When you walk into Mory’s, the connection to sports seems overt. The banner celebrating the hockey team’s 2013 National Championship hangs above you, as do equally successful oars. A new addition, the “Hall of Champions,” celebrates the Ivy League victors, arranging photos of the most recent conquerors on the walls and documenting every triumph since 1956 on the screen in the corridor. Photos of the captain of each varsity team — in the sweaters your grandmother got for herself — rotate across other panels. And if you show up on a Saturday night, there is a 125.8 percent chance you will hear the loud footsteps and louder cheers of lacrosse players getting drowned about by their even drunker parents after a win.
The historiography of Mory’s reads like a literary competition for the most eloquent way to express how Mory’s has become a bastion of Yale tradition. And this tradition, in part, hinges on sports. In fact, it began with sports: the Yale crew team, dubbed the “Yale Navy,” was the first to stumble upon “the taproom” on the Waterfront, as professor Jay Gitlin ’71 and his son Basie Bales Gitlin ’10 describe it in their book, Mory’s: A Brief History.
Yet underlying, and maybe even driving, Mory’s connection to sports is a less overt link to athletics.
At a time when Yale was dominated by sportsmen, Mory’s did not just honor its more athletically inclined. Five decades after the oarsmen wandered into the dimly lit saloon, the bar’s owner, Louis Linder, suggested to a selection of singers that they ought to form a group.
Strangely enough they decided on a quirky name, and the Whiffenpoofs were born.
From then on, Mory’s was abuzz with the immaculate pitch of a cappella groups. Two decades before that, a different group — self-christened the “Cup Men” — began the bar’s legendary tradition of Cups, filling Mory’s with the familiar and significantly worse-sung chants of “It’s [name], it’s [name], it’s [name] that makes the world go round!”
In this way, Mory’s became a place where, as it were, the camaraderie of the field was transferred to the ale house. Yet — maybe more, it was a means for the camaraderie of the entire stadium, NARPs included, to found its own de facto field. It was where everyone’s connection to Yale, and to each other, was magnified as if all were on a team.
Maybe then, in a sense, the club that began as a dingy bar on Wooster Street serves as the clubhouse for all of Yale University’s “team.”
So it was that everyone at Yale gathered at Mory’s, as the dingy taproom came to be known. Yet, of course, “everyone” at that time was not the same “everyone” as now. But this too is part of the story of Mory’s. Just as Yale is a heterogeneous and often conflicting citadel of ossified tradition and progressive moves away from that traditionalism, Mory’s likewise encapsulates a clash of values.
The story of Mory’s is the story of a struggle to change yet maintain. In the years immediately following the coeducation of Yale, Mory’s failed to follow suit. The battle spilled over into court. Eventually Mory’s, rather reluctantly, acceded. Yet, despite this detestable reticence, 81 female students gained membership in the first year; one month later, four women were appointed to the Board of Governors; and, four months after that, the all-female a cappella group New Blue began lending Mory’s a much-needed reprieve from baritone.
Yet, as the Gitlins put it, “the rather speedy and seemingly successful integration of women into every aspect of Mory’s life after the decision to accept them as members should not obscure the legacy of years of litigation and controversy.”
Nevertheless, we would be remiss to not note that this was the story for all of Yale, and that the club overcame stiff resistance from powerful men like William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 to admit women.
Moreover, it successfully went coed long before many of the societies.
And thanks to the valiant effort of several women at Yale, when we walk into Mory’s now, it is populated, like Yale, by the many faces of a wide and disparate world. Now, the team at Mory’s is one that encapsulates our current definition of “everyone” — a team on which we would all want to play.
Kevin Bendesky | firstname.lastname@example.org