Halls, Tombs and Houses:    Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth

IV. Class Societies 1854-1931 | A diversion into the tombs

    Yale societies seem to have provided the model that organizations in Hanover followed, and a closer look at Yale and other colleges can illuminate the societies at Dartmouth. "These were not sleeping or eating clubs, but social organizations with secret and awe-inspiring ceremonials, competing for the outstanding leaders and honor men in each class" writes Yale historian George Pierson.99 The first society and a close chronological follower on the heels of the original Union College societies was Skull & Bones (1832). The club met in rented rooms for over two decades, but in 1856 alumni incorporated as the Russell Trust Association100 and built a nearly-blind-walled tomb on High Street attributed to Henry Austin or A.J. Davis (Figs. 5a, 5b). The building comprised only the left or south wing, with its entrance occupying the central bay where a window now is located. By the 1880s the hall was valued at over $25,000.101 Sheldon quotes a description of the building as a

grim-looking, windowless, tomblike structure of brown sandstone, rectangular in shape, showing a front of about thirty-five and a length of forty-four feet, and it is at a guess thirty-five feet high. The entrance in front is guarded by a pair of massive iron doors a dozen feet high, finished off in panels and of a dark-green colour, while heavy clasps of brass close over the keyholes and are secured by padlocks, beneath one of which in 1867 took the place of the tin before employed. There is a skylight similarly protected, and the chimneys and ventilators are arranged along the edges of the roof. Behind are a pair of small windows barred with iron, and close to the ground are two or three scuttle holes communicating with the cellar.102

Later Ashton Willard described the building and its successors:

The most singular and freaky forms of this new genius in building are probably to be found at Yale, in the Skull and Bones Hall, built in 1856, with a double padlocked door and not an opening on its exterior wall except some narrow slits in the small receding wing at the back; the Delta Kappa Epsilon Hall, a more audacious form of this same sphinx-like architecture, and the Scroll and Key Hall. 102a

Robertson & Potter added the righthand wing to the front of the building by 1903, writing "the simplest solution being to practically reproduce the existing wing and separate the two members by an open porch in the mysterious style (so far as we could interpret) of the original work."103

5a. 1856 Skull & Bones Tomb and addition, Yale College, New Haven, Ct., c.1903-15 (Library of Congress, American Memory).
5a. 1856 Skull & Bones Tomb and addition, Yale College, New Haven, Ct., 2004 (author).

    The alumni of the competing Scroll & Key (1842) incorporated as the Kingsley Trust Association in 1860104 and had Richard Morris Hunt design their Spanish Moorish tomb of 1870 (Figs. 11a, 11b). The building is a cube of marble "advertising mystery and inviting speculation"105 and cost about $50,000.106 The alumni members of Wolf's Head (1883) incorporated as the Phelps Trust Association in 1886107 and built a Romanesque hall; McKim, Mead & White designed a building for the Trust in 1890 that is presumably this one108 (Figs. 12a, 12b). A fourth senior society, the Elihu Club, arose around the turn of the century.

11a. 1870 Scroll & Key Tomb, Yale College, New Haven, Ct., c. 1901. ("Scroll and Key fraternity house, Yale College," Detroit Publishing Co. no. 013679, Library of Congress, American Memory).
11b. 1870 Scroll & Key Tomb, 2004 (author).
12a. 1890 Wolf's Head Tomb, Yale College, New Haven, Ct., c.1901 ("Wolf's Head fraternity house, Yale College," Detroit Publishing Co. no. 013680, Library of Congress, American Memory).
12b. Former Wolf's Head Tomb, now owned by Yale University, 2004 (author).

    In fact it was freshmen who began the whole class-society fever at Dartmouth, at least until fraternities began to admit all four classes in 1884.109 Kappa Sigma Epsilon of c.1854 was the fourth chapter the Yale freshman society and at Dartmouth outlasted its parent, as did the1869 Delta Kappa, the sixth chapter of an 1845 Yale society.110 The freshman Alpha Tau Eta that existed at Dartmouth by 1878 also died by the early 1880s. Sophomores began clubs slightly later: a chapter of the successful national sophomore society Theta Nu Epsilon arrived at Dartmouth in 1893, when members' names appeared in code in the annual Aegis, and survived to 1903.111 Another sophomore society called the Scroll formed in 1905 but disbanded on orders from Palaeopitus, which saw the society scene as already overcrowded.112 Two new sophomore societies, Sigma Pick and S2, amalgamated in 1921 to form Green Key.113 Two short-lived Dartmouth junior societies also existed, Sigma Upsilon Pi by 1878114 and Turtle from 1902-12.115 None of these organizations built their own buildings, and most probably did not even rent rooms.

    Only the senior societies have survived. The phrase "secret society" that describes these groups today does not quite fit, since it is their basis in class years that sets them apart from fraternities, which of course were long called secret societies themselves. And the senior societies are not even particularly secretive: even the senior societies at Yale allowed new members' names to appear in the New York Times,116 after celebrating Tap Day in a highly public way. In the late nineteenth century the event took place outdoors before a large and observant crowd.117

    Dartmouth's senior societies began when fourteen members of the Class of 1886, meeting Saturday nights in Thornton Hall, founded the Sphinx in 1885.118 The group's first home was a rented hall in Main Street along with the fraternities. The Casque & Gauntlet Society formed the following year and rented its own rooms. Following the same model a decade later, the Tiger senior society formed in the 1890s but did not last long.119 Finally, the Dragon Society began on 25 May 1898 as a weekly dinner club originally called the Druids.120 The organization later held meetings in rented halls as well and survives.

    Since the fraternities became more social in orientation around the turn of the century, Dartmouth's class societies seem to have inherited the air of mystery that once characterized them; this inheritance was architectural as well. First to build a hall was the Sphinx, which hired William Butterfield, designer of a number of homes and other buildings in Manchester.121 Butterfield created in Hanover in 1903 the most thorough Egyptian Revival building in the state as well as the first building in the region to use reinforced concrete122 (Fig. 13).

13. 1903 Sphinx Tomb on north side of East Wheelock St. (postcard).

    This hall is again a flat-roofed, boxy meeting hall with a prominent cornice. This is the most romantic expression of a student society at the College, standing as it does on a rocky outcrop surrounded by massive trees. Architects around the world had long aped Egyptian architecture for its exotic connotations, for example in Robert Mills's Washington Monument, which borrows the form of an Egyptian obelisk. Since the Egyptians left us little but funerary and religious architecture, Egyptian buildings seemed particularly appropriate in funerary settings; nineteenth-century mausolea in cemeteries across the western world share the iconography of the Sphinx. The Egyptian Building of 1846 in Richmond, Va., attributed to Thomas S. Stewart, (Fig. 14) houses a lecture hall but follows the same prototypes. Other college secret society buildings also followed the Egyptian temple, for example Yale's Phi Gamma Delta, founded there in 1903, and one at Cornell founded before turn of century (later occupied by Carl Sagan). And Egyptian architecture was a natural for Masonic lodges, since Masons trace the roots of their mythology to Ancient Egypt. The 1863 English Midlands Masonic Lodge in Boston follows the Temple of Dendur in brick.

14. 1846 Medical College of Richmond/Egyptian Building, Richmond, Va. (author).

    Soon after Sphinx completed its new hall, Dragon took over the hall of Kappa Kappa Kappa. Dragon occupied the building at some time after 1905, valuing the secretive aspects of the hall without being dissuaded by its lack of bedrooms as the fraternity had been.123 The organization classicized the building in 1917, turning it into a Greek temple by adding a pediment and a set of six fluted Doric columns at the front (Fig. 15). The society moved out by 1931 and in the summer of 1936 Alpha Sigma Phi occupied the building when their house burned.124

15. Dragon Hall/former Kappa Kappa Kappa Hall, east side of College St., as remodeled in 1917 by Dragon (Aleertype Co.).

    Characterizing the homes of class societies as secretive meeting halls leaves out an important exception, Casque & Gauntlet (1886), whose organizational character seems to have been shaped by the building it was able to find. Founded as the second College senior society in the mold of the Sphinx, we can expect it to have built a tomb similar one of the two fraternity buildings then existing. Instead in 1893 C&G moved from rooms on Main Street over Cobb's Store to the boarding house next door, which had been originally built as a residence in 1823 (Fig. 16). The society remains in the building today, and as a result of having living accommodations its membership is known to the rest of the College where it is otherwise a direct parallel to its secretive contemporaries. C&G is the first College society to occupy a former house, which nearly all following regular fraternities would, and it is thus the first society to engage in a domestic rather than distinctly mysterious exterior expression, which the building's 1915 addition by alumnus Fred W. Wentwrth did not change. The society's formal mirror Fire & Skoal followed this practice in a College-owned house on School Street after it was founded in 1975.

16. 1823 Alden House at 1 S. Main St. as occupied by Casque & Gauntlet in 1893 (postcard).

V. Greek-Letter Societies 1894-1920 | The wooden first generation
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