Tracy Woolever '81 asks Abe: "Other schools have their not-so-secret secret societies. Does the UW have any secret societies? I know if we knew about them they would not be secret."
You make a very good point, Tracy. Even Honest Abe isn't privy to information about truly secret societies on campus. The definition of a secret society is generally agreed upon as one that is exclusive, shares special secrets only with members, includes rituals that others are not allowed to observe and does not disclose guidelines for membership or acceptance.
Wisconsin's oldest and most exclusive society is the Iron Cross. Founded in 1902, the society once maintained strict secrecy and only extended membership to senior men. Now more well-known and welcoming of both women and juniors, the Iron Cross Society is considered by some as the highest honor an undergraduate can receive. Faculty, staff or student groups must nominate members, however, the specific selection process is unknown.
The group "exists to recognize UW-Madison juniors and seniors who have improved the campus community through their past leadership and service, and to bring those outstanding students together as a single and diverse group that works to further improve the university." In the early years, after being asked by the university president, members turned a failing YMCA into the second student union in the United States. Founding the Memorial Union in 1907 is the society's most notable contribution to UW-Madison.
The Iron Cross Society has several traditions. After induction, new members sign their name to a book where every previous member has signed before them. The oldest member is then in charge of safeguarding the book and assembling the first meeting. The tallest member has the honor of bearing the iron cross, the group's symbol of "strength without ostentation."
Despite its undercover beginnings, the Iron Cross Society now keeps a Web site