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Skull & Bones , The Gender Controversy

Although Yale became a coeducational institution in 1969, only males were allowed to become a part of Skull & Bones. Interestingly, the Bones class of 1971 attempted to tap (elect) a female for membership, but was met with opposition by Bones alumni. They were immediately branded the ‘bad club’. This would become an issue for many years and Bonesmen would debate on the future of woman in the secret society.

However, all of this changed in 1991 when the Bones class of that year tapped seven females for the upcoming 1992 class. This move caused a rift between members of their own alumni association (called the Russell Trust). The Trust actually changed the locks on the “Tomb” and the Bonesmen had to have their meetings at the building of Manuscript Society. Members were made to place mail-in votes to decide the future of women in the group. The final decision was to go co-ed with a vote of 368-320.

A group of alumni led by William F. Buckley tried to block the move by obtaining a temporary restraining order. They argued that a formal change to the bylaws was needed before women could be allowed to become a part of the society. The debate even made the editorial page of the New York Times. A second vote of alumni took place in October of 1991, and it was set in stone that the Class of 1992 would have women in it.

Although the membership of the Bones became more diverse with this change, the group on the whole was being viewed differently than in the past. When the society first started, it was seen as an honor. As years passed, the group is ridiculed because it does not represent mainstream Yale. Some of the most recent Bonesmen have mentioned feeling embarrassment for becoming a member.

Over the years, practices of the organization had changed. In the 1970s, the names of the member of Bones & Skulls were no longer kept secret. However, the meetings and practices were still a mystery to outsiders. Some of the most well known of alumni include the former President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft , he was actually the son of the founder of the society. George Bush Sr and his son George Jr. were members. Senator John Kerry, Harold Stanley (co-founder of Morgan Stanley), and the founder of FedEx (Frederick W. Smith) are also reportedly members of the society.

The Skull and Bones secret college society at Yale was not the only school in the United States to have a history of such organizations. Secret societies have been linked to Harvard College, Wellesley College and the University of Virginia. Not all universities and colleges allow secret groups to form. A few colleges have banned the practice of having secret societies altogether. For example, Princeton University students have not allowed such organizations since the beginning of the 20th century.