Columbia does not really have any Secret Societies (unless you count St. A's, which can be pretty $ecretive). If it does, then they're pretty damned secret because no one knows about them. But Columbia does have two very low-profile Senior Societies, the Senior Society of Sachems and the Senior Society of Nacoms, and they're pretty well-hidden from public view. Most students don't even know the societies exist.
Each society taps 15 juniors each year, the Sachems by luring the candidates into an ambush where he or she gets hit in the face with pie, the Nacoms by convincing the candidate that he or she is in trouble. As of 1954, at least, members could be identified by the rings worn on their little fingers - Sachems on their right hands, Nacoms on their left. The Nacoms' ring has a "green snake" zigzig pattern around it; the Sachems' consists of 13 small black diamonds.
Society membership tends to reflect powerful student leaders across the campus, and some seats develop 'lineages', passing on from one holder of a leadership position to the next.
Current members take the secrecy element very seriously, but many alumni put the affiliations on their resumes.
There is some indication that there was a secret society nearer the beginning of Columbia's history, possibly called LNF (but what that stands for is a mystery), but little to nothing is known about it, and if it did exist, it is unlikely that it still does.
The Nacoms were formed in the first decade of the 20th century, and the Sachems began as a protest group that broke away from them in 1915.
Their commitment to secrecy has wavered over the years. 1930s and 40s issues of Spec even list new members on the front page, though the practice ended in 1951. At the time, the societies engaged in constructive projects such as compiling reports on university athletics; in 1931, the Nacoms formed a five-member committee to investigate "commercialization of the football team".
In 1932, Spec editor Reed Harris caused a stir by resigning from the Nacoms and publishing an editorial the next day critical of the organization, which lamented alumni control and the fact that members felt out of place not knowing the "details of the Columbia-Yale baseball game of 1873". Soon after, Harris was expelled from Columbia College for his editorial line (which had included attacks on the administration as well).
In 1965, the groups appear to have been hit with a broader crisis as numerous members resigned.
In 2013, the Sachems celebrated the Sachem Centennial.
Society ring designs
- "Tap! You're It," The Blue and White, October 2006
- Behind the News: Secret Societies, Columbia Spectator, 2 March 1954
- STAFF EDITORIAL: Let There Be Light, Columbia Spectator, 21 April 1954
- CSO to Rule on Filing Secret Senior Groups, Columbia Spectator, 22 April 1954
- Nacoms and Sachems - Open Letter to the Deans, Columbia Spectator, 28 April 1954
- STAFF EDITORIAL: Nacoms and Sachems, Columbia Spectator, 4 May 1954
- Deans Take Reins Of Senior Societies, Columbia Spectator, 11 January 1955
- STAFF EDITORIAL: Disgrace, Columbia Spectator, 28 March 1957
- Spec Secret Societies Edit Produces Varied Reactions, Columbia Spectator, 29 March 1957
- The Stroller: We've Got a Secret - After the Wars, Columbia Spectator, 2 April 1957
- The Stroller: We've Got a Secret - Tell Us About It!, Columbia Spectator, 11 April 1957
- STAFF EDITORIAL: Pinky Puerility, Columbia Spectator, 6 March 1958
- Society Members, Alumni Disapprove Of Spectator Edit, Columbia Spectator, 7 March 1958
- Senior Societies: A Study in Secrecy: Nacoms, Sachems Shroud Activity in Strict 'Privacy', Columbia Spectator, 4 February 1960
- STAFF EDITORIAL: Sacred Societies, Columbia Spectator, 8 February 1960
- SB Candidates Assess Senior Societies' Role Four Minimize Groups' Influence on Board, Columbia Spectator, 28 April 1961
- Oxman Scores Political Role Of Societies, Columbia Spectator, 2 May 1961
- Senior Societies I Columbia Spectator, 3 March 1965
- Senior Societies II Columbia Spectator, 4 March 1965
- 'Secret' clubs still survive at Columbia, Columbia Spectator, 23 November 1983
- The Sachems and The Nacoms; Columbia's Secret Societies Come Out Of Hiding, Columbia Spectator, 21 February 1996
- A 1922 NYTimes article about selection for the societies
- A 1984 article on the societies