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Harvard University students walk the school’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. (Gretchen Ertl/The New York Times)

Clandestine club

Secret Harvard society breaks 225 years of silence to defend all-male membership

By WITW Staff on April 13, 2016

At Harvard University, the Porcellian Club — one of the most secretive societies in America — has issued a public statement for the first time since its founding in 1791. Why is the group suddenly speaking up after more than two centuries? To defend itself against a potential university mandate that would require the all-male club to admit women. And the club’s rationale, that the inclusion of women would increase the chances of sexual assault, sounds like a rationale straight out of the developing world. The dean of college at Harvard has been calling for an end to gender exclusive clubs at the university, saying, “single gender social organizations at Harvard College remain at odds with the aspirations of the 21st century society to which the College hopes and expects our students will contribute.” The issue of gender exclusive clubs has also been at the heart of the response to the problem of campus sexual assault.

The Washington Post reports that in an email to the Harvard Crimson, Charles Storey, a 1982 Harvard graduate and member of the Porcellian Club, said that forcing the club to accept women would increase the likelihood of sexual assault happening on campus. “Forcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct,” Storey, the president of the Harpoon Brewery and a descendant of the first president of the NAACP, reportedly said in the missive.

That argument was echoed and taken a step further by another graduate member of the club who declined to be identified, citing its secrecy rules. The club member said that the college is suggesting that the club contributes to the problem of sexual assault on campus. “We don’t host parties. We don’t allow guests on the premises of our club. How could we possibly be connected to the problem of sexual assault on campus?” the member wondered in an email to The Washington Post. The Porcellian Club is believed to be one of the oldest social societies in America and has included the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes among its ranks over the decades. Similarly, some famous Harvard graduates were unable to gain admission to the club over the years, a sign of its extreme exclusivity.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.