Order of Red Friars records, 1913-1971

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Collection is open for research.
More about accessing and using these materials...


Duke University. Order of Red Friars
Contains the records of the Order of Red Friars, a senior men's secret honorary society, founded in 1913 at Trinity College (now Duke University). Types of materials include minutes, a constitution, policy and procedure statements, history statement, rituals, correspondence, financial records, invitations, photographs, membership and alumni lists and cards, newspaper clippings, reports, stationery, initiation plans, and descriptions of projects. There is one artifact, a "Featherweight Pocket Seal" (with accompanying leather case) which bears the Red Friars' seal. Major subjects include secret societies, honorary societies, student life at Duke University, male students, student government, initiation, social activities of students, the honor code, student participation in Duke University administration, and student activities during World War II. Some people associated with the Order of Red Friars include Rex Adams, Arthur Hollis Edens, Herbert J. Herring, Furman McLarty, Raymond Nasher, Richard M. Nixon, and William H. Wannamaker. Materials date from 1913 to 1971.
2 Linear Feet
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
31 -- Student/Campus Life
31 -- Student/Campus Life > 03 -- Student Organizations-Honorary and Recognition


Scope and content:

Contains the records of the Order of Red Friars, a senior men's secret honorary society at Duke University, founded in 1913. Constitutions, policies, correspondence, tapping ceremony materials, and minutes outline the influential activities of the Red Friars from about 1913-1971. Materials are ordered by subject; some gaps occur between 1943 and 1948 due to World War II. An index of members is also included.

Biographical / historical:

The Order of Red Friars was a secret men's honorary founded in 1913 by members of the senior class at Trinity College (now Duke University). The Red Friars' mission was to promote social spirit at Trinity College; later groups declared their purpose was to foster loyalty and interest in the university through anonymous service in student organizations. Officers consisted of Grand Friar (President), Worthy Friar (Vice President), Grand Recorder (of minutes), Grand Treasurer (Treasurer), Grand Communicator (conducted correspondence), Grand Keeper of the Gate (guarded door at meetings), and Grand Herald (notified members of meetings).

Each year's group consisted of seven men, the Septemvirate, chosen by the previous year's leaders, based on their character, scholarship, qualities and potential of leadership, and outstanding service to the university. Tapping ceremonies were held in late spring, and grew more elaborate over the years. In its final and most traditional form, a red hooded figure publicly tapped new men to membership on the steps of Duke Chapel. This ceremony, the wearing of red carnations once a month, and the ringing of "Charley" the Friars' bell, were the only public notices given to the organization. All activities and projects were kept secret. Two projects conducted completely by Friars were the creation of the plaque of Duke University's aims and the plans for the construction on West Campus of a Red Friars' monastery.

Members of Red Friars held leadership positions in Omicron Delta Kappa, Young Men's Christian Association, Inter-Fraternity Council, the Judicial Board, Freshman Advisory Council, Men's Student Government Association, Associated Student Government of Duke University, class offices, athletics, the Chanticleer, the Chronicle, the Men's Glee Club, and fraternities. Members had been involved in student government and social activities since their arrival on campus, and by their senior year, became part of this special group of leaders on campus.

Achievements of Red Friars were aimed at improvement of student life and the development of loyalty to the university. Because the Friars were also leaders of student government and social life, many ideas conceived in Friars' secret meetings later were brought to life without the campus being aware of their origins. Other schemes not conceived of by Friars were successful because of the motivation of support by Friars in their various positions of campus leadership. Examples of both are the Wartime Student Activities Board, Joe College Weekends, reorganization of fraternity and rush rules, agitation for change in the housing system, course and professor evaluations, elimination of Duke and Duchess, improvement of student-faculty relationships, and pep rally planning.

The Friars were very important to the President and Deans of the university both as a means of discovering and influencing student opinion; they were often were privy to information that was not widely known on campus. These relationships were reinforced by the fact that many faculty, administrators, and Board of Trustees members were Friars or had been given an honorary membership. The Friars had up to three honorary members at any given time, composed of upper level administration and faculty members. Honorary members included William Preston Few, William H. Wannamaker, Robert L. Flowers, James Cannon, George Allen, Herbert Herring, James Truesdale, Coach Wallace Wade, Everett Weatherspoon, Alan Manchester, Furman McLarty, Ted Minah, Arthur Hollis Edens, William Griffith, Thomas Southgate, Marshall Pickens, and Raymond Nasher. The Friars held meetings with members of the faculty and administration to discuss campus situations and plans for action. Opinions of both university and student leaders on issues such as wartime regulations, integration, drinking rules, fraternity regulation, housing problems, and the honor system are contained within these discussions.

The Friars suspended its activities during World War II due to constant fluctuation in the student body that made it difficult to choose students who would be in attendance for a full school year. Friars' activities were suspended at the close of the 1942-1943 school year and an alumni committee formed to reestablish the order post-war. The Friars were restored with the graduating class of 1949.

Red Friars voluntarily disbanded in 1971, after failing to tap new members in 1970. Throughout the 1960s, the order increasingly faced charges of elitism and had difficulty selecting members who would accept membership. In 1971, after a meeting of Friar alumni, the order was discontinued as it was considered to have outlived its usefulness for the university and the student body.

Acquisition information:
Acquired by transfers and gifts, 1970-1997.
Processing information:

Processed by Emily J. Glenn

Completed February 18, 2003

Encoded by Emily J. Glenn, March 18, 2003

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Order of Red Friars Records, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.