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dum vivimus, vivamus

Porcellian Club

The Porcellian Club is a male-only final club at Harvard University, sometimes called the Porc or the P.C. The year of founding is usually given as 1791, when a group began meeting under the name "the Argonauts," or as 1794, the year of the roast pig dinner at which the club, known first as "the Pig Club was formally founded. The club's motto, Dum vivimus vivamus (while we live, let's live) is literally Epicurean. The club emblem is the pig, and some members sport golden pigs on watch-chains or neckties bearing pig's-head emblems.

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.

Founding

According to a Harvard Crimson article of February 23, 1887:

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."

Clubhouse

Known to members as the "Old Barn", the Porcellian clubhouse is located at 1324 Massachusetts Avenue above the store of clothier J. August. Its entrance faces the Harvard freshman dormitories and the entrance to Harvard Yard called the Porcellian, or McKean, Gate. The gate was donated by the club in 1901 and features a limestone carving of a boar's head. Access to the clubhouse is strictly limited to members, but non-member males and females are allowed in the first floor room known as the Bicycle Room.

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:

...To illustrate, may I invoke Harvard's famous Porcellian, an undergraduate club of extraordinary exclusiveness? ... [I]t is devilishly hard to join. But there is nothing there, hardly a club at all. The quarters consist entirely of a large room over a row of stores in Harvard Square. There is a bar, a billiards table, and a mirror arranged so that members can sit and view Massachusetts Avenue outside without themselves being seen. And that's it. Virtually the sole activity of Porcellian is screening applicants. Porcellian is the pinnacle of the Boston idea. Less is more. Zero is a triumph.

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.

Historical significance

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 notice of Harvard would be as incomplete without a reference to the Porcellian Club as a notice of Oxford or Cambridge would be in which the [[Oxford Union|[Oxford] Union]] Debating Society held no place. This and the Hasty Pudding Club, an organization for performing amateur theatricals, are the two lions of Harvard. The Porcellian Club is hardly a place of resort for those who cultivate the intellect at the expense of the body. The list of active members is small, owing in part to the largeness of the annual subscription. The great desire of every student is to become a member of it... the doings of the club are shrouded in secrecy... All that can be said by a stranger who has been privileged to step behind the scenes is that the mysteries are rites which can be practised without much labour, and yield a pleasure which is fraught with no unpleasant consequences.

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:

the thirty-four-year-old possessed one great advantage over the other candidates: as a popular Harvard undergraduate he had been a member of several clubs, including the prestigious Porcellian; thus he needed no introduction to the rector, Phillips Brooks, or five of the eleven-man building committee—they were all fellow Porcellian members."

Membership criteria

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."

Joseph McKean Gate

In 1901 a gate to Harvard Yard, directly opposite the clubhouse, was erected. According to a notice published in the Harvard Crimson, on March 20, 1909:
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.

Members

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.

Footnotes

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