And don’t fence me out, for that matter.
Pictured above is Fence Club, one of Yale’s most exclusive, here in all its Old Boys’ Club glory/infamy in 1960. When the club closed in 1973, the Palm Beach Daily News wrote the following, highlighting one of the eternal truths when it comes to exclusivity.
Still going strong on campus are eight to nine secret societies, depending on whether St. Anthony’s is counted as a fraternity or a secret society. Housed in windowless “tombs” and with a total of about 150 members, they are the kind of institutions most students criticize but few turn down if they are tapped because of both the abstract honor and the concrete business entree that membership represents.
The club has been revived in a less exclusive form, and presently thrives. — CC
Cole Porter, Yale ’13, wrote his most popular juke box hit “Don’t Fence Me In” in 1934, the year Fence Club was founded. Maybe he was making a statement. Porter was a DKE.
Incredible coincidence! My first headline was “White Picket Fence”….
Fence Club actually closed in 1976, I think, but was pretty much dead by 1975 when I was a freshman at Yale and rushed membership there. I was a member, if you could call it that, for the last gasping months it was still operating. The clubhouse was in really bad shape then, mostly stripped of its contents and very much the worse for wear. I didn’t bother to pay my dues the following year, when it closed its doors forever. The still-handsome building was soon appropriated by the university and is, I think, now offices.
Fence limped along until 1979 or 1980. I joined in 1977 when a few tried to raise some funding for repairs. I think it stayed open until Horace retired.
Fence was still going strong in 76. Lester Lannen still played at it’s wonderful events and early female coeds loved the opportunity to shed their painters pants in lieu of their Halston gowns and long white mid gloves that their mothers insisted that they would need at Yale.
The billiard tables upstairs still beckoned to those who understood the language of old Yale to take time out of their ruthless academic schedules to play a ruthless game of “ bumper pool.” Perhaps some of the writers above did not understand the beauty Fence club.
It was never intended to be shiny and new… It was always intended to be the quiet land of decorum… A way to slip into the past and time to be away from the present, which was a time of extreme social change.
Just like the old Yale Club of New York, prior to its renovation, its beauty was not being perfect or new… it was the beauty of endurance that had with stood the test of time.
I was one of the first 13 girls placed in a all male dorm my freshman year but I was from a Yale family then that went back to the time of Nathan Hale. There was enough change going on in the streets and inside Yale. We took comfort in the traditions of Fence Club. We loved the bar tenders that loved the place and looked at us as “their children,” not their job.
We did not want shiny and new. We understood the part of Yale that anchored us to the past. A place that was the same as it had been when our fathers and grandfathers had gone there.
It was a place where those could go back to for a moment to remember a time where people knew what a dance card was. It was a place where gentleman knew that rising when a lady enters the room is a sign of respect as is opening a car door an act that is done not because a woman was too weak or feeble to open it, but rather as a way to honor her presence.
I remember Fence fondly as a bastion of chivalry during a time when the world had trouble leaning how to navigate equal opportunity while maintaining institutions that tried to preserve a place where civilized behavior was revered and that was so much more beautiful than a place with all new decor.
It was a place where people knew that “ The Preppy Handbook”
was not a guidebook but rather a playful mocking of oneself by a culture where humility is a sign of strength not incompetence.
Like a good parent… Mother Yale could only give her children wings and roots. Fence club was part of the roots.
In 1944, Don’t Fence Me In was the number one song in the US. Frank Sinatra sang it on the radio show, Your Hit Parade and mumbled the words. Frank, on air, said there were too many words for the arrangement. Frank was fired from the show for his comments.