Leyburn Library Exterior

An external shot of Washington and Lee University's Leyburn Library. Note the insignia of the Cadaver Society on the right.

What Are Secret Societies?

In this exhibit, we seek to help broaden public knowledge of what secret societies are and their existence at Washington and Lee University. While the organizational purposes of different secret societies do vary, most consist of a group in which members, activities, meetings, and functions are concealed. Different societies have different nuances that may permit certain events, goals, and members to be known, but the overall principle of the society is to uphold a layer of secrecy. At W&L, from the nineteenth century to present day, secret societies have made their name known to both the University's population and the greater Lexington area.

The common belief of students and staff at Washington and Lee may be that secret societies are all similar in purpose and form across time. This website demonstrates that over the years, many different societies have served different purposes and operated differently from one another. By using a survey sent to the school, we have gained a greater understanding on the current public opinion of these societies, and we hope that this exhibit illustrates the complexities of various clandestine groups including (but not limited to) two national prominent  societies: the Sigma Society & the Cadaver Society.

Thesis Statement

Although many believe that Secret Societies at W&L are a monolithic entity, W&L’s history reveals a more complicated past of multiple secret societies, with various goals, intentions and levels of secrecy.