Hats Off!

Dickinson hat societies

A collection of hats provided by the Dickinson College Archives. Photo by Carl Socolow ’77.

by John Heath ’71 (Skull and Key)

Each spring at Dickinson brings members of the community together for a series of distinctive “tapping” ceremonies, during which new members are inducted into the college’s honorary societies—known as “hat societies” due to their distinguishing white, blue and gray hats—Raven’s Claw, Wheel and Chain and the Order of Scroll and Key. An additional society, Skull and Key (designated by black hats) is no longer active on campus but has an active alumni association.

The hat societies are steeped in tradition and, occasionally, secrecy. New members of the three groups are selected each year primarily on the basis of academics and campus leadership, and these students, though small in numbers, make significant contributions to the college and local community. Alumni remain steadfastly dedicated to their societies, often returning to campus for tappings, mentoring new members, celebrating society milestones, giving back to the college through special scholarship funds and maintaining strong connections with their hat-mates.

From interviews with more than a dozen hat society alumni members from several decades and some archival research, here is a glimpse into this distinctively Dickinson tradition. (And view additional web-exclusive content below the original print content.)

Raven’s Claw (White Hats)

raven's Claw


Founded in 1896, Raven’s Claw is Dickinson’s oldest men’s honorary society that, each year, taps seven rising seniors for membership. Through their involvement with the society, members provide positive leadership on campus, become involved in service projects and participate in alumni networking events.

A historical ledger stored in the college’s Archives & Special Collections contains the signature of every member dating back to the founders. The names of many White Hats grace campus buildings, such as Boyd Lee Spahr, class of 1900, and Robert M. Waidner ’32, of the Waidner-Spahr Library. John “Jack” R. Stafford ’59 and his wife, Inge Paul Stafford ’58 (Wheel and Chain), helped transform the college through Inge’s service on the Board of Trustees and their financial generosity, including a scholarship, an endowed chair in bioinformatics, a teaching laboratory in Dana Hall, the Stafford Reading Room in the library and the Stafford Greenhouse for Teaching and Research. 

In the 1990s, Raven’s Claw members founded two generous funds, the Raven’s Claw Scholarship, which bestows an annual award on a rising male or female senior with demonstrated academic achievement and campus leadership (read more at dson.co/rcscholarship), and the McAndrew’s Fund for Athletics, which supports Dickinson’s athletics programs in myriad ways. 

“The selection process for the next group is one of the primary tasks of the current group. Each senior group devotes lots of time and energy to this process. Each group tries to leave it better than you found it and hope to continue the tradition by selecting a motivated and thoughtful group to carry on the following year.” –Dave Webster ’88 (Raven's Claw)

Wheel and Chain (Blue Hats)

Wheel and Chain


Founded in 1924, Wheel and Chain, the women’s society known as the Blue Hats, inducts 10 new members from the rising senior class each year, chosen by the previous year’s inductees. Their tapping takes place on Old West’s old stone steps, and the new class rings the bell in Denny Hall during Commencement ceremonies. 

A very diverse group, the Blue Hats are selected for displaying leadership and character in campus activities and for service to the college and community. Members originally hosted a tea for incoming students and their parents, participated in first-year orientation and served as ushers at campus events. In 1965, they began tapping honorary members, starting with Dean of Women Barbara Wishmeyer. Since then more than 100 honorary members (faculty, administrators and alumnae) have joined Wheel and Chain. 

Notable members of Wheel and Chain include Ann Conser Curley ’63, a journalist and former president of Dickinson’s Alumni Council who co-established multiple faculty chairs at Dickinson (along with husband John Curley ’60); Louise Hauer Greenberg ’54, trustee emerita who led a long career combining research and music; and Barb Stauch Slusher ’86, P’16,  director of the NeuroTranslational Drug Discovery Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Brain Science Institute and a professor of neurology, medicine, psychiatry and neuroscience at Hopkins’ School of Medicine.

For its 75th anniversary in 1998, the group endowed the Wheel and Chain Leadership Award, which is a scholarship given annually to an outstanding rising junior who maintains a high GPA and demonstrates the characteristics of a great leader.

Fun fact: The Blue Hats weren’t always blue—during the World War II era, blue dye was considered essential to the war effort, so several iterations of the hats were produced in gray. 

“The people in Wheel and Chain were accomplished Dickinsonian senior women who had given a lot of themselves to the school during their time on campus. And there were some members who were faculty and administration too. Impressive!” —Carol Graebner '75 (Wheel and Chain)

Skull and Key (Black Hats)

Skull and Key


Skull and Key was a junior men’s honorary society established in 1908 to help foster communication between fraternities and the college community and to promote campus customs and spirit. (The Black Hats pre-dated the InterFraternity Council, which is responsible for continuing to foster these relationships.) There was one member from each fraternity, and they had specific tasks including organizing first-year orientation, supervising rush activities and escorting female students to school dances. Tapped during the spring, they also chose an outstanding first-year male student.

Because Skull and Key was a junior organization, members were eligible to join Raven’s Claw in their senior year, and well over 100 Dickinsonians hold the distinction of representing both groups, including Mr. Dickinson himself, Ben James ’34.

In the 1960s, after most of its official duties were reassigned to the InterFraternity Council, the group maintained more of a social presence while still contributing to fraternity events. The Black Hats experienced some disciplinary issues in the ’70s, and the group was suspended and then officially disbanded in the fall of 1983.  

In 2001, Black Hat alumni formed the Skull and Key Alumni Club to rebuild the society’s connection to the college. A commemorative plaque was unveiled along Dickinson Walk, and the Skull and Key Scholarship, which is awarded to a rising junior student based on leadership, service and campus involvement, was announced. There was also a 100th anniversary reunion dinner, and there is a festive gathering each year at Alumni Weekend. Black Hat members retain their enduring bond of fellowship and still enjoy regional get-togethers. They also maintain a website with a comprehensive overview of their history featuring Microcosm pictures and Dickinsonian articles at skullandkey.org. 

“Being tapped to become a Black Hat was a real honor since it sort of cut across the fraternity lines at a time when Dickinson’s men’s fraternities provided most of the social life on campus. Individual Black Hats had a range of profiles but becoming one added a social dimension new to most members and it became a fun way to take a break from academic, sports and other activities. It also instilled a pride in Dickinson traditions.”  —Al Miller ’63 (Skull and Key)

The Order of Scroll and Key (Gray Hats)

The Order of Scroll and key


The Order of Scroll and Key was established in fall 2001 to restore a third hat society (in place of Skull and Key, which was disbanded in 1983) with a mission of diversity and dedication to philanthropy and volunteerism in the Dickinson and Carlisle communities. Its membership includes fraternity presidents, college advisors and community-service leaders. Additionally, the Gray Hats (also known as the Scrollmen) followed the example set by Wheel and Chain and chose honorary members, including well-regarded faculty members and administrators. 

Alumni of the Order of Scroll and Key are making their presence felt in critical ways, from federal service to international business and finance to notable philanthropic efforts, while remaining committed to their organization’s founding principle (and the motto of John Dickinson himself) that in all of their endeavors, they have a lifelong requirement “to be rather than to seem.”

“Despite the passage of time, Scroll and Key remains today the same group which at our founding made no distinction regarding race, orientation, affiliation, legacy or creed. We care collectively today, as we did then about one thing—a notion complex in its simplicity—that the men who wear this hat, who carry our key, will act in their quietest most private moments with humanity and humility. That they, when no one else is looking, will reach out a hand to their brothers and sisters in need and in so doing share a light of kindness that is so often lost in this world.” —Chris Roberts ’02 (Scroll and Key)

Queer Caps

Queer Caps


In 2008, the Queer Caps were established to encourage visibility of queer activists on campus. At the time, many students felt there wasn’t enough visibility of, and recognition for, the value of queer programming. The founders described the students selected as individuals who advocated for queer rights and consistently worked to make positive change. Each spring, new members are tapped during a ceremony on Old West’s old stone steps, and members don distinctive rainbow-colored hats.

“I would not be able to take part in this organization or be able to do all that I've done on campus without the work and activism of the Queer Caps and those that came before me. And I am very confident in the next group that has been inducted. I can't wait to see what they'll do with the organization, and it is so comforting to know that my legacy is in capable hands.” —Liam Fuller ’17 (Queer Caps)

Making Their Mark

Members of Dickinson's hat societies have made a major impact, on campus and off. the following lists provide some example of the connections they've established, their lingering presence on campus, their family connections and beyond. We know this list does not capture everything! Email dsonmag@dickinson.edu if you have something to add.

Dickinson Employee Hats

  • Dickinson President from 1961-75 Howard Rubendall ’31 (Skull and Key)
  • Coaches Wilbur “Goby” Gobrecht ’52 and Dave Webster ’88 (Raven’s Claw)
  • Director of Admissions Communications Angie Fernandez Barone ’90 (Wheel and Chain)
  • Former vice presidents George Shuman ’37 and Annette Smith Parker ’73 (Raven’s Claw and Wheel and Chain)
  • Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College in the Office of the President Karen Neely Faryniak ’86 (Wheel and Chain Honorary Member)
  • Dickinson President from 1959-61 Gilbert “Red” Malcolm, class of 1915 (Skull and Key)
  • Psychology professor, Director of Admissions and “Mr. Dickinson” Benjamin D. James ’34 (Raven’s Claw and Skull and Key)
  • Dean of Admissions Catherine McDonald Davenport '87 (Wheel and Chain)
  • Electronic Resources & Web Services Librarian Jessica Howard '01 (Wheel and Chain)
  • Assistant Professor of English Sarah Kersh (honorary Queer Cap)
  • Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jeff Engelhardt (honorary Queer Cap)
  • Professor of Political Science Doug Edlin (honorary Scroll and Key)
  • Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Shalom Staub (honorary Scroll and Key)
  • Assistant Director of the McAndrews Fund Chris Cox '15 (Raven's Claw)
  • Assistant Men's Lacrosse Coach Tyler White '15 (Raven's Claw)

Hats in Carlisle

  • Elaine Livas ’83 (Wheel and Chain) started Project SHARE in 1985 to collect and distribute food to over 800 Cumberland County families.
  • John Allen ’11 (Scroll and Key) created Sweaters and Sustenance, a nonprofit that provides clothing and food to the homeless in Washington DC, Boston and Carlisle.

Noteworthy Hats

  • Phil Capice ’52 (Skull and Key and Raven’s Claw) - former president of Lorimar Productions, executive producer of Dallas and Eight Is Enough and founder of Raven’s Claw production company
  • Jane Alexander ’51 (Wheel and Chain) - first woman to hold the position of Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
  • Larry Hugick ’75 (Skull and Key) - nationally recognized expert in public opinion, Chairman of Princeton Survey Research Associates, NBC/CNN Election Analyst and member of the Pew Charitable Trust
  • Richard H. Ellis ’41 (Skull and Key) - Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Air Force General
  • James Gerlach ’77, former Pennsylvania congressman and current president and chief executive officer of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (Raven’s Claw)
  • Ann Conser Curley ’63, a journalist and former president of Dickinson's Alumni Council who co-established (along with husband John Curley ’60) multiple faculty chairs at Dickinson (Wheel and Chain)

Family Hat Connections

  • Dick ’61 and Dean ’83 Trevlyn (father and son, both Skull and Key and Raven’s Claw)
  • Allen ’67 and Bryan ’04 MacPhail (father and son, Raven’s Claw and Scroll and Key)
  • Judge John Jones III ’77 and John Jones IV ’11 (father and son, Raven’s Claw and Scroll and Key)
  • William Betts ’49 and Michael Betts ’77 (father and son, Skull and Key)
  • Jim Hopkins ’49, Joe ’51 Hopkins (Raven’s Claw) and Tom Chew ’50 (brothers and stepbrother, all Skull and Key)
  • Peter Sandmann ’62 and Jeff Sandmann ’66 (brothers, Skull and Key)

Hat Marriages

  • Tony Rogers ’65 (Skull and Key and Raven’s Claw) and Judy Elders Roger ’66 (Wheel and Chain)
  • Tim Crouch ’09 (Scroll and Key) and Anna Marks Crouch ’09 (Wheel and Chain)
  • Jack Stafford  '59 (Raven’s Claw/Skull and Key) and Inge Paul Stafford '58 (Wheel and Chain)
  • Al Miller '63 and Pamela Searles Miller '65 (Skull and Key and Wheel and Chain)
  • Annette Smith Parker '73 (Wheel and Chain) and Stephen Parker '72 (Raven's Claw)
  • John Slike '51 (Skull and Key) and Loma Rein Slike '53 (Wheel and Chain)

Wearing Many Hats

  • Members have served on the Board of Trustees and on the Alumni Council and Board of Advisors.
  • Half of all recipients of the Walter E. Beach Distinguished Alumni Award for Service are from the original three groups (Walter E. Beach ’56 was a Skull and Key member himself) and there are also several recipients of the Award for Professional Achievement and Young Alumni Award.
  • The original three groups all have multiple members in the Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Campus buildings have been named after several Hat Society members: Dr. Inge P. Stafford Greenhouse for Teaching and Research (Wheel and Chain); Witwer Hall (Sam Witwer ’30, Skull and Key and Raven’s Claw); The Benjamin D. James Center, now James Hall in the Rector Science Complex (Raven’s Claw and Skull and Key); Waidner-Spahr Library (Robert Waidner ’32, Raven’s Claw); Malcolm Hall (Gilbert Malcolm, class of 1915, Skull and Key); Bosler Hall (Abram Bosler Raven’s Claw).

Scholarships Funded By/Named for Hat Members

  • W.E. Beach ’56 Scholarship (Skull and Key)
  • John and Judy Bierly Endowed Scholarship (Raven’s Claw and Skull and Key)
  • John Milton Davidson ’33 Scholarship (Raven’s Claw)
  • Barbara and Sidney Kline Scholarship (Skull and Key)
  • Albert and Pamela Searles Miller Endowed Scholarship (Skull and Key and Wheel and Chain)
  • Stafford Scholarship for Bioinformatics – Jack and Inge (Skull and Key/Raven’s Claw and Wheel and Chain)
  • Stafford Scholarship for Psychology and Neuroscience (Skull and Key/Raven’s Claw and Wheel and Chain)
  • Ann Curley Williamsport High School Scholarship (Wheel and Chain)
  • The Benjamin D. James Scholarship Fund (Skull and Key and Raven’s Claw)
  • Howard L. Rubendall Senior Presidential Scholarship (Skull and Key)
  • Howard L. Rubendall Freshman Scholarship (Skull and Key)
  • George Shuman Scholarship (Raven’s Claw)
  • Dean Mary Frances Carson Scholarship (honorary Wheel and Chain)
  • Philip C. Capice Scholarship (Skull and Key and Raven’s Claw)
  • Harry C. Zug ’34 Family Scholarship (Skull and Key)
  • Thomas V. Zug ’33 Family Scholarship (Skull and Key)
  • The David W. Webster ’88 Dickinson College Men’s Lacrosse Endowed Fund (Raven’s Claw)


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Published July 7, 2017