Saint Patrick’s Day used to be quite the day of fun and play on the Smith College campus thanks to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Founded in 1890, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (A.O.H.) was a secret society of students devoted to “the maintenance of devilish wit and the promotion of hellish spirit in the college.”
It was a spoof of the real Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal order of Irish Catholics. The main event of A.O.H. was its annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Members would dress up in costumes and parade around campus making noise and celebrating Saint Patrick, the patron saint of A.O.H.
The main qualification for membership in A.O.H. was a sense of humor. Each year the group was comprised of 48 members, 12 members from each class except first years, with new members joining in the fall of each year. The initiation of students into A.O.H. varied. In 1901, Katherine Berry, Class of 1902, wrote about the initiation of four students:
“Their initiation in part was to prove that they descend from his saintship [Saint Patrick]. So the girls painted a picture of him — Stuck it at the top of a ladder, then climbed down it, illustrating their “direct descent”! Quite clever, wasn’t it?”
Eleanor Little, Class of 1907, wrote to her mother about initiation into A.O.H. in 1906:
“Now to-day all the newly initiated members have to act as the servants of the old members and be at their beck and call all day. It is very funny to see grave Seniors helping Sophomores in their various duties. Yesterday morning all the new members had to go to the Bulletin Board Room, kneel before a committee of the old members and take the oath of the society. Naturally it was rather amusing to onlookers.”
Members were given special names and sworn into A.O.H. by saying “I swear eternal hatred to the Orange and everlastin’ loyalty to the Green, so help me St. Pat.” The Orangemen, also known as O.O., were the rival secret society of the A.O.H. The Orangemen were a spoof of the Protestant fraternal organization. Little, in her letter home also noted on this rivalry:
“Rebecca is furious because she is an Orangeman and her room-mate has just been taken into the A.O.H.”
The groups vied against one another for members and attempted to steal each others sacred book. The Archives does not have any of the Orangemen sacred books, but we do have one of the A.O.H. from 1938-1966. It shows that in 1938 and in 1944, the Orangemen were successful in nabbing the book. It has “Orangemen” in orange paint written throughout and insults about A.O.H. members such as:
“Stinko, Odorono Putrido, Retcho, Leuchorio, Belcho- to the A.O.H.O., and may all your children have acne”!
In addition to the rivalry with the Orangemen and their annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade, A.O.H. gave different performances over the years. In 1896, a mock wedding was held.
On June 10, 1898, Fanny Garrison, Class of 1901, wrote about the A.O.H. appearing at a tennis tournament:
“A good many were attracted by one of the entries. “Misses O’Brien and Murphy, A.O.H.” Now there are no such girls and besides “A.O.H.” has a fascination…it is advising the members to be on hand at 2, to applaud the “illigant playing of the Misses O’Brien and Murphy.” And at two they did appear with their green badges and green everywhere. Nor was their Irish brogue wanting. But the players themselves were the gem of the occasion. One…had on a green shirt-waist and a short stiff duck-skirt which stuck out beautifully. [The other] was in white with a plentiful supply of green ribbons to produce the desired effect. Both had green ribbons on their hair, green bows on their racquets, and to crown all, – hanging at their sides by green ribbons were palm-leaf fans! While they were waiting for the balls, they would calmly fan themselves and talk Irish to each other, while the members of the club looked on approvingly and shouted advice to them…”
Despite the good times of the A.O.H., President Herbert Davis abolished all secret societies in 1948. While official activities ended, the A.O.H. sacred book shows that activities continued until the mid-1960s.
If you’re interested in learning more about the A.O.H. or their rival secret society the Orangemen, come by the Archives!