The Order of Skull and Bones, once known as The Brotherhood of Death, is a secret society based at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, and is one of the oldest student secret societies in the United States. Skull and Bones has maintained its selective membership and Masonic-inspired rituals since its founding in 1832. The society's alumni organization, which owns its properties and oversees activity, is the Russell Trust Association, named after one of Bones' founding members.
Traditionally, Skull and Bones was male-only, and restricted to wealthy whites. Women and minorities are now present among recent Skull and Bones ranks.
Skull and Bones is notorious for its secrecy. Member George W. Bush described his experience as "so secret we can't talk about it." When asked what it meant that he and Bush were both Bonesmen, former presidential candidate, and current U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry said, "Not much because it's a secret". He was asked about this a second time at the University of Florida Taser incident.
The society inducts only rising seniors during the late junior year prior to their graduation. By reputation, "Bonesmen" tapped the current football and heavyweight rowing captains, as well as notables from the Yale Daily News, Yale Lit, and Yale Political Union before the 1970s. The group's decision, after much dispute, to admit women helped diversify the membership along lines that reflect current undergraduate activity. Numerous undergraduate constituencies are better represented among the recently-tapped membership (as with the other societies) compared to the Skull and Bones "cohorts", or "delegations", that included the 27th, 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States.
There are many other notable members of Skull and Bones throughout history. Bonesman Benjamin Sillman Jr. was the first to produce gasoline, and the first American oil company, Pennsylvania Rock Oil, had connections to the order. Bonesman and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Morrison R. Waite's informal commentary regarding Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company was interpreted as legitimizing corporate personhood. Skull and Bones members played a key role in founding and setting the direction for the Carnegie Institution, the Peabody, Slater, and Russel Sage Foundations, as well as the American Economic Association, the American Historical Association, and the American Psychological Association. The first presidents of the University of California, Johns Hopkins University, and Cornell University were all Bonesmen. On October 22, 1945, Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson created the Lovett Committee, chaired by Bonesman Robert A. Lovett to develop a new U.S. intelligence apparatus. This resulted in the creation of the CIA, which has employed a number of Bonesmen.
Members meet in the Bones "tomb" on Thursday and Sunday evenings of each week over the course of their senior year. As with other Yale societies, the sharing of a personal history is the keystone of the senior year together in the tomb. Reputedly, members are assigned a nickname. For Bones, it is said that these names are associated with Roman mythology, while at Scroll and Key the names are associated with Greek mythology, and with Egyptian mythology at Wolf's Head.
Architectural historian Patrick Pinnell includes an in-depth discussion of the dispute over the identity of the architect in his 1999 history of Yale's campus. Pinnell relates how first the left-side block (1856), then forty-seven years later the right-side block, and ultimately the gothic towers salvaged from A. J. Davis' 1851–53 Alumni Hall on Old Campus were added at the time of the creation of their cloister. The salvage is also mentioned at .
Pinnell speculates whether the re-use of the Davis towers was evidence of an architectural "filial piety" suggesting that Davis did the original building; conversely, Austin was responsible for the atmospherically similar brownstone Egyptian Revival gates, built 1845, of the Grove Street Cemetery, on the opposite side of campus. Also discussed by Pinnell is the tomb's aesthetic place in relation to its neighbors, including the Yale Art Gallery. (p.42, "Yale University" 1999 Princeton Architectural Press ISBN 1568981678 .) Additional data at . New Hampshire landscape architects Saucier & Flynn designed the wrought-iron fence that currently surrounds a portion of the complex in the late 1990s.
Judy Schiff, Chief Archivist at the Yale University Library, has written: "The names of (S&B's) members weren't kept secret, that was an innovation of the 1970s, but its meetings and practices were. The secrecy seems to have attracted fascination and curiosity from the start. The first exposé of Skull and Bones, published in 1871 by Lyman Bagg in his book Four Years at Yale, noted that "the mystery now attending its existence forms the one great enigma which college gossip never tires of discussing." 
At least during some periods, the membership of the organization was not considered a secret. Membership in each class was published, apparently by the organization itself, in the New York Times.
Notwithstanding that resourceful researchers could assemble member data from these original sources, renewed attention may have been paid to leading families in Skull and Bones because in 1985 an anonymous source leaked rosters to a private researcher, Antony C. Sutton, who wrote a book on the group titled America's Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones. This leaked 1985 data was kept privately for over 15 years, as Sutton feared that the photocopied pages could somehow identify the member who leaked it. The information was finally reformatted as an appendix in the book Fleshing out Skull and Bones, a compilation edited by Kris Millegan, published in 2003.
Many influential figures have been in Bones, and influential families have often had multiple members over successive generations, much like other societies at Yale. Bonesmen include U.S. Presidents such as George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and William Howard Taft, Supreme Court Justices, and U.S. business leaders.
Both 2004 Presidential Nominees — Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and now two-term President George W. Bush — were members of Skull and Bones. The nominees were interviewed separately by Meet the Press's Tim Russert. When asked about the organization both declined to give any details.
Bones and the U.S. Intelligence Community
In May, 2007, CIA historians publicly released an article that rebutted inaccurate but enduring beliefs that Skull & Bones was an incubator of the U.S. Intelligence Community. []
The CIA article noted that movies such as The Good Shepherd perpetuated in the public mind the notion that entry into CIA's upper echelons hinged on membership in Bones. Referring to characters depicted in the film, CIA historians pointed out that CIA Counter-Intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton attended Yale, but was not a Bonesman. Richard Bissell (Bay of Pigs) declined the offer of a Tap to join (he was an Elizabethan Club member, although his brother was a Bonesman). Richard Helms (DCI 1966–1973) attended Williams College. Allen W. Dulles (DCI 1953–1961) attended Princeton. MacGeorge Bundy, senior adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and strong advocate for increased intervention in Vietnam was a Bonesman. Recent former CIA Director Porter Goss, Yale '60, was a member of Book and Snake, and Goss and classmate John Negroponte, the first Director of National Intelligence, who was a member of the Elihu secret society, were both in the Fence Club, Yale's name for the Psi Upsilon fraternity.
While Bones may not in actuality have been the cradle for future CIA operatives, or the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the CIA), it is accurate to note that a disproportionate number of Yale graduates have led and staffed the intelligence community; for example, George H.W. Bush, Director of Central Intelligence, January 30 1976–January 20, 1977, was indeed a Bonesman. It is said that Yale also lent the term 'spook' (designating a secret society member) as a colloquial term for anyone in espionage. (For more on Yale graduates' and faculty influences on the formation of the intelligence agencies, see the book Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939–1961 by historian Robin W. Winks.)
Asset Management & Financial Associations
The Russell Trust Association is the corporate parent for the Skull and Bones society.
In 1943, by special act of the Connecticut state legislature, its trustees were granted an exemption from filing corporate reports with the Secretary of State, which is normally a requirement.
From 1978 onward, business of the Russell Trust Association was handled by its single trustee, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. partner John B. Madden, Jr. Madden started with Brown Brothers Harriman in 1946, under senior partner Prescott Bush, George H.W. Bush's father.