix were all waiting clubs. And the two original final clubs at the college were the Porcellian—the PC—and the AD.
According to Samuel Eliot Morison's Three Centuries of Harvard, the Porcellian was founded in 1791 by a group of male undergraduates who gathered to talk and eat roast pig together. The organization, understandably, came to be known as the "Pig" or "Pork" club.
The AD traces its origins back to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity chapter at Harvard, founded in 1837. The Harvard chapter ultimately surrendered its charter in 1860 and disbanded, supposedly after an internal disagreement over the course of the Civil War. Its members, for the most part, split into two organizations—the AD Club, a final club whose name stems from the first two words of the fraternity's name, "Alpha Delta," and the Fly Club, whose name was derived from the word "Phi," the third word of the fraternity's name. In 1896 the alumni and members of the AD Club raised money to buy the property on which the club still stands.
Unlike the AD, the Fly Club did not become a final club immediately following the break-up of Alpha Delta Phi. Indeed, the name "Fly" wasn't selected until 1910, nearly 50 years after the original fraternity had broken up. Initially, the Fly was a waiting club, but it quickly lost that second-tier status and became a final club in its own right. Over the course of its history as a final club the Fly has merged with and taken over several other clubs, most recently the DU in the mid-1990's. As a result, the Fly owns the property on Mount Auburn Street where the DU's clubhouse stood.
According to the widely-told yet unsubstantiated story of the Delphic, in 1903 J.P. Morgan was distraught over his son's failure to gain acceptance in the Porcellian and donated a large portion of the money necessary to buy a clubhouse at 9 Linden Street. This private social club was originally called "The Gas" because its members shined gas lamps from their clubhouse into the adjacent Porcellian garden. As a result the members of the Porcellian always thought The Gas was throwing large parties when, in fact, they were doing nothing of the sort. In 1908 the Gas alumni, unhappy with their club's name, voted to call the club "the Delphic," which comes from the Delta in the original fraternity's name—the club traces its roots back to a local chapter of the fraternity Delta Phi. The Harvard chapter had been founded in 1847 but only lasted 10 years, after which the college faculty ordered it to disband. In 1885 the chapter had reopened, only to fold for the second and last time in 1900 when the members broke their national affiliation and became an independent social club.
The Phoenix SK is the result of a merger between three independent waiting clubs—the Phoenix, the Sphynx and the Kalumet—in 1927. When the clubs merged and bought their property at 72 Mt. Auburn Street, the Sphynx Club and the Kalumet club were abbreviated to SK. Although "Phoenix SK" is the organizations formal name, it is generally referred to simply as "the Phoenix." These three waiting clubs were the major feeders into Harvard's two main final clubs at the time, the Porcellian and the AD, until in 1930 the Phoenix SK became a final club in its own right.
The Spee Club traces its roots back to the Harvard chapter of the national Zeta Psi fraternity, from which it broke its ties in 1892, and adopted the name "the Spee" from the "Psi" in "Zeta Psi." The Spee was also a waiting club which eventually emerged as a final club. It has had four clubhouses in its 110 year history. When the third clubhouse, located at 15 Holyoke Street, caught fire in 1931, the alumni of the club raised enough money within a few days to buy its current property at 76 Mt. Auburn Street and sold the old property to the University.
The Fox was founded in 1898 as a final club called the Digamma Club. Its founders considered making it a fraternity but shied away from the idea because they did not want members of other chapters to use their clubhouse. The Fox got its name because the Greek letter Digamma looks like a slightly distorted F, and the first animal that came to mind beginning with the letter F was the fox.
George Washington and John Adams founded the Owl Club in 1745, before it was founded again in 1896 as the Phi Delta Psi fraternity at Harvard. The present clubhouse was constructed in 1905 when the club was officially recognized as a final club.
The oldest existing social club in the world, The Hasty Pudding Club, gained this status after it merged with the Institute of 1770 in 1925. The all-male freshman club originated as a secret society of sorts. Nymphas Hatch founded "The Pudding," as it has come to be called, when he began meeting with friends each week over a bowl of hasty pudding. In fact, in the institute's original charter, Hatch stipulated that members snack on hasty pudding during all of the club's official meetings. Originally the club only admitted a total of 16 students each year—eight in the fall and eight in the spring—and all the members of the new club were freshmen. The Hasty Pudding theatricals actually trace their roots back to the original 16 members of the club who met to act out plays together. It was not until the mid-1950's that the Hasty Pudding Theatricals began admitting students who were not members of the social club.
With their unique histories, Harvard's final clubs are more than just some of the few places for social interaction on campus. Their stories set them apart from national organizations and add to the richness of Harvard history and traditions.