Throughout its history, Duke University has hosted several secret societies. The Tombs is a now defunct society founded in 1903 whose members were known to tie bells around their ankles. Details regarding its purpose, selection of members and the importance of the bells are still unknown.
Two of the most well-known societies were the Order of the Red Friars and the Order of the White Duchy. Order of the Red Friars was founded in 1913 with an initial purpose to promote school spirit. Later, the group declared a change of mission to focus more on fostering loyalty to Duke University. The Order, as it was colloquially-known, was semi-secret. This is because the selection of new members, known as tapping, was held on the steps of the Duke Chapel in broad daylight. As the years went on, the rites of tapping became more elaborate; in the final and most traditional form of the rite, a red-hooded and robed figure publicly tapped new men into membership on the steps of the chapel. Some notable members of the Order were President Richard M. Nixon, William P. Few, and Rex Adams.
The Order of the White Duchy was founded in May 1925 by the Order of the Red Friars. The Red Friars chose what they considered the seven outstanding female members of the Class of 1925 to organize a similar organization, although it was not to be a sister organization. From 1925 on, new members were tapped into the order by the seven members of the White Duchy from the previous year. Members were known by the white carnation they wore on specific days of the year.
Throughout the 1960s, the both societies faced charges of elitism and struggled to tap students at an increasingly hostile university. In 1968, the White Duchy disbanded and in 1971, the Order of the Red Friars was disbanded by alumni who determined that the group had outlived its usefulness. However, rumors surrounding its continued, albeit modified, form exist today. Two current secret societies - the Trident Society and the Old Trinity Club - are both thought to have been founded in the wake of the disbanding of the Order of the Red Friars. The Old Trinity Club is rumored to have started when an Editor-in-Chief of the Duke Chronicle was passed up for membership and decided to create his own, rival society.
The Old Trinity Club is the most visible society on campus today, as its members are seen walking around campus wearing black graduation gowns and sunglasses on certain days of the year. They follow a set pattern, holding their arms in symbols in the air and routinely stopping and shouting "Eruditio et Religio." A November 2007 edition of Rival Magazine quoted Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Sue Wasiolek T'76, claiming that "the Old Trinity Club has died, or at least in terms of its original manifestation. The way it manifests today is very different than when it was at its finest." It is said that students do not take the society seriously, viewing it more as a social fraternity than a secret society.
The Trident Society is an undergraduate secret society at Duke which is rumored to have inherited the mission of the Order of the Red Friars. Only recently has it come to light that "TS" stands for "Trident Society." The society keeps strict silence, except for two instances in which its activity came to be known. The first involved a November 2007 edition of the Rival Magazine which explained the group's philosophy. According to a "cryptic letter sealed with wax," the society is "rooted in ideals that stretch back to the university's founding." The letter continued:
"Our founders recognized that similar institutions existed at other top universities (Skull and Bones at Yale, The Sevens at UVA, Quill and Dagger at Cornell) and saw a void to fill Duke"
As such, its members are not typically public about their membership in the society. They "do not join to gain fame" or recognition. Members are or were Rhodes Scholars, Truman Scholars, commencement speakers, players for Coach Krzyzweski, Phi Beta Kappas, A.B. & B.N. Duke Scholars, and leaders of the most influential groups on campus. The secrecy around this group drove Samantha Lachman to investigate the society in 2013. Her subsequent article, "Trasked with Secrecy," revealed some information about the group. She discovered the names of several prominent members, that the red roses and white carnations sometimes found at the base of the James B. Duke statue on West Campus are their calling card, and even that they have uninhibited access to the Duke University Chapel for Initiation Rites.