The Sphinx Senior Society was founded by a group of prominent undergraduates in 1900, making it the oldest honor society at the University of Pennsylvania. The society was created with the fundamental purpose of furthering all Penn traditions, customs, and ideals. The membership was originally confined largely to athletes because of their recognized clean and able spirit. But it was soon realized that other individuals may also possess the same qualities, leading Sphinx to begin inducting those who have attained recognition in any worthy field at the University. In February of 1971, Sphinx broke a long-standing tradition by inducting women into their ranks.
Founded as a service organization, early members of Sphinx served as official advisors to the administration. Distinguishable from the rest of the student body by the black skullcaps they wore every Tuesday, Sphinx members engaged in activities that included proctoring exams, supervising class elections, presenting chapel services, orienting the freshman class, conducting smokers, as well as being referees in the annual freshman-sophomore class battles.
The desire and ability of Sphinx members to raise classroom standards and interest the undergraduate body in student activities led them to hold an annual competition between the fraternities, the winner receiving the Sphinx Plaque signifying outstanding achievement in scholastic work and campus activities. The society also presented the Sphinx Award to the outstanding student organization of that academic year. For many years, Sphinx members devoted their time to contacting local prep school students with the purpose of introducing them to Penn. They would sponsor trips to athletic and social functions on campus for these students with the hopes of arousing interest in the University.
Sphinx not only sought to better the University of Pennsylvania, but made efforts to recognize the achievements of those from other colleges. For many years, the group would host a Winter Dinner honoring distinguished guests from universities around the country, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, and the University of Wisconsin.
Other notable accomplishments of Sphinx classes of past years included: presenting the Dorizas Trophy to the outstanding high school performer in the Penn Relays, digging out the storm-ravaged community of Sea Isle, NJ, and raising over a thousand dollars for the CARE Committee of Greater Philadelphia.
Such activities served well the purposes of the Sphinx Senior Society–to stimulate a whole-hearted and deep-rooted interest in bettering the University of Pennsylvania.