When college students hear the term “internship” I’m pretty sure it’s a natural instinct to groan just thinking about the amount of coffee fetching it involves. However, as the new marketing intern for GreekYearbook I soon found that this would not be my experience. I’m a junior at Towson University (majoring in Mass Communications) as well as Towson’s Panhellenic Association’s secretary. Thus, an internship at GreekYearbook allows me to combine the passion I have for my major with my love of Greek life.
As a very involved member of Alpha Xi Delta, I already know all there is to possibly know about the history of my organization and chapter (founded in 1893 at Lombard College and chartered on Towson’s campus in 1990 – seriously, ask me anything!) However, since the history of the Greek community as a whole isn’t exactly my forte, I decided to do some research.
So how exactly did Greek Life start? Well, in 1776, John Heath (then a student studying Greek at The College of William & Mary) found himself rejected by the two Latin secret societies on campus. Heath decided to take matters into his own hands and, along with some friends, created the first collegiate Greek-letter society, Phi Beta Kappa. As a Greek scholar, Heath began a tradition of naming college organizations after the initials of their secret Greek motto. In the case of Phi Beta Kappa, their motto Philosophia Bios Kybernethes, which can be translated to “Philosophy [is the] guide to life,” uses the Greek letters Phi, Beta and Kappa (the first letter of each word) as their society’s public name. These days, Phi Beta Kappa is an academic honor society, that admits both men and women.
John Heath may have given us the origin of Greek-letter organizations, but the model of modern social fraternities can be traced back to Schenectady, New York at Union College where Kappa Alpha Society was founded in 1825. Two years later on Union’s campus two more fraternities were founded: Sigma Phi and Delta Phi. This triad referred to themselves as “fraternities”, which derives from the Latin word Frater meaning “brother.” As these fraternities spread to other campuses, and as new organizations were founded at other colleges, National chapters were created and Greek Life as we know it today began.
Like many things in life, Greek Life wouldn’t be what it is today without the women who are a part of it. In 1851 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, the first secret society for women was founded. Called The Adelphean Society, it promoted the “the mental, moral, social, and domestic improvement of its members.” Wesleyan College gained another women’s society the following year in 1852, known as The Philomathean Society. This is where “the firsts” get a little tricky, both of these societies did not become Greek-letter organizations until the 1900s when they became Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu respectively. The first Greek-letter fraternity for women was Kappa Alpha Theta, founded at DePauw University in 1870, whereas the first Greek-letter organization to call themselves a sorority was Gamma Phi Beta. Founded at Syracuse University in 1874, Gamma Phi Beta had their own term coined for them by Dr. Frank Smalley, a professor at the University. Sorority, like fraternity, comes from the Latin word Soror meaning “sister.”
The first half of the 20th century saw turbulent times that greatly impacted the Greek community but following the end of WWII there was an influx of membership to Greek organizations as men and women returned to college. The 1960s and ’70s saw the creation of many cultural fraternities and sororities, while the ’80s and ’90s saw the beginning of a unifying Greek community that it is today. With over 9 Million Greek members nationally, Greek life has certainly grown from its humble beginnings 237 years ago, and will only continue to improve.
– Emily Schnell, Intern