The Early History of Sororities at Southwestern

The establishment of sororities on our campus shows a history of perseverance as women sought to create equity between men and women on campus.

Following the arrival of Greek fraternities for men in 1887, female students saw a need for a similar space in which they could create bonds and connect to other like-minded female students through ritual. However, they were dismissed by the Faculty and Administration, as some thought allowing fraternities was a mistake they didn’t want to repeat. While it was too late for them to abolish men’s fraternities, President Hyer in particular continued to stand his ground and denied female students the right of establishing nationally-affiliated Greek letter organizations.

The administration's opinion did not stop students like Jessie Harriet Daniel and Jennie Cornelia Wyse from continuing to advocate for establishing sororities on campus. During this time of strict rules, women continued to establish and make themselves seen on Southwestern’s campus. They were eventually convinced to take the matter of establishing unaffiliated local sororities into their own hands and to keep them secret long enough to become established instead of asking for permission from the Administration. According to Shirley Kreason Strout, the author of a history of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, in so doing, they put an end to the days in which Administration-produced “feasts were about the biggest dissipation the Annex girls enjoyed,” giving women more agency over programming their own leisure time.

The earliest local sorority to be recorded at Southwestern was created in 1899. However, it was quickly joined by two other chapters, leading to all three of them being recognized as organizations in the 1904 Commencement program.

The first local sorority to organize was known as Beta Sigma. Johnnie Write, Alice Harrel, and Tillie Price gathered on Thanksgiving Day in 1899 at the home of the Brewer Sisters (Lizzie and Leila) in Georgetown, for the purpose of organizing a sorority. Although they hoped to eventually become a part of a national sorority, they began by creating their own constitution and by-laws. They established themselves as the women of the dragon crest and began to petition to become a part of the national sorority Alpha Delta Pi in 1905. However, due to opposition from the Delta chapter as well as the University's administration, Zeta chapter of Alpha Delta Pi was not established until February of 1907.

Beta Psi, the forerunner of the Lambda chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha, was established at Southwestern just four years after Beta Sigma, in 1903. According to Shirley Kreason Strout, the women of this organization wished “to add spice to the sweets of their friendship,” and created another secret organization for the women on campus. As they learned to establish their organization and procedures, they began to develop real sisterly spirit, which motivated them to search for a national charter. Beta Psi was installed as the Lambda chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha in February of 1906.

The local sorority of Alpha Delta existed from 1903 to 1905. During the last year of its existence as a local chapter, it was chartered as the Alpha Delta chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma, a national sorority. The Alpha Delta chapter of Tri Sigma thrived for six years before being initiated into Delta Delta Delta and became the Theta Epsilon chapter of the national sorority.

Xi Kappa was the last local chapter to join the already established sororities on campus and was also the one with the shortest existence. This sorority was established at Southwestern on March 27th, 1906. With Crimson and Black as their colors and the American Beauty Rose as their symbol, Xi Kappa eventually became a chartered chapter of Phi Mu sorority in 1908.

Although all of the local sororities had affiliated with national and international organizations by 1909, it is important to recognize that the actions and work of the women who established them are the reason why we have Southwestern’s Panhellenic system. Most of their history and records were kept in the Ladies Annex Building, which burned down in 1925. The women in these groups might even have unofficially organized prior to 1899. However, we have no records of these events.

Either way, the story of establishing sororities on campus is an important dimension of the larger story of how Southwestern students past and present have fought for what they believed was necessary when University leaders disregarded the student body’s needs. The women who established chapters of national sororities at Southwestern in those early years were able to carve a space for women led by peers on a campus that at the time catered mostly to men by giving them the access to better opportunities and facilities and exercised a significant amount of control on the social lives of female students, especially compared to male students.

Images

Alpha Delta Sorority, 1904 Source: Sou'Wester 1904 Creator: Sou'Wester staff Date: 1904
Alpha Delta Sorority, 1905 Source: Sou'Wester 1905 Creator: Sou'Wester staff Date: 1905
Beta Psi Sorority, 1904 Source: Sou'Wester 1904 Creator: Sou'Wester staff Date: 1904
Beta Psi Sorority, 1905 Source: Sou'Wester 1905 Creator: Sou'Wester staff Date: 1905
Beta Sigma Sorority, 2005 Source: Sou'Wester 1905 Creator: Sou'Wester staff Date: 1905

Location

Metadata

Andrea Stanescu '24, “The Early History of Sororities at Southwestern,” Placing Memory, accessed July 25, 2024, https://placingmemory.southwestern.edu/items/show/62.