Every spring, under the guise of masks and hooded costumes, members of Yale’s secret societies select the “best and brightest” of the junior class to join their ranks. But there are alternatives to the ultraselect secret societies for those students who still wish to engage in intellectual discussions in a private, relaxed atmosphere.
The Elizabethan society, the Epicurean Society and Saint Anthony’s Hall are all organizations that challenge the intellect and senses in different ways. Each group has a different intellectual focus, but all groups provide an equally viable alternative to the secret society culture, affording students an opportunity to enter specific chat circles earlier in their academic careers and under less selective conditions.
Situated between the brick music department and the gray stone of the School of Music, the white-paneled building of the Elizabethan Club seems out of place. But its unusual design is perfect for a club that is not your typical discussion group.
The Elizabethan Club, otherwise known as “The Lizzy,” attracts those with an interest in literature, as well as broader intellectual conversations. The club was founded in 1911, when Alexander Smith Cochran 1886 donated $100,000 and a collection of early English literature to the house to provide students with a forum for intelligent discussion.
The early works of literature came from Cochran’s personal collection, which he began after taking a class at Yale on Elizabethan drama. The collection includes a 1599 script of “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as original editions of Spenser’s “Faerie Queene,” Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Francis Bacon’s “Essayes.”
“Cochran was disappointed because there was no place at Yale where younger people could really talk,” said Stephen Parks ’61, the Elizabethan Club’s librarian.
The Lizzy is known for serving tea each weekday afternoon, with different sandwiches on different days. The club is also known for games of croquet and other eccentric events.
Each year, approximately 15 students from each undergraduate class are accepted into the Lizzy.
While in most cases two current members of the club must write recommendations for applicants, the club occasionally circumvents the application process to accept worthy freshmen, former admissions committee member George Raine LAW ’96 said.
Once accepted, students are given a key to the house and have access to the building at all hours.
“What unites [Elizabethan Club members] is a willingness to discuss random things with random people,” Raine said.
Topics for the tastebuds
For students with a sweet tooth, or any interest in good food other than the culinary masterpieces the residential college dining halls offer, there is the Epicurean Society, which this year said it had a membership of over 400.
Melinda Lau ’02 and Ramey Ko ’02 founded the club last spring as a way of bringing together students with common interests in good food and good times.
The group received its name from the father of the Epicurean philosophy, Epicurus, who preached a life based on the absence of pain.
“We almost think of mealtime as a hassle,” Ko said. “It’s kind of a pain in the butt to put down what we’re doing. I hate the fact that [Yale students] think that way.”
Events for the club include visits to local restaurants, such as Zinc, Whimsels or the Union League Cafe.
Members also visit soup kitchens once a week to cook for and serve local homeless residents. Prepared dishes at the soup kitchens can include more than the typical canned soup and peanut butter sandwich, as Lau displayed when she made fried rice on one visit to the kitchen.
In addition, the group often has guest lecturers speak about food and drink in different historical contexts.
One of these guest speakers, classics professor Veronika Grimm, came and spoke in the fall about ancient Roman and Greek food.
For freshmen, Lau believes the Epicurean society may be a great way to get to know the eating options in New Haven outside of dining hall food and brick oven pizza.
“A lot of people think we’re stuffy,” Lau said. “[But] food is a very democratic kind of thing. Everyone has to eat.”
A not-so-secret society
Situated on the corner of Wall and College streets, across from the secret society Scroll and Key, lies Saint Anthony’s Hall, a semi-secret society that focuses on intellectual discussion.
Each year, all Yale sophomores receive an invitation from Saint Anthony’s. While Saint Anthony’s gives all sophomores a chance to apply, only 20 to 40 are accepted each year.
In its attempts to develop a stimulating intellectual environment, St. Anthony’s hosts speakers, congregates for theme-oriented breakfasts and meets every Thursday night to hear student presentations on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to Fijian politics.
Like the Elizabethan and Epicurean societies, St. Anthony’s Hall provides Yalies with opportunities to develop their intellectual and sensory capacities outside of the classroom. And unlike the Skulls, no death-defying feats are required for entry.