Mysterious World of Yale’s Secret Societies

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 6:00pm
New Haven Museum See map
114 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT


Renowned for producing prominent power brokers, and figuring in fiction from Hemingway to Faulkner, the highly influential hidden world of Yale’s secret societies has been the topic of innumerable books, blogs, cartoons, and discussions. Author and Yale alumnus David Alan Richards will reveal the truth behind the mysterious world of Yale University’s secret societies based on his definitive and scholarly history, “Of Skulls and Keys: The History of Yale’s Secret Societies,” during a free presentation at the New Haven Museum.

According to Richards, secret societies have fundamentally shaped America’s cultural and political landscapes. In ways that are expected but never explicit, the bonds made through the most elite of secret societies have won members Pulitzer Prizes, governorships, and even presidencies. At the apex of these institutions stands Yale University and its rumored 47 secret societies. Examining a history that has intrigued and enthralled for centuries, Richards will trace the history of Yale’s societies as they set the foundation for America’s future secret clubs and helped define the modern age of politics.

But, Richards notes, there is a progressive side to Yale’s secret societies that is rarely heard of, one that, in the cultural tumult of the 1960s, resulted in the election of people of color, women, and gay men, even in proportions beyond their percentages in the class. “It’s a side that is often overlooked in favor of sensational legends of blood oaths and toe-curling conspiracies,” Richards adds.

A member of Skull and Bones, and a Yale alumnus, Richards will shed light on the lesser-known stories of Yale’s secret societies, from Phi Beta Kappa in the American Revolution—originally a social and drinking society—through Skull and Bones and its rivals in the 19th and 20th centuries.

David Alan Richards is a graduate of both Yale College and Cambridge University, at each of which he took honors degrees in history, and of the Yale Law School. He is the president of the Yale Library Associates and a fellow of Davenport College, while working as senior counsel at the international law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP in New York City. Before writing “Skulls and Keys,” he published two books on Rudyard Kipling: “Rudyard Kipling: the Books I Leave Behind,” the catalogue to an exhibition of his collection of Rudyard Kipling on view at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library in 2007; and “Rudyard Kipling: A Bibliography,” published by the British Library in 2013 and the standard authority on that author’s works.

The New Haven Museum has been collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and heritage of Greater New Haven since its inception as the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1862. Located in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue, the Museum brings more than 375 years of New Haven history to life through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach. As a designated Blue Star Museum, the New Haven Museum offers the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information visit or or call 203-562-4183.