May 24 is two days away. It will mark the 115th anniversary of the founding of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Representatives from seven organizations – Alpha Phi, Delta Delta Delta, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Pi Beta Phi – met in Chicago and discussed rushing (as recruitment was then called) and pledging. The oldest of these seven was founded in 1867 and the youngest in 1888. In those 35 years between 1867 and 1902, when NPC was founded, sorority chapters were sprouting up on campuses all across the country, and where there was one sorority chapter, there tended to be others. They competed for members. The groups on each campus tried to make rules to govern the recruitment of members, but it was sometimes it was a free for all. The creation of NPC helped solve some of these issues.
There are many misconceptions about sororities, but I narrowed it down to five.
Five misconceptions about sorority recruitment:
1. Sororites were founded by socialites, the ones from very rich families. These women were not the ones forming and joining sororities. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, socialites were not typically the women who were attending college. They may have been doing tours of Europe and or spending a year or two in a “finishing school.” They had to know the world of fine arts, and how to plan a superb dinner party, and how to run a household with the help of a full staff, but they did not have to worry about having a career to fall back on. That was not the life they were destined to lead. Their main goal was to “marry well,” at least once, and more, if need be. (To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery by Gail MacColl is an interesting read on this topic.)
2. Only ditzy blondes join the organizations and certainly not ones who consider themselves feminists. One of my favorite stories to tell, one that you will not likely find in her biographies, is that a young Iowa State University student named Carrie Lane became a member of Pi Beta Phi (then known as I.C. Sorosis) at Iowa State University. Her family did not value education for women and she paid her own way through school working for pennies an hour. Some of the funds she earned went to pay her membership dues. She remained a loyal member of Pi Beta Phi for her entire life. The fact that noted suffragist Carrie Lane Chapman Catt was a proud sorority woman is a hard one for many people to reconcile. She is not an anomaly. Search this site for #amazingsororitywomen posts and you discover many interesting women who wore sorority pins.
3. There’s no advanced preparation. What will need to be done depends on what organizations are on the campus. On some campuses, recommendations (“recs”) are a must. And recs are just that, a recommendation which includes information about the Potential New Member’s (PNM) skills, talents, work ethic, etc. A recommendation should be obtained from an alumna of each NPC chapter on the campus. Each sorority has its own form or specification for the letter and the alumna can find that info on the sorority website and/or in the sorority magazine. Here’s where detective skills come in because PNMs needs to identify alumnae from the various groups. Some communities have an Alumnae Panhellenic which will help it be an easier task . If there isn’t one, it then involves identifying teachers, friends, coworkers, church and community members who are alumnae of NPC organizations. Some phone calling and emailing might be necessary to identify and contact the women. The PNM (not the PNM’s mother) will need to provide the alumna with a resume, and follow-up with a thank you note and updates; this task is great preparation for the “real world” and internship/job hunting.
4. Have a heart set on only one or two chapters. This is the quickest way to major disappointment. Each PNM needs to value all her options. This means visiting each and every chapter with an open mind and without preconceived notions. No attention should be paid to idle gossip. The fact is that all 26 NPC groups are essentially the same. The colors, badges, songs, flowers, symbols and such are different, but the core values and beliefs are strikingly similar. A PNM will have basically the same experiences in each of the NPC chapters, so she should embrace the chapters that invite her back. It usually means they see something in the PNM that they will appreciate and value.
5. It’s all fun and games. It is fun and it should be fun, but there is much more to it. Sorority members will be held to a higher standard and more will be expected of them. Being a member of a sorority entails many responsibilities. For one, members are always wearing theirs letters, whether or not they are physically on one’s garments or not. The world at large will think the worst about any news story involving Greek-Letter Organization members. If it’s about something good, there will be ulterior motives assigned to the deed. If it’s bad, it will try to paint every GLO with the same brush. If it is downright false (the UVA Rolling Stone story), it won’t matter. Each member’s actions reflect credit or discredit on her organization. A sorority member can no longer be anonymous for whatever she does will have bearing on the organization she joined. Yes, there will be fun times, and serious ones, and opportunities to grow as a person, but there are obligations to be met, too – those of time, talent, and treasure.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/