The Society’s Beginnings
In the late months of 1910, Curtice Rosser conceived of creating a senior society for students at the University of Texas, since no such organization existed at that time. Rosser asked Marion S. Levy to meet with him in his room at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house. Together, Rosser and Levy set forth the founding characteristics of the group, which was to admit four men from the junior and senior classes to be selected not primarily on the basis of scholarship, but on the basis of a significant contribution to the University through activity in the various representative phases of university life. As they included others in their discussions in the early part of 1911, the name and symbol of the Friar was agreed upon, and eight members were admitted to the charter group.
Since these humble beginnings in the spring of 1911, the Friar Society of the University of Texas at Austin has grown into one of the finest “forces for good” in the University and in the state of Texas. The organization and its members have served their university, state, and nation well over the last 90 years as governors, ambassadors, university chancellors, faculty members and presidents, regents, congressmen and -women, judges, and state legislators. Members of the Society have built the University and Texas through well-placed political and societal influence, and through hard work outside their professional fields.
As time progressed, Friars traveled outside the bounds of Texas to serve their fellow humans as public officials in Washington, ambassadors in nations from Bermuda to China, educators in our nation’s universities, and in other capacities.
Wherever a Friar goes, he or she pays heed to the words of the order’s sacred admonition to “be ever studious of conditions, needs, and the trend of the times, and be ever anxious to lend a hand in the social, moral, and intellectual uplift of that society wherein it may be [their] lot to dwell.”
The Goal of the Society
The Constitution drafted by Rosser and Levy for the Friar Society in 1911 states the following as the Society’s purpose: “to associate together leading members of the senior or graduate classes for mutual benefit and cooperation, and to promote the best interests of the University and the student body.” While this simple statement is not very revealing at face value, it is the core of how the members of the Society, both active and alumni, work together for the common good of not only the University (even though this is the focus of the Society’s efforts) but also that of “the society wherein it may be [their] lot to dwell.”
Rituals and Traditions
Since the early months of the Society in 1911, the traditions and meetings of the society, and, most important, the process by which it selects its membership, have been under a cloak of secrecy known only to Society members. This practice is not meant to invoke intrigue, nor is it for the personal satisfaction of the Society’s members.
The Society’s secrecy is necessary to maintain the organization’s integrity, to prevent the “solicitation” of membership for private gain, and to allow the Society to accomplish its ends in the most efficient and productive manner, free from the beck and call of the current political climate.
The portions of the Society’s traditions and processes described in this work are only those necessary to paint an accurate historical picture of the Society’s progress over the last century, and to give the lay reader a factual basis upon which to reflect and formulate his or her own opinion of the Society.
As it turns out, the sacred ritual and traditions of the Society have little to do with the many works for good accomplished by the Society’s members. Perhaps the only impact of these traditions on the tangible collective accomplishments of the Society comes in the selection process. The efficacy of the selection process is crucial for the sustainment of the Society, as the organization is only as good as the finest of the stock of current students at the University.
The active members of the Society go through great pains to seek out and confirm those students who have made significant contributions toward the betterment of the University. It’s important each student have made, while students at the University, a significant contribution to the University of Texas, whether tangible or intangible, one act or many, marked by individual innovation and unusual accomplishment, either in campus activities, the arts, academic scholarship, or any other area related to the University, as this is the common bond between all Friars.
Initial Membership and Growth
Initially, and for the first 37 years of the Society’s existence, four students each from the junior and senior classes were admitted into the society: the seniors (and graduate students, including laws) being admitted in the fall before their graduation, and the juniors being admitted in the spring, contingent upon their continuation to the class of senior at the University the following fall. Only one exception to this rule was ever made, when in the fall of 1925 there were only three returning members of the Society at the University, and five men were selected pursuant to the Society’s preference to maintain a minimum active membership of eight.
With the return of men from World War II, the University of Texas saw dramatic growth, and, accordingly, the active Friars in 1948 saw fit to amend the Society’s Constitution to allow for a maximum of twelve initiates to be selected each year, six each semester. This change was first implemented in the spring of 1949, and the Society, which until this time had remained quite small and obscure, began to grow little by little. It is appropriate to note here that the Society has never had a consistently followed minimum quota — if there were fewer than four or six qualified students at the University, the appropriate number were selected, so as not to sacrifice the integrity and quality of the selection process.
It is not known exactly when the late 1940s procedure was abolished in favor of the current bylaws, in which the class/semester distinction has been replaced by a blanket minimum of 75 semester hours attained before admission would be considered. The numeric maximum has also been removed from the current bylaws, most likely due to the continued growth of the University in the 1960s and 70s. Even though no limit on the number of initiates exists, the actives only rarely have admitted more than twelve students per year.
At the spring 1972 breakfast meeting of the active and alumni Friars, a heated discussion ensued concerning the idea of some active and alumni members to allow women to be admitted into the Society.
At this time, no honorary society at the University was coed, and Dean of Student Life and Friar Arno “Shorty” Nowotny was vehemently opposed to the idea of admitting women Friars. Friars Joe Krier and Sterling Holloway moved that position papers be drafted, and that the issue be finalized at the fall 1972 meeting.
The actives in support of admitting women held out (with one of the strongest supporters of women Friars, Greg Lucia, becoming Abbot in Spring 1973), and on Sunday, March 25, 1973, in Room 143 of Townes Hall at the UT School of Law, they selected the first women Friars, Cathy Alleman, Patti Biggers, Martha Hill, Diana Marshall, Jan Patterson, and Diane Wood. With these six women’s initiation, the Friar Society became the first all-male organization to open its membership to women at UT.
The officers of the Society, established by the 1911 Constitution and maintained to this day, are the Abbot, who is the president of the Society, the Almoner, who serves as the Society’s treasurer, the Scrivener, who serves as the Society’s secretary and carries out other duties as assigned by the Abbot, the Councilor, who serves as the assisting officer to the Abbot regarding all selection processes, and the Summoner, who serves as the Society’s social officer. All officers of the society must be active members and currently enrolled at the University.