Education: Two Centuries of Elitism

Phi Beta Kappa still flourishes amid changing standards

It all began over a cool brew in a warm tavern. Young gentlemen at the College of William and Mary in revolutionary Virginia drew up plans for a society of good fellowship and spirited debate. (Sample topic: "Whether Polygamy is a dictate of Nature or not.") They devised a secret handshake and an initiation rite. The group, in fact, might have ended up as just one more fraternity but for a sober motto—and philosophy—based on the Greek letters ΦBK : "love of wisdom the guide of...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!