My journey to find the origins of the Sphinx Club started by mistake. I was at my grandmother’s house over Thanksgiving and I decided to look through some of my dad’s old books that were packed into a shelf behind an outdated desktop computer. For those of you that do not know, my dad graduated from Wabash in 1986, so some of the books I stumbled upon were old yearbooks from when he was a student.
The yearbook that really caught my attention was the 1983 yearbook because it is the sesquicentennial edition of the yearbook that celebrates the history of the College. Within this 1983 edition of the book, there is a detailed timeline of events that occurred within the first 150 years of the College’s standing as an institution of higher learning. I learned that the only reason why Wabash still has Forest Hall is because Caleb Mills decided that he wanted to keep it for himself until he gave it back. I also learned that in 1921 chapel meetings had to be held in the gym because the space could not accommodate for more than 400 students. Another strange thing that happened in 1921 is that there were 2 clubs on Wabash’s campus that were recognized by Egyptian names: the Sphinx Club and the Karnak Club. One organization still exists as it did since the winter of 1921, while the other exists as Wabash’s chapter of TKE. I never would have known that bit of history if I had never opened that dusty book that had been neglected for years on end. The mention of the Karnak Club was what threw me into a whirlwind of curiosity because I didn’t know if the organizations were one in the same.
I wanted to get more answers, so I looked for them. What started at an attempt to crack jokes at my dad’s yearbook photo was converted into a journey that makes me appreciate the Club even more than I do now.
A surprising fact about the Sphinx Club is that it did not start off here in Crawfordsville, Indiana. It was a club that was brought to our campus in February of 1921 after a group of students braved a journey past D****w down to the bustling city of Bloomington.
Wabash students went to the campus of Indiana University and were initiated as members of the Sphinx Club. Just as it does now at Wabash, the IU chapter of the Sphinx Club was dedicated to the promotion of “good fellowship among Indiana students”, as stated in newspaper clipping from October of 1910. 1910 was an important year for the Sphinx Club at IU because that was the year it was founded by students. Information on the Club prior to 1910 does not seem to exist, so, according to the Indiana University Archives, it is likely that the Sphinx Club originated in the southern half of the state. According to Beth Swift, Wabash’s archivist, there were other chapters of the Sphinx Club on other campuses, but I am only knowledgeable of the organization at Butler University.
I also found some information on organizations that called themselves Sphinx Clubs at Kent State and Brown University. It is frustrating to have such little information on the organization, but it makes me appreciate the records our chapter of the Club has kept since its founding. It is both humbling and interesting to think that Wabash College has the only remaining chapter in existence. I believe that it is fitting that we have the last Sphinx Club because we are also one of the last remaining all-male student bodies left in the country. This College is a place that is deeply passionate about its traditions, and it does everything it can to keep them alive and well.
I am glad that I decided to research the history of the Sphinx Club because it is good to know that the purpose of the Sphinx Club has not changed in its mission for over a hundred years of existence both on and off Wabash’s campus. In all the text that I had read about the club, there were always mentions of social outings, plays, and other festivities that the Club would host to bring the students together. I am also happy to know that the Sphinx Club has always been known for two things: being loud and wearing a little white hat. In the 1924 edition of the Indiana University yearbook, the page dedicated to the Club explains how the Club “has sponsored a movement for less sleep” since the “society insists upon vocalizing all over campus on peaceful and stilly nights”. I also love how the same page of the yearbook exclaims “By their hats ye shall know them!” because the Club and our beloved mascot, Wally Wabash, both continue to don the white pot encircled by a black band.
Even though a good amount of effort goes into making the pots, the Club has been able to maintain the tradition of representing our values by wearing the hat. Now that I know where the pot came from, I am glad that I am able to carry on a legacy that is aimed at maintaining and improving the life of the campus. I hope that the student bodies of the future continue to appreciate the Sphinx Club and that it continues to be a promoter of what makes the experience of every Wabash man. If you would like to learn more about the Sphinx Club… Join and find out. WAF!