The University of Virginia has many rich traditions, one of which is the predominance of its secret societies in campus life – a fact easily confirmed by viewing the symbols of the various societies painted in white on buildings throughout the grounds. The most famous of the University’s secret societies is ironically enough one of the most secretive: the Secret Seven Society.
The publicly known history of the Sevens dates back to 1905, when the first white 7 was painted on campus. The group’s membership is secret, and members never reveal their affiliation until their death. At that time, a black wreath in the shape of a seven appears on the passing member’s grave, the university newspaper prints an obituary listing the deceased as a member, and the chapel bell rings seven times on the seventh dissonant chord at seven second intervals.
Before death, the Sevens make themselves known only through their anonymous charitable deeds, many of which involve donations or awards. Such gifts are always made in amounts involving the number seven. For instance, a gift to a campus arts group arrived in the mail, in the amount of $1,777.77.
The Sevens typically work through anonymous letters and carefully chosen agents. It is not unusual for the Sevens to leave a letter on a student’s door, with a check and instructions to buy some white paint and re-paint the society’s marks around campus. In one very public instance, the Sevens delivered a gift to the University at a commencement ceremony. One graduation speaker was instructed to read a note, asking the seventh graduate in the seventh row to check under his chair. Underneath was a check – all sevens, of course – for the University’s scholarship fund. In another episode, the society chose seven residential advisors who had been particularly supportive of a campus renovation project. Each of the seven received a letter instructing them to show up to an elegant restaurant at 7:00p.m. on the 7th of the month. When they all arrived, the waiter delivered a letter from the Sevens which said, that as thanks for their work on campus, the society had picked up the tab for dinner.
While the membership and workings of the society remain a mystery, their work in promoting the interests of the University has largely won them good will from the community. Their success has also spawned many competing secret societies, with similar dedications to the good of the school.