Off on Tangents – Zarzoliers and a Photo on eBay

Last night, I received an e-mail question and a facebook message. Both set me off on some research and led me to write this post.

The first question was about a member of the Pi Phi chapter at Ohio State. The member in question graduated a century ago. The GLO magazines of that era all contained chapter letters. It was a way for members to know about the events taking place in their chapter and in chapters all over the country. I contend that these chapter letters in the GLO magazines helped created a collegiate culture. I’ve already written about the mentions of homecoming in early GLO magazines.

This Arrow of Pi Beta Phi entry from a March 1916 issue warmed my heart. The Pi Phi who wrote this talked first about the new NPC chapter on campus and then wrote about the Panhellenic bazaar, an early joint fundraising effort.

Chapter correspondent Ruth Spankle wrote this about her chapter’s activities:

I can scarcely  realize that it is time to write you again, as the weeks pass so quickly – and really nothing of great importance has happened to Ohio B since the last edition of THE ARROW. One thing however will be of interest to all fraternity girls! Alpha Xi Delta has been granted a chapter here, making the ninth national women’s fraternity at Ohio State. The week after the chapter was granted, Alpha Xi Delta held open house at Baker Hall, the new dormitory, all the organizations and friends being invited to meet the national officers and out·of-town members of Alpha Xi Delta as well as the new girls themselves.

Our Panhellenic bazaar, which I mentioned before, was held the week before Christmas vacation and was quite a success. It was given in the Woman’s Union and the booths were of various kinds. Each women’s fraternity had a booth and decorated it according to the things sold there – Pi Phi had the baby booth and trimmed it with tiny baby Kewpies. The proceeds from the bazaar amounted to about one hundred dollars ($100), which went into the loan fund for girls who are helping themselves through college. (The $100 the chapter raised in 1915 would be equivalent to raising more than $2,200 today.)

The middle of February a musical comedy “Zarzoliers” written by one of the students is to be given at one of the down town theaters. Several Pi Phis are in the cast and they report that the music is very clever and pretty and the whole thing is going to be a huge success.*

Last week was the first tryout for the Strollers’ Dramatic society and two of our girls received a perfect score (100%). They have still another try-out to pass but as there are only two other who received a perfect score, we are very proud of them.

The various organizations are beginning to plan for the formal dances. Kappas have already had theirs, and several come in the near future, ours will be the seventh of April at the Elk’s Hall which is very new and one of the prettiest in the city. As the time is so far away no definite plans have been made, save as to the place and date.

Just now we are all thinking about examinations which begin next week and everyone is studying hard. The girls have all been working faithfully and we hope to start the new semester with a clean slate and bigger ambitions.

*The Zarzoliers seemed to be the name of the troupe of actors. This is from the Alpha Phi Quarterly of January 1916 in an entry written by a member of the chapter at OSU, “Three of us have been very busy for many weeks rehearsing for Dreamer ‘o Dreams a musical comedy presented by Zarzoliers on February 11 and 12 at the Southern Theatre. Mary Swann and Helen Wood were members of the chorus and Fanny Arms had a lead as chaperon in which she made a decided hit with her original song A Chaperon Is Useless After All.” The comedy was written by Paul Weber Austin and Lee G. Hinslea.

This is from The Anchora of Delta Gamma of April 1916. The comedy seemed to have a cast of NPC women, “On February 11 and 12 the Zarzoliers presented The Dreamer of Dreams, a musical comedy written by Paul Austin an Ohio State student. Gladys Wildermouth, a junior, had first lead and Bertha Holtkamp, a pledge of a month, had second lead. On Saturday noon February 12, the active girls gave a luncheon at Lazarus Tearoom in honor of Elsie Grove, Carrie Zentmeyer, Ruth Wilhelm, and Marie Stohl, all of the class of 15, after which they attended the matinee performance of Dreamer of Dreams in a body.

The February 1917 Sundial, a student magazine, had this cryptic message,  “Where, oh, where, have the Zarzoliers gone? Last year, they adopted a pretty name, had a good show with tuneful music, and there was every indication that the organization would thrive and survive the onslaughts of professional musical comedy which annually beset Columbus. Even up to the latter part of last semester, symptoms of activity were evident in the forms of tryouts and rehearsals. There surely are several bright and promising Victor IIerberts and Florenz Zeigields in the polyglot of our student body who could inject the necessary tabasco into the project. We don’t know or care whose if anyone’s fault it is that the lusty infant organization has a bad case of the pip, but we would like to hear of someone applying a mustard plaster.” (Phi Kappa Psi James Thurber was on the editorial board of the 1917 Sundial.

The Pi Beta Phi members at the Ohio State University, circa 1911, a few years before the chapter report was written. Notice the headbands!

The Pi Beta Phi members at the Ohio State University, circa 1911, a few years before the chapter report was written. Notice the headbands!


A Delta Gamma friend messaged me last night, “Look what is on ebay – GREAT photo – look at zoom photo for crisp detail” The auction is titled, “Vintage Victorian Photo, Portrait, Print- 1900- Graduation Girl at Bucknell.” It is a cabinet photo and the description of the item is “1900 photo from Bucknell Univ in PA.  so pretty.  with a sorority or academic pin.  no tears or flaws I can see.” The woman is wearing a Pi Beta Phi badge.

The Pi Beta Phi chapter at Bucknell University was chartered in 1895 and two of the charter members achieved special prominence. The first was Mary Bartol (Theiss), a writer who went on to serve the Fraternity in many ways. The second was Mary Belle Harris, who after a long career in teaching, went on to serve as the first female warden in a federal prison. I am not sure if this is a photo of either of these women. 

© Fran Becque,, 2015. All rights reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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