Navigation

Secret Societies

Secret societies and colleges have become something of a cultural anachronism. The idea behind their existence remains consistent practically everywhere they appear—a small group of students which can only be joined by invitation from members who participate in mysterious activities. However, few are aware that Smith College used to be among the colleges who boasted secret societies. Until their disbandment in the 1950s, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (A.O.H.) and the Orangemen maintained a fierce but friendly rivalry.
Each society had its own background and traditions. The Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in 1892-93. It was based on an actual fraternal organization, also known as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which is an organization for Irish-American Catholics. (1)  The Smith College A.O.H. apparently petitioned the proper Ancient Order of Hibernians for recognition, but were denied. (2)  However, the Smith A.O.H. retained many of the trappings Irish-ness, including their official color (green), their flag (featuring the harp), and their special holiday (St. Patrick’s Day). (3)
The Orangemen were the rival organization of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. As with the A.O.H., the Orangemen were based on an actual fraternal organization also know as the Orangemen. The actual Orangemen were members of the Loyal Orange Institution, an Irish Protestant organization. (4)  As the name would indicate, the Smith Orangemen’s color was orange, traditionally displayed by members as orange hoods on long black robes. (5)  In addition, members might also wear orange glengarries (a variety of hat traditionally worn in the British Isles). (6)
One wonders what exactly qualified a Smithie for membership in these organizations. As a past member recalled, “AOH required a sense of humor as qualification for membership.” An Orangeman alumna agreed, saying “There were 12 girls out of each class [who were chosen].” (7) Today, much concern centers around hazing, but members of the secret societies made a point of the innocuous nature of initiations. As Elizabeth Mykrintz recalled about the Orangemen, “…we both had mild hazing—as Freshmen working for a Junior and Senior doing such things as errands—making beds etc…” (8)  The A.O.H. supported that recollection: “Initiations were a great deal the same as our present day Hallowe’en stunts—swallowing oysters, singing amusing songs, etc.”  (9)
Indeed, the actual activities the societies participated in seem equally inoffensive—Mary Stranahan Dutcher, class of 1904, recalled that the A.O.H “…met on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, and formed a parade.” (10)  Additionally, the A.O.H and Orangemen played a “chasing game” on the week of the 17th, sort of an unofficial, campus-wide tag game.  (11) Parading made up a large part of activities. As an past Orangemen member recalled, “We once in a while at night walked across campus in our black gowns with orange hoods carrying torches (a few)…we had fun but it was all nonsense…” (12)  Pictures of some parades indicate the elaborate nature of the affairs—they could include horses and carriages, with drivers.  (13)
The matter of initiations and activities leads to the question of how democratic the secret societies were. A number of Smith students had strong feelings on the matter, and a lively debate ensued within the pages of the Smith College Weekly. Many of the societies’ members disagreed with allegations about undemocratic practices, but a recollection by an alumna would seem to bear out the idea, as she describes the groups as “…shades of Yale and Skull and Bone.” (14) By the 1940s, it was clear that the secret societies were under attack and on the defensive. In 1947, Mrs. Cook informed the two groups that they were undemocratic, and by 1948 neither took in new members.  (15) As one A.O.H. member recalled, the last group to come in as in 1949, and the fact that the Orangemen’s membership rosters end in 1948 would seem to support this.  (16) However, there is evidence that at least the A.O.H. continued for some time after the “official” end—the A.O.H. membership roster continues until the 1965-66 school year.  (17)
Although it is difficult to make firm statements about the organizations, the eventual end of the Smith College secret societies reinforces Smith’s commitment to a democratic institution throughout its existence.

1) “Ancient Order of Hibernians.” Ancient Order of Hibernians. Ancient Order of Hibernians, 16 May 2010. Web. 24 May 2010. <http://www.aoh.com/>.
2) Records of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
3) Letter from Mary Stranahan Dutcher, Records of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
4) “Orangemen.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (April 3, 2010). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Orangeme.html
5) Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
6) Ibid.
7) Letter from Martha Housen McCrea, 20 November 1986, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts
8) Letter from Elizabeth Mykrintz, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
9) Letter from Mary Stranahan Dutcher, Records of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
10) Ibid.
11) Records of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
12) Letter from Martha Housen McCrea, 20 November 1986, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
13) Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
14) Letter from Elizabeth Mykrintz, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
15) Letter from Mrs. Paul Pierson, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
16) Letter from Mrs. Paul Pierson, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts; Membership Roster Folder, Records of the Orangemen, Student Clubs, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
17) Records of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>