Porcellian Club

The Porcellian Club is a men-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 us 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 club was originally started by a group of 30 students from Massachusetts who wanted to avoid the dining halls and their food by roasting pigs.

The Porcellian is the iconic "hotsy-totsy final club," often bracketed with Yale's Skull and Bones, Princeton's Ivy Club, Cornell's Quill and Dagger, Rutgers' Cap and Skull, Cambridge's Pitt Club, and Oxford's Gridiron Club. 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."


Porcellian Club

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 entertainments 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."

An 1891 article from The Cambridge Chronicle recounts the early members of the club:

Among those who presided at the initial dinners of the club were Robert Treat Paine and Henderson Inches, class of 1792; Charles Cutter, class of 1793; and Rev. Joseph McKean, L.L.D. of 1794. It is to Mr. McKean that the club owes not only its pig, but its principles.


Known to members as the "Old Barn", the Porcellian clubhouse is located at 1324 Massachusetts Avenue above the store of clothier J. August. The building was designed by the architect and clubmember William York Peters. 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-members 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 (who had never actually been inside the club) 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. That's it...Porcellian is the pinnacle of the Boston idea. Less is more. Zero is a triumph.

A portrait of George Washington Lewis, titled "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.


The interior of the then-new clubhouse was described in an 1891 article in the Cambridge Chronicle:

The enlargement of the club's library, and the fact of its growing postgraduate or honorary membership roll, compelled it from time to time to enlarge its accommodations. Finally, in 1881, it determined to tear down the old house where it had so long met, on Harvard street and build a new structure its site. The new structure is of brick, handsomely trimmed in stone, and rises to the height of four stories, with about seventy or eighty feet of frontage on Harvard street. Two large stores claim a part of the ground floor, but they do not encroach on the broad and handsome entrance to the club's apartments.

The three upper floors are used exclusively by the club. The first of them contains a large hall which opens both into the front and rear reception rooms and parlors, which, in turn, communicate. From each of these rooms a door leads to the library, which extends through from the front to the rear. On the second floor, in addition to a room over the library, there is a billiard hall in the front and a breakfast room in the rear with the kitchen over the main hall of the floor beneath. Nearly the whole of the top floor is taken up by a large banquet hall, vaulted by handsome rafters.

Photos of the interior are not published by the club, but The Harvard Crimson, the university newspaper, published pictures of the interior in 2003, although that link may have been taken down.

Historical significance

Porcellian Club

Theodore Roosevelt and other members of the extended Roosevelt family belonged to the Porcellian, but the club did not invite Harvard sophomore Franklin D. Roosevelt to join. FDR joined the Fly Club instead, along with his roommate, and eventually three of his sons. According to relative Sheffield Cowles, however, FDR, in his late thirties, declared, perhaps hyperbolically, that not being "punched" by the Porc was "the greatest disappointment in his life", evidently ranking it ahead of losing use of his legs. Additionally, the young Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. received no invitation to join the Porc; 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 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 labor and yield a pleasure which is fraught with no unpleasant consequences.

A telling indication of the position of the Porcellian in the Boston establishment is given by an historian of Boston's Trinity Church, Porcellian member 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 committeeâ€"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 an African-Americanâ€"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. Boylston Professor of Rhetoric, Oratory and Elocution, and also the founder of the Porcellian Club.

The gate prominently features the club's symbol, a boar's head, directly above the central arch and is a famous Harvard landmark.

Notable members

  • Joseph Alsop (1932) - Journalist, author of The 168 Days (1938) regarding FDR's plan to pack the Supreme Court. Great-nephew of Theodore Roosevelt.
  • William Astor Chanler - Soldier, explorer and U.S. Congressman from NY (1899-1901)
  • John Jay Chapman (1884, L.L.D. 1887) - Author, Emerson and Other Essays, translator Dante, Sophocles. Brother-in-law of William Chanler
  • Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis (1829) - Assoc. Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Wrote dissent in the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision. Resigned from the Supreme Court as a matter of conscience over the decision.
  • Richard Henry Dana, Jr. - Author, Two Years Before the Mast
  • Edward Everett - Secretary of State, President of Harvard, Congressman & Senator from Massachusetts, 15th Gov. of Massachusetts
  • Hamilton Fish III - College Football All-American and Congressman from New York (1910)
  • Miles Fisher - American film and television actor
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. - author, poet, and professor at Harvard Medical School
  • Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. - Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, professor at Harvard Law School
  • William Henry Fitzhugh Lee (1858) - Son of Robert E. Lee. Great-grandson of George Washington through his mother's side (Custis family); Grandson of Richard Henry "Lighthorse" Lee, Revolutionary War General. Resigned U.S. Army before outbreak of Civil War. Formed Virginia Raiders, later "Lee's Raiders". Later formed "Lee's Legion" by consolidating 8 companies of cavalry. Promoted Major General, Army of Northern Virginia (youngest in CSA). Extensive service with ANV through end of war. Surrendered with his father at Appomattox.
  • Henry Cabot Lodge - American statesman, Congressman and Senator from Massachusetts. Senate Majority Leader. Noted historian.
  • James Russell Lowell - Poet
  • Theodore Lyman (1858) - Union officer. Lt. Col. on Gen. Meade's staff. Cousin by marriage to Rob't. Gould Shaw. Congressman from Massachusetts. Overseer of Harvard Univ. 1st cousin to Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard.
  • Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade (1866) - Major General, United States Army. Commander of Union forces at Gettysburg. Hon. Member.
  • Paul Nitze - Presidential advisor, diplomat, foreign policy strategist, Secretary of the Navy, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and co-founder of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
  • Wendell Phillips - leading abolitionist
  • William Phillips - Diplomat, U.S. Ambassador to Italy
  • H. H. Richardson - Architect, designer of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts, among others
  • President Theodore Roosevelt - 26th President of the United States
  • Leverett Saltonstall - United States Senator from Massachusetts; 59th Governor of Massachusetts
  • Louis Agassiz Shaw II - Boston socialite; depicted in Robert Lowell's poem "Waking in the Blue" as "Bobbie, Porcellian '29, a replica of Louis XVI without the wig..."
  • Robert Gould Shaw (1856â€"59) - Colonel of 54th Massachusetts Regiment, first all-volunteer Black regiment in Union Army, Civil War Killed in action at Ft. Wagner, as depicted in the motion picture Glory. Subject of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
  • Justice Joseph Story (1795) - Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, leading Federalist theorist. Son of Elisha Story, member of Sons of Liberty and participant in the Boston Tea Party.
  • Charles Sumner (1830, LLD 1834) - Politician. Congressman & Senator from Massachusetts. leading abolitionist. Nearly beaten to death in 1836 on the floor of the house by Preston Brooks (D-So. Carolina) following a speech on slavery and slave holders.
  • Henry Constantine Wayne (1834) - Confederate officer. Left Harvard to graduate USMA (1838). Major General of GA Militia under Gen. Johnston during Sherman's March to the Sea. Led irregular unit to harass Sherman on march to Savannah. Wayne's account of the defense of the Oconee Bridge [Battle of Ball's Ferry] (leading cadets of the GA Mil. Inst.) was included by Sherman in the 2d Ed. of his Memoirs(1885). Son of James Moore Wayne, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Richard Whitney (1911) - President of the New York Stock Exchange (1930â€"1935), convicted embezzler.
  • Cameron Winklevoss (2004) - Rower, brought lawsuit vs. Facebook with his twin brother and Divya Narendra; 2008 Beijing Olympic Crew
  • Tyler Winklevoss (2004) - American rower and twin brother of Cameron; 2008 Beijing Olympic Crew
  • Owen Wister (1882) - Author, The Virginian

According to a 1940 Time 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, Richard Whitney, now of Sing Sing Prison, of whom all good Porkies prefer not to speak. The Pork is very much a family affair. Upon its roster, generation after generation, appear the same proud Boston namesâ€"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.

Porcellian Club and the Civil War

Having been founded in 1791, the Porcellian is one of the few well-organized institutions at Harvard to have pre-dated the American Civil War and to still operate in substantially the same manner, with a continuous record. As a result, its history spans the Civil War years and affords a look at the divided loyalties of the population at the time. The club's members include Col. Robert Gould Shaw (1856â€"59), commander of the famed 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry depicted in the Academy-Award winning film Glory, but its membership also includes John Julius Pringle Alston (1857) who as a Confederate soldier commanded guns at Fort Wagner, where Shaw was killed and buried with his men. The Centennial Catalog of 1891 shows that of the 66 members from the classes of 1855-1862, the prime age cohort for military service and one where you could reasonably expect a high number still alive in 1891, there are 26 deceased members, just under 40% of the total. By contrast the classes of 1863-1866, roughly the same age cohort as of 1891, show only 4 deceased out of 32 members, only 12%.

See also

  • National Register of Historic Places listings in Cambridge, Massachusetts


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