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."
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.
Many Sphinx Heads have attained great success and distinction in their post-collegiate careers:
- In Athletics, members have gone on to become Olympic Gold Medalists, Winners of Wimbledon, Presidents of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and members of both Cornell University and National Athletic Halls of Fame.
- In the Arts, members have been immortalized in the Hollywood Walk of Fame and been Academy Awards nominees.
- In Business, members have gone on to become CEO, Chairman and Board Members of American Red Cross, AT&T, British Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, Coors Brewing Company, Emerson Electric, IBM, Morgan Stanley, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Paramount Pictures, S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc., Union Carbide and other Fortune 500 companies.
- In Education, members have won Rhodes Scholarships, Fulbright Scholarships, and have become deans and presidents of top universities.
- In Government, members have gone on to become members of the U.S. Presidential Cabinet, United States Senators, Representatives of the United States Congress, U.S. Secretary of Armed Forces, U.S. Ambassadors, and members of state and local legislators.
- In Journalism, members have earned Emmy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes.
- At Cornell, members have become chairmen and members of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, Cornell University Council, major Cornell University donors, Cornell University Entrepreneurs of the Year and Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award recipients. Numerous members are also profiled in The 100 Most Notable Cornellians.
- Neal D. Becker (1905): Chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees (1947-1953); Member of the Council on Foreign Relations; Co-founder of the American Australian Association in 1948.
- Romeyn Berry (1904): Dubbed Cornell Athletics "The Big Red" while composing the lyrics to the The Big Red Team (a Cornell song) in 1905; Graduate Manager of Cornell Athletics (1919-1935); Authored Dirt Roads to Stoneposts (1949), Stoneposts in the Sunset (1950), and Behind the Ivy (1950).
- George G. Bogert (1908): Dean of Cornell Law School (1921-1926).
- John C. Carpenter (1907): Olympic Athlete in the 400 meter race at the 1908 Olympic Games.
- Frederick D. Colson (1900): Deputy Attorney General of New York State (1915-1924).
- Adolph H. J. Coors, Jr. (1907): Second President of the Coors Brewing Company.
- Bernard E. Fernow (1904): Mechanical Engineer, inventor of the Electric Lifting Magnet, the Electromagnetic Clutch, and the Electromagnetically Controlled Brake; son of Bernhard Fernow, family namesake of Fernow Hall.
- Elmwood T. Foote (1906): Inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame (1956).
- Charles M. French (1909): Olympic athlete in the 800m race in the 1908 Olympic Games.
- George A. Larkin (1900): Justice of New York State Supreme Court (1923-1948)
- David C. Munson (1906): Gold medalist in the 4 mile team race track & field event at the 1904 Olympic Games.
- Andrew W. Newberry (1905): Grandson of Andrew Dickson White, first President of Cornell University.
- Nicholas H. Noyes (1906): Business Advisory Council of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago director; Eli Lilly and Company director; Owner and donor of a copy of the Gettysburg Address (handwritten by Abraham Lincoln) to Cornell University.
- James O'Malley (1901): Justice of New York Supreme Court 1925-1940
- Julian A. Pollak (1907): Chairman of the Board of Pollak Steel Company and Founder of the Bureau of Government Research.
- John L. Senior (1901): First Graduate Manager of Athletics for Cornell University (1901-1907), organized the first Spring Day, the predecessor to the current Slope Day.
- Richmond H. Shreve (1902): Architect who led the construction of the Empire State Building with his firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon.
- Andre Smith (1902): Architect and Sculptor; designed the Distinguished Service Cross.
- Willard D. Straight (1901): U.S. Diplomat; Namesake of Willard Straight Hall, a student union that was constructed in 1925 after Straight's death in 1918; Founder of Cornell's annual Dragon Day; Cornell University Trustee; Donated money for the construction of Schoellkopf Field
- Ray Van Orman (1908): U.S. Olympic lacrosse coach (1928-1932); Inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1992.
- William J. Warner (1903): Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
- R W. "Cy" Weed (1909): Inducted into National Rowing Hall of Fame (1959), Stroke of the undefeated Cornell crew of 1909
- Charles C. West (1900): President of the The Manitowoc Company, received the President's Certificate of Merit for building 28 submarines in less than 5 year during World War II, President of Shipbuilders Council of America.
- Ward B. White (1908): Former Chief of the Food Division, US Food and Drug Administration
- Tell S. Berna (1912): Gold medalist in the 3000m team track & field event at the 1912 Olympic Games.
- William E. Blewett Jr. (1918): President and Chairman of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, recipient of President's Certificate of Merit.
- Robert S. Byfield (1917): United Nations General Assembly 1951-1953
- Carlton P. Collins (1917):Banker and former Director of Eastern Air Lines.
- Edward E. Conroy (1919): Special Agent in charge of the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and responsible for taking into custody four German agents involved in Operation Pastorius during World War II.
- Edward T. Cook, Jr. (1910): Gold medalist in the pole vault track & field event at the 1908 Olympic Games.
- Ivan C. Dresser (1919): Gold medalist in the 3000 meter track & field event at the 1920 Olympic Games.
- William H. Farnham (1918): Dean of the Cornell University Faculty, received the Romanian Chevalier of the Order of the Crown for his work with the American Relief effort following World War II
- Stanton Griffis (1910): U.S. Ambassador to Poland (1947), Egypt (1948), Argentina (1949), Spain (1951-1952); Former Chairman of Paramount Pictures, Lee Tire & Rubber Co. and Shuron Optical, Cornell University Trustee.
- Henry J. Kimball (1911): Justice of the New York Supreme Court.
- Joseph B. Kirkland (1918): Former Director of The Boys and Girls Club of America.
- William L. Kleitz (1915): President of Guaranty Trust Company of New York that became JPMorgan Chase.
- F. Jansen Noyes (1910): Namesake of Noyes Community Center on the Cornell West Campus.
- John "Jack" E. O'Hearn (1915): Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
- Austin G. Parker (1910): American Screenwriter
- H. Wallace Peters (1914): Second Provost of Cornell University (1938-1943).
- Murray N. Shelton (1916): Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1973.
- Roy Taylor (1910): Inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1957; President of the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association; Helped introduce Lacrosse to West Point; Served on the U.S. Olympic Committee, recipient of the Légion d'honneur from the French Government during World War I.
- Elbert P. Tuttle (1918): Chief judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Atlanta, GA (overseeing many Civil Rights cases); Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981.
- Walter S. Ashbaugh (1951): 4th Place in the triple jump track & field event at the 1952 Olympic Games.
- James L. Broadhead (1957): Chairman and CEO of Florida Power and Light for almost ten years; Namesake of the James L. Broadhead Award, the highest honor given to Florida Power and Light employees for their contributions to improving quality; President of the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
- Colin G. Campbell (1957): Chairman, President, and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; Thirteenth and youngest President of Wesleyan University (1970-1988); President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (1987-2000).
- Kenneth T. Derr (1958): Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corporation (1989-1999); Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
- G. Michael Hostage (1954): Chairman of the Howard Johnson company (1981-1987).
- Samuel C. Johnson, Jr. (1950): Former Chairperson of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.; Major donor and co-namesake of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.
- Robert D. Kennedy (1954): President and CEO of Union Carbide (1986-1995).
- Charles F. Knight (1957): Emerson Electric CEO (1973-2000), President (1986-1988, 1995-1997), and Board Chairman(1974-2000); Board member of many other companies including Anheuser-Busch (1987-present), AT&T (2006-present), IBM (1993-present), Baxter International, British Petroleum (1987-2005), Caterpillar Inc., Missouri Pacific, Morgan Stanley (1999-2005), Ralston Purina, SBC (1983-2006), Southwestern Bell (1974-1983).
- Gordon B. Lankton (1953): Chairman of the Board and owner of Nypro, Inc.; Member of the National Plastics Hall of Fame; Co-founder and former Chairman of the National Plastics Center and Museum.
- Richard Ramin, Jr. (1951): Vice President of Public Affairs for Cornell University (1971-1995); Namesake of the Ramin Room in both the Johnson Graduate School of Management and Bartels Hall on the Cornell campus.
- Thomas C. Reed (1955): U.S. Secretary of the Air Force from January 2, 1976 - April 6, 1977 under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
- Richard "Dick" Savitt (1950): Professional tennis player; Winner of Wimbledon in 1951; ranked 2nd in the world for tennis in 1951; Inducted into several halls of fame including the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1976), the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (1986), Tennis Association Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame (1986), and the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame (1999).
- Richard "Dick" J. Schaap (1955): American sports broadcaster for NBC, ABC and ESPN, received two Emmy Awards, author and co-author of 33 books