The Porcellian is the iconic "hotsy-totsy final club, often bracketed with Yale's Skull and Bones and Princeton's Ivy Club. E. Digby Baltzell ranks the social ladder of the final clubs at Harvard as "Porcellian and A. D., the most exclusive,... followed by Fly, Spee, Delphic, and Owl. A history of Harvard calls the Porcellian "the most final of them all,". Also, an urban legends website mentions a belief that "if members of the Porcellian do not earn their first million before they turn 40, the club will give it to them.
This society was established in 1791. It occupies rooms on Harvard street, and owns a library of some 7000 volumes. Its members are taken from the senior, junior and sophomore classes about eight from each class. The origin of its name is popularly supposed to be as follows:
In the year 1791, a student brought a pig into his room in Hollis. In those days the window-seats were merely long boxes with lids, used to store articles in. Said student having an antipathy to the proctor who roomed beneath, was accustomed to squeeze piggy's ears and make him squeal whenever said proctor was engaged in the study of the classics. The result would be a rush by the proctor for the student's rooms, where the student was to be found studying (?), peacefully seated on his window-seat. Piggy, in the mean time had been deposited beneath, and no sound disturbed the tranquillity of the scene. On the departure of the hated proctor, a broad grin would spread over the countenance of the joker, and in a little while the scene would be repeated with variations. But when it was rumored that his room was to be searched by the faculty, the joker determined to cheat them of their prey. So he invited some of his classmates to the room, and the pig being cooked, all present partook of a goodly feast. They enjoyed their midnight meal so much that they determined then and there to form a club and have such enterainments periodically. In order to render historical the origin of the club, and also to give it a classic touch, they decided to call it the Porcellian from Latin "porcus."
In 1831, the society bearing the name of the "Order of the Knights of the Square Table" was joined to the Porcellian, as "the objects and interests of the two societies were identical."
Despite the exclusivity and mystique, some, like National Review columnist/editor, Ronald Reagan speechwriter, and Dartmouth emeritus professor of English Jeffrey Hart, have noted the club's modest physical and metaphorical character. Hart wrote:
Much of the secrecy surrounding the exclusive Porcellian clubhouse evaporated when the Harvard Crimson, the university newspaper, published pictures of the interior.
A portrait of George Washington Lewis, entitled "The Steward (Lewis of the Porcellian)" by Joseph DeCamp hangs in the clubhouse. An obituary in TIME Magazine on April, 1, 1929 notes:
George Washington Lewis, of Cambridge, Mass., for over 45 years the esteemed Negro steward of the Porcellian Club at Harvard College; in Cambridge, Mass. Ancient and most esoteric of Harvard clubs is Porcellian, founded in 1791.* An oil portrait of Steward Lewis hangs in the clubhouse. Steward Lewis had ten Porcellian pallbearers.
Theodore Roosevelt and other members of the Roosevelt family belonged to the club, but Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president of the Harvard Crimson, never managed to be elected a member. He later told a friend that this had been "the greatest disappointment in his life". Harvard graduate Joseph P. Kennedy was also blackballed from the Porcellian Club; a biographer writes that "For years later, Joe Kennedy remembered the day he didn't make the Porcellian Club, the most desired in his mind, realizing that none of the Catholics he knew at Harvard had been selected.
An 1870 travel book said:
A telling indication of the position of the Porcellian in the Boston WASP establishment is given by an historian of Boston's Trinity Church, H. H. Richardson's architectural masterpiece. In speculating as to why Richardson was chosen, he writes:
A biography of Norman Mailer says that when he was at Harvard "it would have been unthinkable... for a Jew to be invited to join one of the so-called final clubs like Porcellian, A.D. Club, Fly, or Spee. A history of Harvard notes the decline in Boston Brahmin influence at Harvard during the last quarter of the 1900s, and says "a third of [the presidents of the Final Clubs] were Jewish by 1986 and one was black. The Porcellian... took an occasional Jew, and in 1983 (to the horror of some elders) admitted a black—who had gone to St. Paul's."
More recent information on the membership of the Porcellian Club may be found in a 1994 Harvard Crimson article by Joseph Mathews. He writes, "Prep school background, region and legacy status do not appear to be the sole determinants of membership they may once have been, but ... they remain factors."
A gate is to be erected at the entrance to the Yard between Wadsworth House and Boylston Hall. It is to be erected by members of the Porcellian Club in memory of Joseph McKean 1794, S.T.D., LL.D. and Boylston Professor of Rhetoric, Oratory and Elocution, and also the founder of the Porcellian Club.The gate features prominently the symbol of the club, the pig's head, and is a famous Harvard landmark.
According to a 1940 Time magazine article:
The Pork had as members James Russell Lowell, the two famed Oliver Wendell Holmeses (the author of Autocrat of the Breakfast Table and the Supreme Court Justice), Owen Wister, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, President Theodore Roosevelt (the Franklin Roosevelts go Fly Club). Among its living members are Massachusetts' Governor Leverett Saltonstall, Congressman Hamilton Fish, Yachtsman Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, Poloist Thomas Hitchcock Jr., U. S. Ambassador to Italy William Phillips, Journalist Joseph Alsop, and Richard Whitney, now of Sing Sing Prison, of whom all good Porkies prefer not to speak. The Pore is very much a family affair. Upon its roster, generation after generation, appear the same proud Boston names—Adams, Ames, Amory, Cabot, Gushing, etc.
According to a note to the obituary of the Club Steward on Monday, April 1, 1929, in TIME Magazine:
The Porcellian roster includes Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nicholas Longworth, Poet James Russell Lowell, Richard Henry (Two Years Before the Mast) Dana, Novelist Owen Wister, John Jay Chapman. The club's favorite brew is a mixture of beer and gin.