Who Are the Skulls of Seven?

skulls-of-seven-insignia

The Skulls’ red skull insignia is seen here on Coronel’s robe. PHOTO COURTESY OF BENJAMIN MERTENS.

BY ISAAC CORONEL
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR 

Skulls of Seven member Isaac Coronel describes the Skulls’ history and activities. 


Since the beginning of August, Westminster has held numerous ceremonies and wide-scale events, such as the Hancock Symposium and the welcoming of Lord Alan Watson. At the beginning of these ceremonies, when everyone is cheering and clapping, there is no doubt that attendees take notice of seven students wearing robes of black and red, bearing a red skull insignia. First-year students are definitely aware of these seven because of the initial meeting they have with them about rules and customs of the college, and the name is quite clear and familiar to faculty and upper-class students. Yet, because of their solemn attitude and clandestine nature, many wonder about the group’s history, traditions and what they do on campus, beyond participating in special events.

These seven students represent the Skulls of Seven, a secret Westminster honor society that has been in existence since 1898. Originally, the group was to be formed by men from Westminster’s fraternities, which at the time were Beta Theta Pi, Kappa Alpha Order and Phi Delta Theta. However, Beta Theta Pi’s national headquarters prohibited its members from joining campus societies. Thus, under the decision of Skulls of Seven founder Charles F. Lamkin, the group was broken down to three members each from Kappa Alpha Order and Phi Delta Theta and one independent member. In the past, the Skulls would elect the new Skulls. But now, the Skulls allow students to apply or let others nominate them.

The Skulls’ initial purpose was to strengthen ties among fraternities, but over time, the group has shifted its focus to Westminster’s traditions and ceremonies. In the early days of the college, the Skulls helped lead some ceremonies and parades, but their ceremonial roles were relatively limited. However, a new tradition began after the fire of 1909, which destroyed most of the original Westminster Hall. In the fall of 1927, the Skulls worked with the college to establish the Columns Ceremony, in which incoming students walk through the salvaged columns of the old Westminster Hall, symbolizing entry into their Westminster education.

Another tradition that would form from this ceremony was the observation of freshmen. Because the Skulls were highly revered, they felt that they were obligated to guide first-year students through the beginning months of college. In the old days, the Skulls insisted that students must attend church and classes, wear their uniforms and not walk on the grass. The Skulls were also part of the Honor Commission and handed out punishments to disobedient students.

The Skulls are heavily devoted to the campus grounds. Lamkin believed that it was necessary to keep the Earth secure and, therefore, had the Skulls plant trees all over the campus. In 1998, for the society’s 100th anniversary, the Skulls planted a tree in honor of Lamkin. Rumor is that a time capsule remains buried underneath the tree, to be opened only in 2098. The tree, along with a dedication, can still be found to the left of Lamkin Drive, on the entrance to the Hill.

lamkin-tree

Lamkin’s tree. PHOTO COURTESY OF BENJAMIN MERTENS.

The Skulls have also placed numerous plaques on the various objects of the college. During World War II, new window replacements were needed for Swope Chapel (the school chapel at the time). The Skulls sought donations of five dollars from Westminster students in service and received more than $7,000.

At the end of the war, the Skulls made plaques to represent the names of fallen alumni soldiers and performed a red candle ceremony, as they read of the names of the dead and placed the plaques in the Alumni Center. The WWII plaques can still be read in the Alumni Center; just look for a skull underneath the plaques.

To represent the bonded ties of fraternity, the Skulls had each fraternity crest installed in the stained glass windows. Some of the stained glass is still preserved and can be viewed in the Backer Dining Hall and the Westminster Alumni Center.

The Skulls are also involved in the Alumni Awards Order of the Golden Legion Ceremony, which they established in 1939 to recognize outstanding alumni, and the Skulls of Seven Loyalty Award, which is awarded to a member of the Westminster community for being dedicated to the college and the Fulton community. Last year, the Loyalty Award was given to former Westminster President Barney Forsythe; it was the first time that accolade had been presented since 1930.

After Westminster College became co-ed in 1979, the Skulls changed their membership to include women. Although the first female student was not initiated until 1986, there have since been many female Skulls, including some grand marshals, the leader of the Skulls. The Skulls have also initiated many international students over the years.

Today, the Skulls still help with ceremonies such as the Green Lecture, the Kemper Lecture and lead many other platform parties into Champ Auditorium and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury. The Skulls hold occasional meetings and work with the faculty in order to better the college, and they keep the students of Westminster College in their complete focus. The Skulls are always attempting to promote the welfare of the college by supporting its new students and continuing to help students succeed for the years to come.

Although many students learn about the steps of adulthood and academics on their own, there is no shame in finding support if school becomes difficult. Skulls past and present have had to do some independent learning, but they have also sought aid when needed. So, in the words of the Skulls of Seven, you are not alone. If you are in need, seek us out.

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One comment

  • Isaac, I appreciate your efforts to educate the student body about the history and function of the Skulls; however, I’d like for you and the other Skulls to give a more complete history.

    For example, I think it is important that people realize that this is a self-perpetuating society — the current members select the new initiates, and because of this, many qualified individuals have been overlooked because of their backgrounds. They should also appreciate that it took many years for the “men-only” society to yield to pressure (mostly from faculty) to select a woman and that a number of the Skull’s traditional rituals were halted due to allegations of hazing and racial insensitivity. I am, and I think others, will be interested in the symbolism — why the skull? Why the silence and the “solemn attitude”? And, how does this society connect to other collegiate secret organizations with similar names, e.g., Yale’s “Skulls and Bones”?

    I’m aware that this year’s Skulls are taking a hard look at the society and how it can better serve the College but I also appreciate how difficult it is to make significant changes in a “secret society” that has been around for over 100 years. I urge you to be bold as you move forward and consider dropping the secret nature of the organization.

    Again, I appreciate the effort to be educational and transparent but if you want to be truly transparent, I suggest that you go deeper, much deeper, than what you have provided.

    Dr. Bob Hansen
    Professor Emeritus

    Liked by 2 people

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