October 1, 1946: What is Mensa?

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A Brief History

On October 1, 1946, Dr. Lancelot Ware and Roland Berrill established an organization in Caythorpe (Lincolnshire), England called Mensa International.  Intended as a non-profit social club for people among the highest 2% intellect in the human population, the founders expected a sort of aristocratic gathering of intelligentsia and were somewhat disappointed to find members meeting the membership criteria were mostly from humble origins.  Mensa International is the umbrella organization for national chapters found in 100 countries covering 51 national groups.  With about 134,000 members world-wide, the United States has the most members at 57,000, nearly triple runner-up United Kingdom with 21,000.  Intelligent people that live in a country without a national group may join the International organization.

Digging Deeper

The constitution of Mensa International lists 3 main purposes for the existence of the organization, “to identify and to foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity; to encourage research into the nature, characteristics, and uses of intelligence; and to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members.”  The founders were dismayed to find “that so many members spend so much time solving puzzles.”  Berrill, an Australian lawyer (barrister) died in 1962 and Ware, an English scientist and lawyer, died in 2000.  The pair had met at Oxford where they formed The High IQ Club that became Mensa.  Berrill was particularly snobbish and was more disappointed about the high incidence of common people in the upper 2% of the IQ strata.  Other goals of the organization are the furtherance of literacy and programs to develop the minds of gifted children.  Mensa also provides contact between people of high intellect, both for professional and social purposes.  Members may form sub-groups for specific interests or activities (Special Interest Groups, or SIG’s).

Dr. Lancelot Ware in May 1999

Groups normally hold annual meetings called Annual Gatherings, usually in a different city each year.  More frequent meetings may be arranged among local members including Regional Gatherings in Europe multi-national Annual Gatherings have been held since 2009, again, in different cities each year.

There are no educational requirements for membership, nor are there any stipulations about race, creed, color or national origin.  Nor are there any requirements regarding gender, although the majority (66%) of members are male.  Nor are there any age restrictions, as the youngest members have been as little as barely over 2 years old and the oldest current members are over 100 years old (102 in the US and 103 in the UK).  Members have included obscure persons and famous persons alike, including pop singers, artists, cartoonists, politicians (hard to believe!), athletes (including a boxing champion), writers, scientists, architects and many others.  Mensa only having been extant since 1949, only a limited number of American Presidents and First Ladies may have had a chance to join, but as of this date no American President or First Lady has been a member.

This is a logo for Mensa International.

Intelligence is measured by the Stanford-Binet IQ test, in which an IQ of 132 is the minimum acceptable score.  The alternate IQ test is the Cattell Culture Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) on which a score of 148 is needed for membership in Mensa.  Other standardized intelligence tests may be used, with the stipulation that the applicant must score in the top 2% of the population for membership to be accepted.

Questions for Students (or others):  Are you interested in applying for Mensa membership?  Do you know anyone that is a member?  Do you think an organization of high intellect individuals is a good idea?  What celebrity do you think should be a member?

Actress Geena Davis, a member of Mensa International, at the World Maker Faire in New York on September 22, 2013

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Gale, Harold. Mensa Boost Your IQ. SevenOaks, 2011.

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Grosswirth, Marvin. Match Wits With Mensa: The Complete Quiz Book. Da Capo Press, 1999.

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The featured image in this article, a score distribution chart for sample of 905 children tested on 1916 Stanford–Binet Test from L. Terman, The Measurement of Intelligence (Boston, 1916), is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.  Terman was a United States author and died in 1956. The original source was published in 1916 and is now in the public domain. The book’s full text is freely available online through the Gutenberg Project and through Google Books, the Internet Archive, and Classics in the History of Psychology.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.