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Nevada's Least-Hidden Secret: The Conflicting Collaboration of Coffin and Keys

by Michael McCraven

“On the night of October 24, 1916, ten men representing each of the various factions existing at the time at the University of Nevada, and comprising men of all walks of college life, met together with the idea of promoting the common good.”

Who are the “men of Coffin and Keys?” What are they talking about? Why do I keep finding their papers in my campus mailbox? Join us as we attempt to answer these and more questions...

Coffin and Keys logo

The Start of Some Jokes

Disclaimer: Many of the links to the actual documents written by Coffin and Keys are here for archival purposes and the sake of authenticity. The language in many of these documents is offensive, and it in no way reflects the opinions of ASUN, UNR, or any other formally recognized student group.



CabaretThe first generation of Coffin and Keys were ten men from the university who requested permission from the president of the University to form a secret society. These ten men asked to form the group as a means to “uphold tradition” and “promote school spirit”

In the early years, Coffin and Keys did little to involve themselves in school affairs. Instead, they mostly printed jokes and pamphlets. These seriously silly maneuvers were the inclination of a large group of young men fooling around.

Coffin and Keys Front Page 1985 Coffin and Keys Inside Pages 1985


Debating Debate Teams on a Debate Fee Debacle

Coffin and Keys maintained a certain level of silliness and avoided controversy for several years. They laughed it up, and there is little evidence of them participating in any real way in campus politics up until the 1960's.

In 1965, the Debate team requested that a student fee to support their team to be added to the general student tuition. The ASUN did not pass this fee. The Debate Team’s main leader, Jinx Dabney, claimed that the fee was defeated by Coffin and Keys, and demanded an investigation into the secret society. At the same time, Coffin and Keys openly ridiculed Jinx and the Debate team in print.

It should be noted that unlike the group’s practice in prior years, no one in the organization revealed their names at this time. The newspaper article in the Sagebrush (below) concerns the investigation, and the second is a discussion of the organization's validity as posted by Mike Lally, a member of ASUN who voted in favor of the Debate Team's stance initially, and then opposed it.

Sagebrush 1917 Sagebrush 1965


Politics, Policies, and Presidents


Coffin and Keys Members 1921
Coffin and Keys members 1921

After the debate team incident, the members of Coffin and Keys began to be more vocal about their philosophies on student government and how the school was run. They began endorsing candidates, arguing policies, and calling out administrators and students alike on whatever they felt was unfair. Although they kept their sarcastic style of writing and love for insensitive puns, they developed a new definition of their mission, to fight for anything they saw as unfair or ridiculous at UNR.

Their recent work has included writing pieces for and against Bill Hamma, Joe Crowley, Stephanie Black, Jim Gibbons, Milton Glick and Chris Ault, and John McCaskill to name a few. To this day, they continue to work, writing from who-knows-where, and anonymously drafting their own manifestos on campus affairs. That this anonymous forum of some young men in the student body still stands is a testament to the fact that for better or worse, there will always be those with a vested interest in this campus who feel the need to speak out.


Founding Petition 1916 Page 1 Founding Petition 1916 Page 2 November 1916 Page 1 November 1916 Page 2
Formation Petition 1916 pg. 1 Formation Petition 1916 pg. 2 Newsletter 1916 pg. 1 Newsletter 1916 pg. 2
November 1988 Page 1 November 1988 Page 2 November 2009 Page 1 November 2009 Page 2
Newsletter 1988 pg. 1 Newsletter 1988 pg. 2 Newsletter 2009 pg. 1 Newsletter 2009 pg. 2
November 20010 Page 1 November 20010 Page 2 November 20010 Page 3 November 20010 Page 4
Newsletter 2010 pg. 1 Newsletter 2010 pg. 2 Newsletter 2010 pg. 3 Newsletter 2010 pg. 4
You Decide Letter Page 1 You Decide Letter Page 2 You Decide Letter Page 3 You Decide Letter Page 4
You decide letter pg. 1 You decide letter pg. 2 You decide letter pg. 3 You decide letter pg. 4


Recommended Readings in Special Collections

  • The original founding letter, written in 1916
  • Coffin and Keys: 2009 budget cut edition
  • Sagebrush Vol XXXXI, no. 44, March 26 1965
  • Coffin and Keys Presidential pamphlets
  • Coffin and Keys “Cabaret” pamphlet, 1919