History Mensa

Mensa started in its usual way, a mix of wacky and wonderful. The British founders were Roland Berrill, an Australian-English eccentric, and Lancelot Lionel Ware, a brilliant biologist-barrister. They met on a train from Cambridge to London and agreed that there should be a society for people with high IQ’s. Its original purpose was to be a think tank.

In November of 1946, they held the meeting of Mensa; the name was to be “Mens,” for “mind” in Latin, but that had already been used elsewhere so “Mensa” (meaning roundtable) was the next choice. Berrill staged the dramatic first meeting in Cambridge, with a female member presiding as the “Corps D’Espirit Queen” in royal robes; the other five members wore formal clothes and sipped wine.

Later the Queen was replaced by more usual club routines such as monthly roundtable meetings, annual gatherings and directories of members’ skills and interests based on a Constitution written by Founder Berrill. He led Mensa until 1952, when Victor Serebriakoff became International Chairman, guiding a world-wide expansion to 70,000 members in 29 countries.

In 1960, the New York newspaper, Village Voice, published an article on British Mensa leading many Mensans to write for membership applications. Four members held their first meeting in Brooklyn and organized so well that the next year they had a public-relations drive, and gained 55 members. From 1960-1964, Mensa in the United States was a “colony” of British Mensa. In 1964, American members voted on bylaws and a separate national Mensa was founded. The New York group developed into the national organization.

Marvin Grosswirth, whose IQ puzzle books brought attention to Mensa, attracted members like Isaac Asimov. Gabe Werba initiated “Colloquium”, the gathering that brings Mensa thinkers together for study and sociability. Harper Fowley developed the newsletter, Isolated M, especially for those Mensans who live in areas without local chapters (and there are many), as well as any other Mensans interested in reading it. The newsletter gives these M’s a means to exchange “feghoots” and lore.

It soon became apparent that a decentralized organization was essential and regions were established. A Regional Vice Chairman (RVC) is elected by the members of each of the nine regions. It is the RVC’s responsibility to represent the local groups of his region to the American Mensa Committee (AMC) and to act as a link between AMC and the local groups. The RVC is a mentor, troubleshooter and source of assistance to the LocSecs (Local Secretaries) in his region and, if needed, may act as an executive officer. A LocSec is the leader of each local Mensa group.