9 of the Most Exclusive College Secret Societies

A Seven Society sign outside Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia
A Seven Society sign outside Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia
Queerbubbles, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Many of the most prominent people in the world once belonged to an exclusive college society, from Theodore Roosevelt to former British Prime Minister David Cameron. Some of these societies, based at the top universities, meet to debate issues of the day, while others focus on the literary, the philanthropic, fine dining, or hell-raising. One thing they all have in common: secrecy. Discovering the details of what goes on in their meetings is fiendishly difficult, but here's what we know about nine of the most exclusive college secret societies in the world.

1. Seven Society, University of Virginia

The Seven Society of the University of Virginia is so secretive that very little is known about its history, activities, or membership. It was rumored to have been established around 1905, when eight students made plans to get together for two tables of bridge but only seven turned up. It was probably originally based on a Masonic system, and its visibility is maintained by daubing or carving the society’s symbol on college buildings.

Over the years a number of very generous gifts have been donated by the society, and often revealed in theatrical fashion. For example, during the commencement address in 1947, a small explosion interrupted the proceedings and all assembled were surprised to see a check for $177,777.77 float dramatically to the ground. The amount was used to create a fund to help bail out any faculty member or student who found themselves in financial difficulties. Members of the Seven Society are only revealed on their death; at one time, a wreath of black magnolias in the shape of a seven was always placed at their grave.

2. The Bullingdon Club, Oxford University

One of the most notorious, riotous, and exclusive of the college secret societies in the United Kingdom is the Bullingdon Club of Oxford University, which was founded around 1780. Its members are selected from the aristocracy and the most prominent banking, business, and political families in Britain. Former members have gone on to form a network of individuals in the top seats of power.

With such a successful alumni one might think that the Bullingdon must be an intellectual society, but it is far more concerned with fine dining. The club meets regularly for elaborate dinners and it has been alleged that many of these affairs have ended with restaurants being trashed, mischief being made, and the police being called. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and current Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been dogged by a famous photo of them all dressed up in their bow-ties and tails for a group photo of Bullingdon Club members in 1987.

3. Skull and Bones, Yale

The Skull and Bones "tomb," or clubhouse, at Yalem01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

One of the most famous (and infamous) secret college societies in the U.S. is the Skull and Bones at Yale. Previous alumni include such notables as George Bush senior, George W. Bush, and John Kerry. Established in 1832, the very secretive society has just 15 senior members at any one time, who they meet twice a week in their windowless private meeting room known as “The Tomb.” Each year 15 new members are chosen to join the select club, and it is rumored new members each receive $15,000 and a grandfather clock. Prominent families often make up much of the membership and the subsequent success—both politically and in business—indicates the prestige and level of exclusivity that membership bestows. Many legends surround the group, the most famous perhaps being that in 1918 a team of Bonesmen (allegedly including Prescott Bush, father of George H. W. Bush) stationed near Fort Sill, Oklahoma dug up the skull of Apache leader Geronimo (who died there in 1909 after years as a prisoner of war) and took it back to their HQ as a trophy.

4. Order of Gimghoul, University of North Carolina

Gimghoul Castle in Chapel Hill, North CarolinaTHE evil fluffyface, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the spookiest college secret societies is the Order of Gimghoul, created in 1889 for students of the University of North Carolina. The society was originally called the Order of Droomgole after the mysterious disappearance of Peter Droomgole, who vanished from campus in 1833 after losing a duel with a love rival, but the name was later changed to Gimghoul because it sounded more sinister. The all-male Order of Gimghoul has its headquarters in a spooky castle on campus and is said to have its basis in Arthurian traditions of chivalry and honor. But with its creepy castle, fondness for satanic iconography, and veil of secrecy, the society’s reputation is more likely to send shivers down your spine than conjure images of noble knights.

5. Flat Hat Club, William and Mary

The F.H.C. club, also known as the Flat Hat Club—although its initials are thought to actually stand for its stated aim of “fraternitas, humanitas et cognito” (brotherhood, humanity and knowledge)—was established way back in the 1750s and is thought to be America’s first secret college society. Thomas Jefferson was famously a member of the club in the 1760s, although he was said to have remarked that he felt the society served “no useful object.” Membership of the society lapsed during the Revolutionary War but has reportedly since been revived twice: in 1916 and again in 1972.

6. The Corps Hannovera Gottingen, Georg August University, Germany

Kresspahl, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Corps Hannovera Göttingen was established in 1809 for the gathering of students from Hanover, Germany, and has since grown into a network of groups based on the principles of academic fencing (also known as mensur). Mensur is distinct from the sport of fencing in that despite the wielding of weapons it is perceived as an intellectual discipline for developing good character. Practitioners of mensur face each other with protection around their eyes, bodies, and necks, and aim for the unprotected areas of the face; it's thought that this noble style of dueling breeds superior powers of concentration and scars to the face are worn like a badge of honor. The German Corps, like American Secret Societies, likes to keep details of their meetings private, but it is known that these all-male groups are formed from the upper classes and remain an exclusive and elusive membership. The most famous member of the Corps Hanover was Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.

7. Porcellian Club, Harvard

The bookplate of the Porcellian Club at HarvardHoughton Modern, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This exclusive finals club was established in the 1790s and is named after the Latin for “pig,” since their first meeting included a hog roast. As with many of these elite college societies, only those from the “right” families can secure membership. Alumni include: President Theodore Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., yachtsman Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, polo player Thomas Hitchcock Jr. and the Winklevoss twins. Members often wear neckties adorned with a pig’s head to signal their membership of the club and their headquarters is nicknamed the “Old Barn.” The Porcellian was thrust into the news in April 2016 after the rigidly all-male society refused to allow female members, claiming that allowing female members could increase “the potential for sexual misconduct.”

8. The Apostles, Cambridge University

The Apostles are a secret society dedicated to intellectual debate on ethics, morals, and religion. They were established in around 1820 by George Tomlinson, who later went on to be Bishop of Gibraltar, and they gained their name because the organization was founded with 12 members. Over their history, the Apostles have included some of the foremost thinkers of the day and membership is generally made up from the elite students from King’s, Trinity, and St John’s Colleges in Cambridge, UK. The famous Bloomsbury group, which went on to shape the intellectual climate of the early 20th century, had its roots in membership of the Apostles, with Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey all doing their time in the club.

The Apostles gained notoriety during the Cold War when it was discovered that three Russian spies from the infamous "Cambridge Five"—Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross—were Apostles. To become an Apostle, a potential recruit must be nominated by an existing Apostle, and they only gain membership once members have unanimously agreed on them. All Apostles must swear a secret oath and sign their names in a leather-bound book, which contains the signatures of all previous members and is the most treasured possession of the exclusive club.

9. The Cadaver Society, Washington and Lee University


View this post on Instagram

Always got a little thrill seeing these on campus. #wluaw #w&l #cadaversociety

A post shared by Betsy Green (@coffeebetsy) on

Cloaked in secrecy, very little concrete information is known about the Cadaver Society of Washington and Lee University, but the rumors of this secret society are so intriguing it deserves a mention. It is thought that members of the Cadaver Society are mostly pre-med students with the best grade averages, and they are said to wander the campus at night, dressed in black, their faces covered with skull masks as they scrawl the sign of the society (a skull and the letter C) around the place.

Certainly the graffiti is one of the most tangible signs of this clandestine group, but the society is also visible through its philanthropy: In 1988 the Cadavers reportedly gave $150,000 to the university to renovate the frat houses. Perhaps the most alluring rumor about the Cadavers is that they travel around campus via a series of secret tunnels, and one of the more far-fetched stories says that the Cadavers are a branch of the mother of all secret societies—the illuminati.

This list originally ran in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

30 Strange Old-Timey Medical Treatments

Venesection on male patient by Cintio d'Amato, 1671
Venesection on male patient by Cintio d'Amato, 1671
National Library of Medicine, Flickr // Public Domain

Some treatments of old, like the ones in this piece adapted from The List Show on YouTube, will make you especially thankful for science and modern medicine.

1. Cure Rabies with Raw Veal

In Ancient Rome, people thought they could treat rabies. According to Pliny the Elder, a naturalist and author, anyone bitten by a mad dog should be treated by having their wound cut open and covered with raw veal. Then, the patient should eat a diet of lime and hog’s fat—and then the patient would then drink a concoction made with wine and boiled badger dung.

2. Treat Asthma with a Diet of Boiled Carrots

In Primitive Physick, or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases, first published in the late 1740s, British evangelist John Wesley suggested “a fortnight on boiled carrots only” to treat asthma.

3. Take Care of Heart Palpitations with a Vinegar-Soaked Rag

For heart palpitations, Wesley's treatments included “drink a pint of cold water,” “apply outwardly a Rag dipt In vinegar,” and “be electrified.”

4. Cure Toothaches with Electricity

Wesley also suggests that patients with toothaches be electrified. The idea of electrotherapy was fairly new in the 1700s, but it was used regularly until the early 1900s for illnesses like epilepsy, paralysis, impotence, tapeworms, and more. Some people just got electrotherapy for general wellness.

5. and 6. Prevent Nosebleeds with the Aid of a Red-Hot Poker or Bloodletting

To prevent nosebleeds, Wesley recommends, “hold[ing] a red hot poker under the nose or steep[ing] a linnen rag in sharp vinegar, burn[ing] it, and blow[ing] it up the nose with a Quill.”

In Wesley’s day, someone with nosebleeds might also get blood removed from another part of their body. There is documentation going back to around 200 CE recommending that someone with nosebleeds have their elbow bled. Back then, it was believed that every person had four humours in their body: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—and any illness could be boiled down to an imbalance of humours. Bloodletting was one of the therapies that was supposed to put them back in balance. During medieval times in Europe, bloodletting was used for the plague, smallpox, and gout.

7. Treat Malaria with a Magic Word

There are a lot of strange historical treatments for malaria, but one of my favorite cures was a magical charm recommended by a Roman physician in the 3rd Century CE. Patients were told to write Abracadabra over and over on a piece of paper with one less letter on each line, until the letters formed a triangle with just an A at the bottom. Then, they had to tie the paper with flax and wear it around their necks for nine days before tossing it into an east-running stream. If that didn't work, they were supposed to rub themselves with lion fat.

8. Cure Rabies With Ground Liverwort and a Cold Bath

Back to rabies, which was a huge concern in Europe during the 1700s. There was this treatment from The Book of Phisick, written around the same time, that advised, “Tak[ing] 40 grains of ground liverwort and 20 grains of pepper in half a pint of milk ... take this quantity four mornings together, then use of Cold Bath, every other day, a month.”

9. Treat Epilepsy with a Powder Made of Hair and Deer Bones

The Book of Phisick also contains a remedy for patients with epilepsy. Cook a strong man’s hair with a deer leg-bone, turn it into powder, then eat it leading up to the new moon. (For a long time, people have debated whether the moon affects seizures. As recently as 2004, there was an article published in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior titled “The influence of the full moon on seizure frequency: myth or reality?” For the record, they found no connection between the full moon and the frequency of epileptic seizures.)

10. Cure Bible Cysts with a Dead Man's Hand

In 1743, German anatomist Lorenz Heister wrote down treatment options for Bible cysts, which appear on the hand or wrists. They included strapping a bullet that had killed an animal to the cyst or touching it with a dead man’s hand. But one of the treatments he recommended, hitting it with a heavy book, is still in use today. That’s why they’re called Bible cysts—the Bible was supposedly a good book to whack them with because it’s so big. But medical professionals probably don’t want you doing that.

11. Treat Asthma with Cigarettes

Asthma cigarettes were popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were made with a number of toxic ingredients, including stramonium, belladonna, and tobacco.

12. and 13. Use Saffron to Sober Up—and Cheer Up

The Red Book of Hergest is a Welsh manuscript from around 1382 that contains some herbal remedies, including one to remove drunkenness that involves “eat[ing] bruised saffron with spring water.” Sadness could be cured by saffron, too, at least in moderation—according to Hergest, “If you would be at all times merry, eat saffron in meat or drink, and you will never be sad: but beware of eating over much, lest you should die of excessive joy.”

14. Cure Everything from Arthritis to Impotence with Radium

Radium was once considered a legitimate medical treatment. The ailments it supposedly cured included arthritis, impotence, and aging. The Revigator, an early 20th century crock that combined water with radium, was placed in hundreds of thousands of American households. Now we know that radium doesn't cure aging; it puts people at risk of radiation sickness. Users of the Revigator also had arsenic and lead leach out into their water, which wasn't great.

15. Treat Syphilis with Mercury

From about the 16th century to the 20th century, mercury was the primary treatment for syphilis, either eaten or applied to the body. It was also used to treat less severe illnesses, like constipation. In fact, Lewis and Clark’s men consumed so many pills containing mercury chloride that historians and archeologists can find the places where they camped just based on the mercury content of the area.

By the 18th century, doctors were aware of mercury poisoning, but they continued using it to treat syphilis—they just limited the amounts that were used.

16. Treat Hay Fever with Cocaine

Dr. Thomas Jefferson Ritter's Mother’s Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, published in 1910, contains many remedies that have been phased out—like the one for hay fever, which called for spraying a “four-percent solution of cocaine” up the nose. That was relatively normal back then; cocaine was prescribed for indigestion, fatigue, eye pain, and hemorrhoids.

17. Use Chloroform to Treat Asthma

The book also recommends inhaling chloroform for asthma. Chloroform, like cocaine, wasn’t an unusual treatment in the United States, where it was used as an anesthetic. We now know that it’s toxic.

18. Fix Chapped Hands with Old Sour Cream

Dr. Ritter has an interesting fix for chapped hands: Put sour cream in a cloth, bury it outside overnight, then unearth it and apply the sour cream the next day.

19. Treat Ringworm with Gunpowder and Vinegar

To heal ringworm, Mother's Remedies recommends a paste made of gunpowder and vinegar be applied to the infection. If the first time doesn’t do the trick, repeat until the ringworm disappears.

20. Use Nux Vomica for Headaches

For certain headaches, Dr. Ritter suggested mixing a drop of tincture of nux vomica in a teaspoonful of water. Today, nux vomica is best known as the primary source of strychnine, which is poisonous, and often used to kill rats.

21. Get Rid of Bruises With Powder Made From Human Bodies

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the use of human bodies in medical remedies became more popular than ever in Europe. They appeared in medicine for headaches, epilepsy, and more. Egyptian tombs and graveyards were looted for the bodies. If you had a bruise or other ailment, you were supposed to put it on your skin or turn it into a powder and ingest it via a drink. French King Francis I and Francis Bacon both used it.

22. Take Care of Colic With "Soothing Syrup"

Between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, 25 cents could get you a bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for your baby. It was advertised as a solution for colic, teething, diarrhea, and any pain. And it worked, because it contained a whole lot of morphine.

23. Use Periwinkle Flowers to Treat Cataracts

There’s one known copy of Bald’s Leechbook, a medical textbook from around the 10th century, which can be found at the British Library in London. For cataracts, it suggests putting burnt periwinkle flowers and honey in the eyes.

24. Cure Swollen Eyes with the Eyes of a Crab

According to Bald's, to treat swollen eyes, take a live crab and cut its eyes out, throw the crab back into the water, then apply its eyes "on the neck of the man who hath need."

25. Treat Swollen Body Parts with a Fox Tooth

Similarly, a live fox to is needed to heal swelling: Take one of its teeth out, secure it in a fawn’s skin, then place the skin on the swollen body part.

26. Cure Typhus Through Prayer

Typhus had a more religiously oriented treatment in the 10th century. A patient should go outside, write a prayer on a piece of paper, then hold it to their left breast.

27. Avoid Tipsiness Using Ground Up Bird Beaks

In ancient Assyria, bird beaks were ground up, combined with myrrh, and eaten. Supposedly, this helped you avoid getting tipsy, though it seems more painful than a hangover.

28. Eat Pickled Sheep's Eyes to Cure a Hangover

During Genghis Khan’s days, the Mongols ate pickled sheep’s eyes for breakfast to get rid of a hangover. The practice continues today, though the eyes are followed by a glass of tomato juice.

29. and 30. Cure a Hangover with Tea Made of Poop or Owl Eggs

Legend has it that one popular Wild West hangover cure was rabbit poo tea. Pliny, meanwhile, suggested drinking owl eggs mixed with wine for three days to get rid of a hangover.