Fact or Fiction? – Fraternity & Sorority Edition

The excitement of recruitment season is upon the fraternity/sorority world. Offering examples of men and women who have worn the badges of Greek-Letter Organizations seems like a good selling strategy. Is it?

There are a few questionable social media posts I’ve seen.  Pre-internet chapters could make all sort of spurious claims and no one would ever know whether these claims were true or false. It would take hours or days of research in actual books to refute the statements. Today it takes only a few minutes on the internet to determine whether urban myths are just that or if they have some truth to them. 

Are these recent claims made on social media true or false?

CLAIM: “All but two presidents since 1825 have been Greek.” Variations include “born after 1825” and “all but three.”

FALSE See http://wp.me/p20I1i-Vb for an explanation. Of the most recent Presidents, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon were not fraternity men. Others have been honorary members. The number of U.S. Presidents initiated into GLOs while college students is the more impressive list. 

Ronald Reagan loved meeting members of his fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon.


CLAIM: “Both female Supreme Court justices are sorority women.”

FALSE. Never mind that four women have served as U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Only one, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alpha Epsilon Phi, is a member of a National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organization. Although there are many rumors to the contrary, Sandra Day O’Connor is not a sorority woman. She attended Stanford University when there were no NPC chapters on campus.

Ruth Bader Cornell University yearbook)

Ruth Bader as a student at Cornell University

As an aside, the newest member of the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is an initiate of the Columbia University chapter of Phi Gamma Delta.


CLAIM: “Every Apollo 11 astronaut was a fraternity man.”

FALSE. There were three men aboard Apollo 11, Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.; Collins and Aldrin went to West Point where there are no social fraternities. Aldrin was elected to Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society. Armstrong was a fraternity man having been initiated into the Phi Delta Theta chapter at Purdue University.


CLAIM: “At least one fraternity badge has been to the moon.”

TRUE. The first fraternity badge which made its way to the moon was the one belonging to Neil Armstrong, an initiate of the Phi Delta Theta chapter at Purdue University. He was the first man to walk on the moon. Upon his return to Earth, he presented the badge to Phi Delta Theta and it is on display at the fraternity’s headquarters in Oxford. However, contrary to rumor, he never pinned it on the American flag on the moon, nor did he pin his wife’s Alpha Chi Omega badge to the American flag.

Kappa Sigma Edgar Mitchell, an initiate of the Carnegie Mellon University chapter wore his badge to the moon during Apollo 14. The Kappa Sigma badge resides at Kappa Sigma’s Museum in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Gene Cernan, an initiate of the Phi Gamma Delta at Purdue University, had his badge with him on a 1966 space walk and then again as a member of the Apollo 10 mission.

Gene Cernan’s Phi Gamma Delta badge.

Phi Delta Theta’s documentation about Neil Armstrong’s badge.


CLAIM: “The first American woman in space was a sorority woman.”

FALSE. Sally Ride was not a sorority woman, but there have been many other female astronauts who are sorority women. See http://wp.me/p20I1i-le for that list.

This book about astronauts, had these two female astronauts on the same page. One is a sorority woman and the other is not, The sorority woman is Judith Resnick, Alphe Epsilon Phi, and not Sally Ride.

This book about astronauts, had these two female astronauts on the same page. One is a sorority woman and the other is not, The sorority woman is Judith Resnick, Alpha Epsilon Phi, and not Sally Ride.


CLAIM: “There is one sorority badge which has been voted ‘most beautiful fraternal (or sorority) badge’ and it is on display in American fraternal and sorority collegiate collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.”

FALSE. I’ve seen at least three women’s organizations make this claim. I asked a friend who has been at the Smithsonian for decades to help me track this down urban myth. Is there an American fraternal and sorority collegiate collection? The contact who researched this query responded that the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian does not have any sorority pins and there is no an American fraternal and sorority collegiate collection. There are a few fraternity pins which may have come in as singular items within larger collections.


CLAIM: “It’s acceptable to call new sorority members ‘babies.'”

Do I even have to respond to this one? When the term “pledge” fell out of favor, somehow “babies” seemed, to some chapter members, to be a good substitute. REALLY? Please if you are a sorority woman and are you are calling your chapter’s new members “babies” please stop. Stop now. It’s degrading to call intelligent women that name.


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