Celebrating 150 years of Sorority Life
September 13, 2022
The formation of Greek letter societies on college campuses can be traced back to 1776. The idea behind the first such group – Phi Beta Kappa – was to provide a place for like minded individuals in the pursuit of academic excellence. Phi Beta Kappa continues today as a prestigious academic honor society.
Over the next century Fraternities, as they came to be called, were social groups formed for men. It wasn’t until 1870 when the first actual Greek letter group for women was established. That honor goes to Kappa Alpha Theta which was formed in January 1870 at Indiana’s DePauw University; close on their heels was Kappa Kappa Gamma founded in October of the same year at Monmouth College in Illinois.*
Third on that list was Alpha Phi Fraternity, established on September 18, 1872 at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.
The term Sorority had not yet been coined to represent the female version of a Fraternity which is why the first three such groups for women were formed as Fraternities.
When I pledged Alpha Phi at the University of Puget Sound in the fall of 1977, I knew little of the Greek organizations. Yes, my mother had been a member of Delta Delta Delta but had talked little of her time in the sorority.
I also knew that my grandmother had been a housemother for the Sigma Kappa sorority on the University of Washington campus in the early to mid-1960’s.
Knowing this, and having stayed at the Sigma Kappa house a couple of times while my grandmother was there, I had long wished to join a sorority when I attended college. More on that in a bit.
First, the Infallible Wikipedia tells us this about Alpha Phi:
“At the time of the founding there were only 666 women attending Syracuse; ten of them eventually formed Alpha Phi to create an organization ‘on the principles of the promotion of growth in character; unity of feeling, sisterly affection, and social communion among the members.’ Although the actual founding date is September 18, 1872, Alpha Phi has been celebrating their Founders Day on October 10 since 1902, since many colleges and universities were not open for classes in mid-September at that time. Alpha Phi considers itself a women’s fraternity because its founding date predates the invention of the word ‘sorority.’ (snip)
Like many other women’s fraternities, Alpha Phi recognizes multiple types of symbols, with the Ivy Leaf as their primary symbol. The fraternity’s official colors are Bordeaux and silver. The colors were originally blue and gold; however, these colors were similar to those of Delta Upsilon Fraternity so they were changed. The official flowers are the Lily of the Valley and the Forget-me-not. Alpha Phi lists its ideals as ‘Sisterhood, Generosity, Innovation, and Character.’ Alpha Phi’s public motto is ‘union hand in hand’.”
All of these things I learned after becoming a pledge. A pledge is someone who commits to joining the organization once they have completed a probationary period. I successfully completed my probation and was initiated into Alpha Phi in January 1978.
The two years I was a member of Alpha Phi were, perhaps, the most influential and memorable times of my life. I loved everything about Sorority life. The Monday night chapter meetings; the Friday and Saturday night functions with the Fraternities; the crazy antics of my roomies; having roomies; living on Greek row.
Unlike most students, I was a junior when I arrived on the UPS campus. I had spent the previous two years at Yakima Valley College (YVC). I discovered, spring of my sophomore year at that institution, that I was a few credits short of what I needed for my AA degree. Having the AA was essential to avoid spending an extra year – and extra money – getting my BA degree.
The summer before UPS, I took a Spanish class at YVC to get those credits and ended up meeting a gal name Toni. Unbeknownst to me, Toni was a member of Alpha Phi at UPS and, due to her own issues getting her degree from UPS, had signed up for the YVC class also. I so appreciate Toni as she took the time and effort to write a recommendation for me, paving the way for my membership in Alpha Phi.
I assumed I would join Delta Delta Delta (Tri-Delta) as both my mother and my aunt had been members. There were rules regarding how a ‘legacy’ – someone who had a mother, sister, or grandmother who belonged to a particular sorority – was processed through ‘Rush.’ (Rush was a multi-day process where the Rushees would go, in groups of 25 to 30, to each and every sorority on campus. There you would meet and talk to members of a particular house before being ushered out and then herded to the next house.) Later, I came to understand, the members of each house would meet and decide ‘who’ to invite back the next day as they were limited in the number of young women they could choose.
Not knowing how Rush worked, I found out too late that having letters of reference were essential to receiving an invitation to return. For the second day of Rush, I was asked back to three of the seven Sororities on campus: Tri Delta, Alpha Phi, and Chi Omega. I did not have the recommendations needed for the others.
Undaunted, I show up at the appointed time at each and I think it’s gone pretty well. But, when the dust settled, the Tri-Delts had not invited me back to day three. I learned later that, as a Legacy, you were guaranteed an invite back for day two, but if they invited you back after that they were required to issue you an invitation to join. Being that I was a junior meant I would only be in the sorority for two – rather than four – years. The Tri-Delts were, I think, looking only for freshmen.
Although disappointed, I crossed my fingers that the Alpha Phi’s would keep me to the end. While Toni had opened the first door, I was also helped along by Alpha Phi member I knew through the Rainbow Girls. I have no doubt that her influence was a deciding factor in the sorority inviting me to join. Thus I became a proud pledge of Alpha Phi, excited to have the sorority experience.
There’s little doubt in my mind that I probably would have been a more serious student had I NOT joined the sorority. But I also believe that one’s lessons in life come in many different forms. For me Alpha Phi was the perfect vehicle for transition from teenager to adult. It became my family. True it was a family of all sisters, but we looked out for each other; we were there to listen to tales of woe in regards to guys. We were there to give each other hugs of encouragement and dry the occasional tears. We had someone to walk to class with and there was always someone to eat a meal with. There were the after lunch TV sessions to watch All My Children and the weekend late night gatherings for Saturday Night Live. There were the runs to the “Pig” – aka Piggly Wiggly grocery store – for snacks; and the occasional pizza outings to Shakey’s. There were dances and social events with the Fraternities.
In the spring of 1979, with graduation looming, some of my sisters would say they couldn’t wait to be done. But not me. I knew I would miss everything about Sorority life and Alpha Phi.
But it wasn’t over; not really. The experiences live on in my memory and, perhaps, one or a dozen of those experiences may have become part of the book series I’m currently prepping for publication.
I owe it all to my sisters and the two magical years I spent with them as a member of the Gamma Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi at the University of Puget Sound.
A few links:
*Although both Pi Beta Phi (Pi Phi) and Alpha Delta Phi (ADPi) can claim earlier formation dates than the three listed, neither adopted Greek letter names when created. Pi Phi – originally called I.C. Sorosis – switched to a Greek letter name in 1888, and ADPi – originally the Adelphean Society – in 1905.