Sphinx Head Cornell

Sphinx Head

The Sphinx Head Society is the oldest senior honor society at Cornell University. Sphinx Head recognizes Cornell senior men and women who have demonstrated respectable strength of character on top of a dedication to leadership and service at Cornell University. Election into Sphinx Head has been recognized by The New York Times as "the highest non-scholastic honor within reach of undergraduates.


Sphinx Head was founded in 1890 by a group of men from the senior class. The Society was founded in order to "create and maintain a stronger feeling" for Cornell University and to promote "a closer and stronger friendship among members of the Senior class." In 1891, The New York Times referred to Sphinx Head as "a secret senior society of the nature of Skull and Bones", a senior honor society at Yale University of which Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University's Co-founder and first President, was a member. White encouraged the formation a secret society system on the Cornell campus.


Each year, Sphinx Head usually taps fewer than forty men and women of the senior class for membership. Since the Society's founding, membership has been "reserved for the most respected" members of the senior class. The names of newly tapped Sphinx Heads were published in The New York Times through the 1930s, but are now published exclusively in The Cornell Daily Sun. Sphinx Head also awards honorary membership to Cornell administration, faculty, staff, and alumni for their "significant personal and/or professional accomplishment, outstanding leadership, distinguished service to the university and interest in and commitment to undergraduate student life and development."

At Cornell

Sphinx Head has "retained an aura of mystery throughout its history on campus", holding some "closely guarded secrets and traditions.

Although membership in Sphinx Head is public, the proceedings of the Society remain concealed. Since the founding the Society, Sphinx Head members have been responsible for starting many long-standing Cornell University traditions such as the annual Dragon Day celebration, the use of "The Big Red" to describe Cornell athletics, as well as Spring Day, the precursor to the current Slope Day celebration.

Members of Sphinx Head have held many prominent positions within Cornell University serving as Presidents, Provosts, Deans, Directors of Athletics, Cornell Council members, Trustees and Chairpersons of the Board of Trustees. More than one-third of the Presidents of the Cornell University Alumni Association have been members and twenty percent of the Chairpersons of the Cornell University Board of Trustees have been affiliated with the Society. Names of alumni can be found on the Cornell campus on Bartels Hall, Fernow Hall, Samuel C. Johnson School of Business Management, Robert Kane Track, Jansen Noyes Community Center, Jerome H. Holland International Living Center, Robert Purcell Community Center, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives, Willard Straight Hall and Upson Hall.

After Cornell

Many Sphinx Heads have attained great success and distinction in their post-collegiate careers:

Notable alumni













See also

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