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  #1  
Old 01-16-2013, 04:58 PM
Romanus Romanus is offline
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Fraternity History

I am doing a public history project about my college's literary societies and had some questions I figured the Greek Chat community could help with.

Literary societies were popular across American colleges during the 19th century. They had generally died out by the turn of the century but those at Erskine College (it's a small college in rural South Carolina) remained popular and active.

After World War 2, however, the societies began to incorporate social and service aspects. By the late 1960s they declared their focus as social, service, and literary. In 1970 they adopted Greek letters, jerseys, and by the mid-1970s they used fraternity language and focused almost entirely on social activities.

A major question I am trying to answer is why they made that shift. My guess it that as Erskine grew in the 1960s they began to incorporate modern ideas from other colleges and the strictly literary societies began to mold to fraternities.

So my question to you all is: when did fraternities become nationally popular? Wikipedia said that they lost popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s because of the counterculture movement and grew in popularity with Animal House and into the 1980s. Do you have any guess what would cause our literary societies to copy fraternities in 1970?

Thank you all so much for your help!
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  #2  
Old 01-16-2013, 05:20 PM
AGDAlum AGDAlum is offline
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I suggest "The Company He Keeps," by Nicholas Syrett
"Inside Greek U," by Allen deSantis
"Bound By a Mighty Vow," by Diana Turk.

HTH!
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Last edited by AGDAlum; 01-18-2013 at 02:48 PM.
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  #3  
Old 01-16-2013, 06:29 PM
badgeguy badgeguy is offline
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Fraternities in general have always had popularity on college campuses ever since they were formed. In the middle 1800s, there was a push to abolish them due to their secrecy by many faculties at some schools, and again in the 1900s there was again a push to diminish the effect they had on the students as well.

The fact that many societies have existed for over 100 yrs proves that they never really lost popularity among college students, even if "adults" on the outside didnt understand them.

My thoughts about why Erskine Literary Societies would want to mimic general social fraternities is just that...they wanted to be more social in nature to be able to draw in more members. Also, not knowing the history at Erskine, were social fraternities ever allowed on campus? You'd have to check faculty minutes but maybe in the 1970s there was hope that National Social Greek Letter Societies might be allowed to charter at the school, so the existing societies tried to become "locals" to which Nationals would be drawn to.

Many National (or International if you want to be specific) groups would look at campuses where they could expand their organizations and look at groups that existed on campuses with long histories, that would bolster a good alumni base to which chapter really depend on for support.

Also, depending on the proximity to other schools there may have been influence from nearby schools for these societies to become more "greek" in nature.

Without an accurate picture of the history of the college and its take on social groups, this may all be just a guess.

There are many articles and books written about this subject if you dig a little. The NIC HQ in Indianapolis has such material on fraternities and sororities and their influence on society.

Hope this helps also.

BadgeGuy
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  #4  
Old 01-16-2013, 07:57 PM
UofM-TKE UofM-TKE is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AGDAlum View Post
I suggest "The Company He Keeps," by Nicholas Syrett
The hardcover is $12.80 at Amazon. I just ordered one.
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  #5  
Old 01-16-2013, 10:56 PM
Romanus Romanus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by badgeguy View Post
Fraternities in general have always had popularity on college campuses ever since they were formed. In the middle 1800s, there was a push to abolish them due to their secrecy by many faculties at some schools, and again in the 1900s there was again a push to diminish the effect they had on the students as well.

The fact that many societies have existed for over 100 yrs proves that they never really lost popularity among college students, even if "adults" on the outside didnt understand them.

My thoughts about why Erskine Literary Societies would want to mimic general social fraternities is just that...they wanted to be more social in nature to be able to draw in more members. Also, not knowing the history at Erskine, were social fraternities ever allowed on campus? You'd have to check faculty minutes but maybe in the 1970s there was hope that National Social Greek Letter Societies might be allowed to charter at the school, so the existing societies tried to become "locals" to which Nationals would be drawn to.

Many National (or International if you want to be specific) groups would look at campuses where they could expand their organizations and look at groups that existed on campuses with long histories, that would bolster a good alumni base to which chapter really depend on for support.

Also, depending on the proximity to other schools there may have been influence from nearby schools for these societies to become more "greek" in nature.

Without an accurate picture of the history of the college and its take on social groups, this may all be just a guess.

There are many articles and books written about this subject if you dig a little. The NIC HQ in Indianapolis has such material on fraternities and sororities and their influence on society.

Hope this helps also.

BadgeGuy
Erskine's Board of Trustees banned national fraternities in the 1890s. There were two on campus at the time, including Sigma Chi. Tomorrow I'll be going through the literary society minutes from the period to see what they're saying when they make the change to Greek Letters.

My assumption is that you're right - in the post WW2 period Erskine was growing and drawing in a broader, more diverse students. Athletics and more organizations competed with the literary societies and I have seen numerous references to attempts to "revitalize" the literary societies. My guess is that the shift in the 1960s was a result thereof.

Interestingly, from the late 1920s to early 1940s there were about fifteen different women's GLOs at Erskine. None of them were national and they were often short-lived. Unlike the literary societies, these were classified as social organizations.
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  #6  
Old 01-17-2013, 11:35 AM
MysticCat MysticCat is offline
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According to the 1905 Baird's, available through Googlebooks, South Carolina passed anti-fraternity legislation in the late 1800s. This anti-fraternity legislation prohibited national fraternities from operating in the state. Other references to this law can be found elsewhere on the web, and Baird's specifically says that the Erskine chapters of Sigma Chi and SAE, as well as other SC chapters of these two fraternities, were closed as a result of the law.

According to the webpage of the Gamma Triton Chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa (University of South Carolina):
Quote:
The story of Gamma Triton begins in Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1900 with a determined group of young men and a few restrictive state laws. Back in those days, South Carolina had an Anti-Fraternity Law on the books that prevented the formation and operation of fraternal organizations within the state.

To get around these restrictions, the founding members decided instead of forming a “fraternity”, they would instead form a “club”; the Hermes Club. The Hermes Club was established to band together “club members” for the mutual benefit of all. Thus the Hermes Club was born, a true fraternity of all aspects except for the name.

That finally changed in 1929 with the abolition of the Anti-Fraternity Law. The gentlemen of Phi Sigma Kappa then officially opened their arms to the members of the Hermes Club, establishing the third fraternity to be chartered within the State of South Carolina.
If I had to guess, I'd guess that the effect of the SC anti-fraternity law at Erskine was to have the existing literary societies, which were losing their prominence on many other campuses, emerge as fraternity alternatives. I would also guess that when the anti-fraternity law was repealed, students at Erskine didn't feel a strong need for fraternities because the literary societies were filling that need.

Fraternities across the country saw a boost after WWII. Lots of GIs were going to school on the GI Bill, and many of them were looking for the kind of commeraderie that fraternities offered. Again, if I had to guess, the move by the literary societies to become more social after WWII reflects how that played out at Erskine.

As for the counterculturalism of the 1960s, being familiar with Erskine and with the ARP Church, I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that 1960s counterculturalism wasn't much of a factor at Erskine. Erskine would have been a pretty socially conservative campus in the 60s, and I'd guess that the move for the literary societies to look "more Greek" would have just been the logical progression of what had started after WWII. Who knows -- it might even have been a reaction of sorts to the way Greek life was being viewed on other, more liberal campuses.

For what any of this may be worth.
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  #7  
Old 01-17-2013, 12:53 PM
Pingyang Pingyang is offline
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There is a great article that looks at fraternity and sorority popularity in a book called Brothers and Sisters. I'd recommend the whole book in general, but that first chapter is what will help you the most. It is a very concise history and may not provide as much information as you would like or need. Here's the citation:

Torbenson, C. L. (2009). From the beginning: A history of college fraternities and sororities. In C. Torbenson & G. Parks (Eds.), Brothers and sisters: Diversity in college fraternities and sororities (pp. 15-45). Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

--

Are there old school or local newspapers available that might shed some insight? That would be the first place that I would look--they can tell you a lot about local attitudes, especially for that post-WW2 shift. How about yearbooks--how do the descriptions of organizations change, if at all? What about other nearby schools? Were these shifts unique to Erskine or part of a larger movement?

Were there any faculty members or administrators advising these literary societies at the time? Assuming so, do the school's archives (if they keep archives) contain any letters, notes, or other documents that mention these societies at all? Those can also be invaluable sources of information if they exist.

I don't know anything about Erskine, but those sorts of resources have helped me tremendously when researching GLOs at other schools.

Good luck with your project!
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