A History of Fraternities, Pt. II

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Founders of Kappa Kappa Gamma, one of the first Greek letter women’s organizations.

In my last post, I discussed the history of the earliest beginnings of fraternities, through about the early 1800s with the founding of three fraternities at Union College. Now, we will move forward and go into more discussion about how today’s fraternities and sororities were founded and hit on some milestones.

In 1851, the women of Georgia Wesleyan created the first women’s secret society, “secret sisterhood.” Later in 1862, the Morrill Act made it possible for new western states to establish colleges for their citizens. The new land-grant institutions, which emphasized agriculture and mechanic arts, opened opportunities to many farmers and working people who were previously excluded from higher education. Faculty welcomed the founding of student governments and the U.S. population began diversifying and this was reflected in college populations as well.

“Sorosis” was founded in 1867 at Monmouth College in Illinois and began colonizing other chapters from the get-go. The organization was considered to be the first women’s fraternity. The Sorosis charter was relinquished in 1884 due to the prohibition of secret societies, but in 1888, they became Pi Beta Phi, a women’s fraternity still in existence today. 

In 1870, the first women’s fraternities with Greek letter names were formed. Kappa Alpha Theta was founded at DePauw University in Indiana and three months later, Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded at Monmouth College. Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi are now referred to as the “Monmouth Duo.”

Today, there is a national group that acts as a governing board of sorts for all 26 sororities called the National Panhellenic Conference. It was founded in 1902 and began with 10 initial organizations. The first attempt at establishing such an organization is 1891 and earlier historical documents reference attempts at “rushing and pledging agreements” among organizations at different institutions.

Similarly, the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC) consists of 74 organizations. At its founding in 1910 they had 26 groups on board.

In addition to traditional fraternities and sororities, there are also Multi-Cultural Groups. Although racial and religious restrictions have been abolished in all NIC and NPC organizations, the new generation of “culture interest” organizations has arisen to serve the interests of communities whose number in the traditional Greek system are historically small and dispersed. These groups are mainly for racially, culturally, or religiously different groups that wanted to develop their own fraternities.

Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. was the first black Greek organization and was founded on December 4, 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In January of 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha became America’s first Greek-letter organization for African-American college women. The first Latino fraternity is Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity and was founded in 1931 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

Now we have a basic knowledge of the history of fraternities and sororities in the United States. In my next post, I will zero in a little more and focus on the history of Greek organizations at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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