On Monday, I headed east to Indiana to do some research in Carmel and get closer to completing a project. My dissertation, Coeducation and the History of Women’s Fraternities 1867-1902, covered the seven founding National Panhellenic Conference organizations, the campuses where these groups established chapters and why there was a need for an umbrella organization. I am fluent in the language of women’s fraternities/sororities. Years ago, when I was asked to write a history of a men’s fraternity at the University of Illinois I was apprehensive. Could I speak the language of men’s fraternities?
It turned out to be a fascinating experience and I’ve written several more fraternity histories for the Society for the Preservation of Greek Housing since then, all of them chapters at the University of Illinois. I now have a very good feel for what was going on with the Illinois fraternity and sorority system during any particular decade. The history I am writing currently is for a men’s fraternity chapter on another campus near Boston, 1,200 miles away. As always, it has been an interesting exploration, one which I will write about when I get my head above water. However, the amount of roundabouts (or rotaries as I am more apt to call them) in Carmel made me feel like I was indeed in Massachusetts. They are a real challenge when navigating new terrain, but I did make it out of there alive.
I was limited by time because I needed to head to Bloomington where I had a date with some Pi Phis. Some were old friends and some I had never met. I spoke to the chapter about their chapter’s long and rich history.
The Bloomington Alumnae Club was having its first meeting of the year and it was fun to just be there. Afterwards, I spent some precious time catching up with my assigned roommate from the 1987 Pi Phi convention, in whose guest room I was freeloading. She is a legacy and she has been cleaning out her mother’s home. She gave me several of her mom’s Pi Phi items for the archives.
I was somewhat bummed because I couldn’t stay another day in Bloomington. There were at least two other things I wanted to do. The Indiana University Archives recently received a wonderful collection of century-old letters and ephemera. The items belonged to Helen Dale Hopkins (Wampler), who was a member of the Pi Beta Phi chapter. The collection is digitized (see Pi Phi Letters), but I wanted to see the collection up close and personal. I will have to save that for another visit.
Here is an excerpt from one of her letters:
We decided to wait two weeks for our play, and so I don’t know what we’ll have Monday night – a good time anyway. Leah Stock, our province president, is coming Tuesday night. We’re going to move all the best furniture in our room. We’re going to have a dinner Tuesday night, a reception Wednesday afternoon, and a cooky-shine Wednesday night.
The name of Leah Stock was very familiar to me. A graduate of Hillsdale College, she taught at the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. She went on to marry a son of Elizabeth Clarke Helmick, who was one of the most potent forces behind the early success of the Settlement School. The reference to the cookie-shine (although in these years it was spelled cooky-shine) shows that this tradition has been a long one, originating at the University of Kansas in 1873.
I also want to use the Carroll L. Lurding Library of College Fraternity and Sorority Materials which is available through the Indiana University’s Lilly Library. Spanning the years 1840-2014, the collection consists of “books, pamphlets, histories, yearbooks, and other bound volumes detailing the history of fraternities, sororities, colleges, and universities from all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States as well as some colleges in Canada.” The items were donated by Carrol Lurding, a Delta Upsilon who loves researching the history of college fraternal organizations. He is still at it and last I heard, he was researching the local organizations at the SUNY institutions.