Skull and Bones is an undergraduate senior or secret society at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. It is the oldest senior class “landed society” at Yale.
The society’s alumni organization, which owns the society’s real property and oversees the organization, is the Russell Trust Association, named for William Huntington Russell, who co-founded Skull and Bones with classmate Alphonso Taft. The Russell Trust was founded by Russell and Daniel Coit Gilman, member of Skull and Bones and later president of the University of California, first president of Johns Hopkins University, and the founding president of the Carnegie Institution.
The society is known informally as “Bones”, and members are known as “Bonesmen”.
Among prominent alumni are former President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft (son of a founder of the society); former Presidents George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush; Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart; James Jesus Angleton, “mother of the Central Intelligence Agency”; Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War (1940-1945); and United States Secretary of Defense, Robert A. Lovett, who directed the Korean War.
Senator John Kerry; Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone; Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers; Harold Stanley, co-founder of Morgan Stanley; and Frederick W. Smith, founder of Fedex, are all reported to be members.
Skull & Bones is a regular feature in many conspiracy theories, which claim that the society plays a role in a global conspiracy for world domination. It is true that some prominent families had one or more members as Bonesmen. The theorists such as Alexandra Robbins suggest that Skull & Bones is a branch of the Illuminati, or that Skull & Bones itself controls the Central Intelligence Agency. Others who have written about Skull & Bones were economist Antony C. Sutton, who wrote a book on the group titled America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones. and Kris Millegan, who wrote a book on the society in 2003.
Skull and Bones has been satirized from time to time in the Doonesbury comic strips by Garry Trudeau, Yale graduate and member of Scroll and Key; especially in 1980 and December 1988, with reference to George H. W. Bush, and again at the time that the society went co-ed.
In The Simpsons, the character Montgomery Burns attended Yale and was a member of Skull and Bones.