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The History of the Ban of Secret Societies at Andover

Courtesy of Pot Pourri 1941

Fraternities legally existed at Andover up until about eight years ago when a ban was put in place, according to Paul Murphy, Instructor in Mathematics, and former Dean of Students. Late night meetings, boarding together, and anxious eyes eager to read a letter confirming initiation were all part of the secret society experience. Groups like Kappa Omega Alpha (K.O.A.), Alpha Gamma Chi (A.G.C.), and Brothers of Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas (A.U.V.) were housed in current dorms and administrative buildings like Alumni House, Benner House, and Graham House, respectively.

According to a 1943 Statement by former headmaster Claude M. Fuess, admissions for fraternities and secret societies were highly exclusive, based on popularity, athletic ability, and in part, familial connections.

“One of the most loyal members of K.O.A. found, to his sorrow, that his son was not acceptable, and this experience is not uncommon. In such cases the father frequently blames the school. The societies do take in, however, all the best athletes, the managers of teams, the playboys, and the “good fellows.” …At the present moment most, although not by any means all, of the “good” boys in school are society members,” wrote Fuess.

Prominent figures like former president George H. W. Bush and Godfrey A. Rockefeller were both members of the A.U.V. fraternity, according to the 1941 Pot Pourri Yearbook. However, those who were excluded from the rich and competitive world of secret societies developed a different perspective. The idea of joining a fraternity seemed almost like a mirage, a faint image of something that one desperately wants but knows they will never obtain.

The drawbacks of secret societies in the context of inclusivity at Andover drew concerns and resulted in their eventual ban. Although the official ban was announced in 2012, there was discussion regarding restrictions on secret societies and fraternities as far back as the mid-1900s.

For instance, in the 1944-1945 school year, a committee of faculty guardians put together a document of “Faculty Rules Concerning Secret Societies,” listing out new restrictions that fraternities and secret societies had to adhere to.

“If, however, our primary object is to give all the undergraduates an even chance and avoid caste distinctions, we may get results now by requiring the secret societies to admit all the members of the two upper classes, to the number of more than 400. This would allot to each of the existing societies approximately 60 members, or about twice as many as they have at present. The methods by which boys would be assigned to one society instead of another would have to be carefully considered; but the problem is not insuperable. The cost would obviously be lessened for each member. No boys, or parents, could complain that we were snobbish, or tolerated snobbery,” the document states.

There were multiple other factors for the banning of secret societies, one of them being that fraternities were associated with plummeting grades. A document from the 1933-1934 school year reported that the percentage of seniors who belonged to a frat and had an average GPA below 60 percent was 7.3 percent. However, the percentage who did not belong to a frat and had below 60 percent was 3.5 percent.

“Faculty Rules Concerning Secret Societies” also stated that if students’ commitment to societies ever caused academic distractions, their society would be terminated. This followed multiple years of the majority of fraternity averages being below 70 percent.

“Interference with school work because of initiation into any Society shall render the Society House subject to closure to its members for a period to be determined by the Faculty… The Society having the highest average scholarship for any term will be allowed the privilege of one late meeting each week for the following term. The same privilege shall be allowed to any Society having an average grade of seventy or more,” wrote the committee of faculty guardians.

An additional reason behind the banning of secret societies was Andover’s relationship with other schools. The abolition of secret societies at Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1940’s strengthened the case of the critics of secret societies and put pressure on Andover to conform to the steps of other schools.

Furthermore, the competitive and selective nature of fraternities caused rejected students to feel extremely stressed. Those who were admitted to fraternities were at risk of being harmed both physically and mentally as well.

In “Faculty Rules Concerning Secret Societies,” Fuess mentioned the death of a student from a secret society initiation that led to the establishment of stricter rules. These were later developed into anti-hazing rules that are now present in the Blue Book.

“The accidental death of a boy in 1933, following an initiation, brought about a rule forbidding any initiatory ceremonies outside of the house itself, and banning all the physical torture which had previously been one of the methods of welcoming a new member.” wrote Fuess.

More recently, two secret societies—Truth, Unity, Brotherhood (T.U.B.) and Madame Sarah Abbott Society (M.S.A.S.)—reemerged, leading to an administrative response that “the school maintains its position that secret societies have no place at Andover,” according to an article in the October 27, 2016 issue of The Phillipian.

Murphy offered a separate perspective on the roles of secret societies at Andover, implying that their beneficial contributions to the community work at times.

“It’s interesting because although they were banned, teachers that experienced fraternities when they were in college were against them being banned because of the good times they had in their frat. Also what people should know is apart from having a good time, frats also contribute their services to their communities, so apart from the drinking and partying that most people hear about, some community work is done,” said Murphy.