I’m writing a history of our local school district. I feel history is important and since no one has undertaken this task, I decided it was time. It occurred to me that valuable resources, in the form of oral histories, were already lost. In an effort to gather as much early history as possible, I’ve been interviewing some of the oldest living graduates of our local high school. It’s a wonderful experience to listen to their tales of school days and the past histories of the local towns. Their narratives enrich all of the facts I’ve discovered.
Much of my time has been spent poring over old school yearbooks (they begin in 1929). Early on I noticed references to fraternities and sororities beginning with the inaugural book in 1929. The references primarily appear as ads in the Advertising Sections of the books. However, during the 1930s and 40s, sororities are often mentioned in the activities of female students.
While many people in our country are accustomed to thinking of Greek Life in conjunction with colleges and universities, it is not unheard of in the secondary school ranks. Based on its collegiate forerunners, the first high school fraternity began in the U.S. around 1860. Of local note, a fraternity (Alpha Zeta) was in existence in 1869 in a secondary school named Union Classical Institute (affiliated with Union College) in Schenectady, NY. That school eventually became Nott Terrace High which then merged into Schenectady High.
At any rate, it is uncertain how many of these organizations advertised in the yearbooks. Some of the fraternities that appear in the yearbooks are: Omicron Chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta, Phi Delta Phi. Some sororities listed are: Delta Psi, Gamma Rho, Beta Gamma Rho, Sigma Theta Epsilon. It is likely these groups were organized purely for social purposes.
It’s not for me to judge the worth of these organizations in high school. There are pros and cons to every subject. I’m just amazed that these thrived for decades and at least one fraternity and one or two of the sororities are rumored to be in existence at the present. I have appealed to former members to speak with me about their experiences but perhaps it is verboten to do so because no one has readily come forward. Some have happily allowed me to photograph fraternity jackets and I have photos of a sorority pin and pendant.
Maybe it’s just all about belonging. Whatever the case, it existed and may still exist.
N.B.—in the spirit of high school influences, I wish to thank a fellow classmate of mine who recently encouraged me to continue to follow my passions. Writing and researching are a couple of those. This informal post represents an area of my future book in sketch form. In other words, this is a topic contained in the book but this post is a very condensed version.