This post about the beginnings of the women’s fraternity system at Stanford University is in honor of the extremely intelligent and very athletic NPC women from Stanford who are competing in the 2012 Olympic games.*
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California
On November 14, 1885, a special act of the California Legislature granted a charter to Stanford University and a gift of 80,000 acres of land in Palo Alto, California. The university formally opened on October 1, 1891. It was heavily endowed by Senator Leland and Jane Lathrop Stanford as a memorial to their only child, a son, Leland Junior, who died quite suddenly in 1884 (Elliot, 1937; Crothers, 1932).
The Stanfords retained complete control over the university and its properties. Upon their deaths, as stipulated in their wills, the responsibility of administration would fall to the board of trustees (Crothers, 1932). Most of the founding faculty was lured away from Indiana University and Cornell University. David Starr Jordan, Andrew White’s protégé at Cornell, left the presidency of Indiana University to be Stanford University’s President. Due to this connection, Stanford became known in some circles as the “Cornell of the West” (Davis & Nilan, 1989).
Stanford University was coeducational from the start, although there were restrictions on the amount of women admitted at any given time. In 1892, there were 142 females and 417 males attending the university (Crothers, 1932). The Stanford’s goal was to provide a practical and free education. Jordan, prior to the University’s opening, spent the summer on a California speaking tour garnering interest in the university. All the applicants who qualified by credential or exam were admitted. This included 255 freshmen, 116 upperclassmen transfers from 25 different colleges, 37 graduate students and 147 special students (Davis & Nilan, 1989).
Two women’s fraternities came to campus very quickly. Kappa Alpha Theta transferred the charter of the chapter formally located at the University of the Pacific. The chapter was originally installed on April 4, 1889, but when Stanford University opened, six of the undergraduate chapter members transferred. An alumna from the Cornell University chapter was the wife of a newly hired Stanford professor and she assisted in the transfer of the charter. The six transfers were joined by four freshmen and a Kappa Alpha Theta chapter became active again in February 1892 (Wilson, 1956).
A few months later, on June 10, 1892, Kappa Kappa Gamma was installed. There is evidence of early Panhellenic cooperation at Stanford University. Both chapters agreed to offer no bids for membership until eight weeks after registration day (Burton-Roth & Whiting-Westermann, 1932). The fraternities, according to Mitchell (1958), “performed a necessary service in providing housing and meals at a time when they were badly needed – and this without expense to the University” (p. 109).
When the university opened, the two dormitories could only house half the student population and therefore the fraternities were encouraged to house their members. The Kappa Alpha Theta chapter rented a large older home in Mayfield for several years before moving to Alvardo Row (Davis & Nilan, 1989). In 1900, the chapter moved into a house built for them by a stock company comprised of alumnae.
The Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at first rented the second floor of a home. In 1897-98 the chapter rented a house on campus. In January, 1900, the chapter moved into a rented house. It was the first Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter to build its own home and the first to own a chapter house (Burton-Roth & Whiting Westermann, 1932).
A member of the University of Kansas Pi Beta Phi chapter was a student at Stanford University in the early 1900s. The Kansas Pi Beta Phi sought to start a chapter at Stanford University. A charter was granted on September 13, 1893. The charter was withdrawn from 1897 to 1905 (Helmick, 1915).
A local group seeking to affiliate with Delta Gamma was established in 1893, but it took four years before a petition for a charter was successful. The chapter was installed on March 6, 1897.
The first Alpha Phi chapter on the west coast was established through the efforts of an alumna from the Northwestern University chapter. Eight female students were renting an off-campus cottage, with one of their mothers acting as a chaperone. In 1898, after three of the students graduated, the others realized that being part of a larger national organization might be advantageous and sought an Alpha Phi charter. The chapter was installed during the 1899 Commencement Week. The women then moved to a rented home at 660 Waverly Street. On March 16, 1900, those of legal age formed the Alpha Phi Hall Association, a corporation with a capital stock of 10,000 and shares, nontransferable and non-interest bearing, at $10 each. Ground was broken for the new house at 17 Lasuen Street on June 1, 1900 and the chapter moved in late August (Alpha Phi Fraternity, 1931).
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From – Coeducation and the History of Women’s Fraternities 1867-1902, by Frances DeSimone Becque, Dissertation, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 2002, pp. 116-7. All rights reserved. The Bibliography will soon be available as a separate post.