Skull and Bones is an undergraduate senior secret society at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. It is the oldest senior class landed society at Yale. The society's alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, owns the society's real estate and oversees the organization. The society is known informally as "Bones", and members are known as "Bonesmen".
Skull and Bones was founded in 1832 after a dispute between Yale debating societies Linonia, Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society over that season's Phi Beta Kappa awards. It was co-founded by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft as "the Order of the Skull and Bones".
The society's assets are managed by the society's alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, incorporated in 1856 and named after the Bones co-founder. The association was founded by Russell and Daniel Coit Gilman, a Skull and Bones member, and later president of the University of California, first president of Johns Hopkins University, and the founding president of the Carnegie Institution.
The first extended description of Skull and Bones, published in 1871 by Lyman Bagg in his book Four Years at Yale, noted that "the mystery now attending its existence forms the one great enigma which college gossip never tires of discussing." Brooks Mather Kelley attributed the interest in Yale senior societies to the fact that underclassmen members of then freshman, sophomore, and junior class societies returned to campus the following years and could share information about society rituals, while graduating seniors were, with their knowledge of such, at least a step removed from campus life.
Skull and Bones selects new members among students every spring as part of Yale University's "Tap Day", and has done so since 1879. Since the society's inclusion of women in the early 1990s, Skull and Bones selects fifteen men and women of the junior class to join the society. Skull and Bones "taps" those that it views as campus leaders and other notable figures for its membership.
The Skull and Bones Hall is otherwise known as the "Tomb".
The building was built in three phases: the first wing was built in 1856, the second wing in 1903, and Davis-designed Neo-Gothic towers were added to the rear garden in 1912. The front and side facades are of Portland brownstone in an Egypto-Doric style. The 1912 tower additions created a small enclosed courtyard in the rear of the building, designed by Evarts Tracy and Edgerton Swartwout of Tracy and Swartwout, New York. Evarts was not a Bonesman, but his paternal grandmother Martha Sherman Evarts and maternal grandmother Mary Evarts were the sisters of William Maxwell Evarts, an 1837 Bonesman.
The architectural attribution of the original hall is in dispute. The architect was possibly Alexander Jackson Davis (1803--1892) or Henry Austin (1804--1891). Architectural historian Patrick Pinnell includes an in-depth discussion of the dispute over the identity of the original architect in his 1999 Yale campus history. Pinnell speculates that the re-use of the Davis towers in 1911 suggests Davis's role in the original building, and, conversely, Austin was responsible for the architecturally similar brownstone Egyptian Revival Grove Street Cemetery gates built in 1845. Pinnell also discusses the "Tomb's" aesthetic place in relation to its neighbors, including the Yale University Art Gallery. In the late 1990s, New Hampshire landscape architects Saucier and Flynn designed the wrought iron fence that currently surrounds a portion of the complex.