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Admission to Cap and Skull is dependent on excellence in academics, athletics, the arts, and public service. Leadership as well as character are also considered crucial factors for membership. Using these criteria, only 18 new members, or less than one-half of one percent of a Rutgers College class, are selected each year.
On January 18, 1900, 10 members of the Senior Class of Rutgers College assembled in the Chi Psi Lodge on College Avenue and began to define what would become the greatest honor that a Rutgers student could aspire to. Drawing inspiration from Skull and Bones and Quill and Dagger, Yale and Cornell's Senior Class Honor Society, Cap and Skull sought to identify and bring together the top leaders of the Rutgers College senior class.
That night, the 10 founders drew up a Cap and Skull constitution and adopted a code of secrecy and the motto, Spectemur agendo, let us be judged by our actions; for it was a student's deeds and leadership that afforded him to be selected for Cap and Skull. To ensure that the group would remain highly selective, selection of a new member required a unanimous vote of the current members and, as a result, over the first two decades of the Society, few students - no more than eight men in any of these years - became Cap and Skull members.
First World War
The 1920s found the College recovering from the First World War, and the Skulls began to reexamine their selection criteria to increase membership. Under the new system, each leadership position and honor on campus was awarded a points value, and students with the highest cumulative value were selected for induction into Cap and Skull. In 1923, in response to the growing student body, the number of members to be tapped each year was fixed at 12 and a tri-fold criteria for selection was established, still in use today: first - activities, athletic and campus; second - scholarship, and third - character and service to Rutgers. The Society's skull-emblazoned caps were first donned in 1924, and are still worn today, in honor of Cap and Skull's history, spirit, and tradition.
Second World War
With the onset of World War II, many of the best and brightest members of the Rutgers community put aside college careers and activities to serve in the military. Only ten members were selected in 1944, and no one was tapped in 1945. Many would be drafted before they could graduate. In October 1945, members of the administration who were also Cap and Skull members were asked to make nominations for the Class of 1946. Though the Society had taken a brief hiatus, the student body had not forgotten the honor of induction into the group: upon reporting the December tapping of four new members, The Daily Targum noted, "Election to Cap and Skull is the highest honorary distinction a Rutgers undergraduate can achieve." Cap and Skull resumed the traditional 12-member selection in 1948. Many of these WWII veterans, who had seen active duty, believed this to be the apex of their college careers.
In the years following the war, the prestige of being tapped for Cap and Skull increased; a growing student body and a fixed selection number of 12 meant that a smaller and smaller percentage of the class received the honor.
On January 31, 1950, an all-day gala celebration was held in honor of Cap and Skull's Golden Anniversary - the first of the 10-year reunions that are still held today. The Golden Anniversary celebrated the 440 men selected as members of the Society during those first 50 years.
Demise and rebirth
Through the 1960s, sweeping social changes occurred. Organizations such as Cap and Skull, by nature selective, and thus ultimately exclusive to most, came under scrutiny. In 1969, Cap and Skull graduated its last class; a victim of the era.
Though Cap and Skull ended in 1969, the alumni of Cap and Skull retained their close ties and the underlying need for the organization remained, even during the dormant years. During 1981, Rutgers College students again discussed the need for an organization or honor that would recognize leadership contributions made by members of the senior class. Although there were honors for athletics and academics, the efforts of others were going largely unrecognized. Dean Howard Crosby, a Cap and Skull member who had remained with the University almost continuously since his graduation forty years earlier, described what he knew the solution to be. Thus, Cap and Skull re-emerged in 1982, and a reunion was held to celebrate the tapping of new members and the Society's rebirth.
Today, Cap and Skull represents many of the diverse organizations on campus and is now composed of undergraduate students from any of the Universities reorganized schools. Formerly only members of Rutgers College (which had become co-educational in 1972) and Rutgers College affiliates from the School of Pharmacy, Engineering, and Mason Gross School of the Arts were tapped.
In November 1990, the Cap and Skull Room, located in the Rutgers College Student Center, was formally dedicated, solidifying Cap and Skull's physical presence on campus. The exquisitely appointed room features old photographs and several display cases filled with Cap and Skull memorabilia. Student organizations using the room for their meetings are inspired by its contents and reflect on the rich tradition of Rutgers College, and Cap and Skull.
In 2000, the 100th anniversary of Cap and Skull, a large gala event was held and members donated a large endowment for an annual scholarship to Rutgers students. Also in connection with the centennial, a web site was launched and author William B. Brahms, a society member compiled a detailed history with full biographies of all inducted members of the first 100 years. It was privately printed by the Society, but is available at the Rutgers University Special Collections and Archives. The history presented here is from Brahms' research.
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