Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Lesser-Known 'Cap & Skull' Society

While many know of Yale University's secret and notorious Skull and Bones Society, it's a lesser known fact that New Jersey's Rutgers University shrouds the mysterious (and sometimes no so mysterious) machinations of the Cap & Skull Society. While Skull and Bones is well-known as the incubator of nascent power-brokers, Cap & Skull doesn't seem to have the same sinister cabbalistic cloud shadowing its innerworkings. Perhaps, as a state school, the funding simply wasn't there for these more Machiavellian aspects of collegiate life.

History’s Mystery
The legendary Cap & Skull Society, celebrating its 110th anniversary at Rutgers, reveals the truth behind a few fabled myths.

A Cap & Skull photo in Scarlet Letter 1920 depicts Paul Leroy Robeson RC’19 (left) and three other seniors who were inducted into the senior society. Photography courtesy of Rutgers University ArchivesFact or Fiction? Cap & Skull members wear black robes to conceal their identities. They meet in a clandestine location on campus. They induct new members at the stroke of midnight. All of their work is carried out in secret.

These are some of the infamous myths that surround The Cap & Skull Society (C&S), a prestigious “secret” society for Rutgers–New Brunswick seniors that has been in existence since 1900. The society’s mystique often obscures its altruistic mission, which is to celebrate the university’s history, spirit, and tradition by improving campus relations and giving back to the Rutgers community. In honor of C&S’s 110th anniversary, members are educating others about the society’s true character.

C&S is exclusive to Rutgers but draws inspiration from Yale’s Skull and Bones senior honor society. The society now inducts 18 new Skulls each year, a selective group of diverse student leaders from the junior class. Through 1937, candidacy was based on a system that awarded point values to specific leadership positions and honors on campus. Today, juniors can apply for membership, but induction still requires a unanimous vote by the senior members and culminates with the formal Tap Day Ceremony at Kirkpatrick Chapel, attended by family and friends.

The society’s motto is “Spectemur agendo” or “Let us be judged by our actions.” And while some members-only activities may take place behind the scenes, such as voting on new inductees and the informal induction rituals that are unique to each class, most C&S actions are intentionally visible so that the Rutgers community can see the society’s positive impact.

For example, members wear black robes (which are passed on through generations) at convocation so that first-year students become inquisitive about the society and strive for excellence in order to attain membership. C&S also organizes service and spirit projects on campus, such as the 9/11 unity banner created in the College Avenue Gym (2002) and the distribution of large “R” decals all over campus on the eve of football games (2005).

As for the society’s undisclosed meeting location? Well, the Cap & Skull Room does exist, but it’s no secret. Rather it’s a well-appointed conference room in the Rutgers Student Center that serves as a meeting location for numerous campus organizations. C&S endowed the space in honor of the society’s 90th anniversary.

Celebrate 110 years of Cap & Skull tradition at the Decades Dinner on November 16, 2010, in New Brunswick. For more information, visit or email History’s Mystery Rutgers Magazine (Rutgers Magazine - Spring 2010, Vol. 90, #2)

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