About the Order

As President of the University of California, Benjamin Ide Wheeler commented that he had never been to a place where so much energy was loose and going to waste. Following the encouragement of President Wheeler and English Department Chair Charles Mills Gayley, a group of students led by Victor Hendricks Henderson came up with the idea for the Order of the Golden Bear and assembled the first meeting in the spring of 1900.

Now in its second century of serving the University, the Order is one of the oldest active student organizations on the Berkeley campus, and one of the few groups substantially unchanged from its original purpose and activities. The Order was able to persist through challenging eras including the difficult financial times of the Great Depression, global war, and even the days of student unrest of the 1960s, when interest in “traditional” campus organizations such as the Order waned and only a handful of students would regularly come to meetings.

Throughout its early history the Order admitted only senior men–and the occasional male professor, administrator, or alumnus–to membership, or “fellowship.” Other student organizations–Winged Helmet, Prytanean, and Mortarboard–accommodated junior men, senior women, and junior women, respectively. Since 1972, the “senior men only” rule was changed and all students with at least sophomore standing have been eligible for Fellowship within the Order.

Active fellowship in the Order is considered a service to the University. In fact, the letter that each initiate receives upon election is entitled a “Call to the Service of the University.” Fellows provide this service by giving up their time to attend meetings with fellow campus leaders to discuss the issues. By listening and participating, Fellows are then better prepared to make informed choices regarding their individual actions in their respective spheres of influence on the campus, and to help enlighten others within the campus community. The Order itself takes no votes or actions on the issues discussed. It exists for the purpose of promoting frank and helpful discussion, not advocacy or policy-making.