When I transferred from St. Teresa's all girls’ college to North Dakota State
University, one most important ingredient in my life was lacking - a boyfriend. I thought that if I went to a college where there were 4000 students and 3/4 of them men, my chances might improve. I also thought that if I joined one of the sororities, those most talked about social institutions of higher education, I was certainly inwith a good chance.
The procedure was thus: when one enrolled in the autumn at college if one was interested in being considered by a sorority for membership, one applied to be rushed. All the potential girls were put on lists and then invited by the six sororities on campus to rushing parties. These parties consisted of sitting in the various houses owned by the sororities and talking to the already initiated members, trying to convince them by your sparkling wit and charming personality that you would be an asset to their group. The sororities were looking for certain types of girls. They wanted popular, leader-type girls, but
they also wanted ones who'd get good marks to keep the sorority's academic average up. They wanted girls who fit their image - so that when they sported the emblem of the group, people would know what the group was like from knowing the girl.
I went to the first six rushing parties, and found them hard work. I didn't find it easy to make small talk. I wasn't pretty or very sparkling image - in any way shape or form. Then I waited in trepidation for the second lot of invitations to come, because many girls would be eliminated in the first round. I got invited back to two of the houses, four had rejected me, but I didn't like them either so I didn't feel bad.
The second rush parties had fewer girls attending so they weren't so hectic. I felt more relaxed because I knew they already liked me a little, and I could remember certain faces in the group. I actually found myself longing to be invited to join a sorority.
Then came the final rush party and this time I was invited to only one - the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. Of all the groups I liked them best. They all seemed less pretty, less popular, more studious, more friendly and more normal. Yes, I felt I would make a good Alpha Gam. And they asked me to pledge. There were about 15 new pledges each year, for each of the six sororities, out of the 250 or so who originally showed an interest in joining. I felt very flattered to be asked.
I liked my pledge sisters. There were only two of us who were sophomores, and amongst the freshmen there were several girls whose company I enjoyed. We each were given a sister-mother to be our special guide and friend. Mine was called Karen. She was my age, and she was a pharmacy major. She was tall and rather plump - not pretty but very smart and very nice.
We met together each lunch and supper, and they were formal meals with perfect manners demanded. We had a house mother who was old and dumpy and nobody liked her much, so we ignored her as best we could. We had meetings once a week. The fees were quite high, about $50 a month, but that
included the meals. After meals we were free to sit around at the house and socialize with the other members.
We pledges had until after Christmas to prove ourselves worthy to be
asked to join officially - to be initiated. We were given the more menial tasks to do for the members, and were made to learn the rules of the group, and the Greek alphabet, and various other items. We had a sorority song and a sorority pledge that we had to learn too. But it was fun. They were pleased with me because I got good grades, and I got a big part in the first play of the season. I was a prostitute called Totina in Pirandello's Tonight We Improvise. It was an awful play and I didn't do the part particularly well. But being in a play was a good thing, and brought esteem to the house.
We had parties with various of the fraternities. I can only remember going to about five or six, and never did meet any interesting eligible men which of
course had been my prime concern in joining the group in the first place. I did get a few dates from the brother of the girl who was our Pledge Leader, Janice. Her brother, Bob, belonged to the Agricultural Fraternity, and he was quite good looking, although painfully quiet. He took me to the Homecoming game and dance afterwards, and on one other date. I had this idea that perhaps he would be more impressed with me if he thought other men fancied me. I knew Bob was coming to see the play I was in on the Saturday night, so I asked the solider
who was my opposite number in the friendly scene to make the scene as friendly as possible. He, Jack, actually was also a brother of another Alpha Gam, and although he was married, he gladly obliged and kissed me most enthusiastically on stage, even though we'd specifically been told not to kiss. He kissed me behind the stage too, but that I hadn't arranged. But it didn't stir up the ardour of Bob - it put him off me. He never asked me out again after that.
We seemed to see alot of the Agricultural Frat. I wasn't very impressed by them as they all seemed to be farmer types, and that meant rather dull to my
way of thinking. One Saturday we all went over to their house and cleaned their bedrooms for them. I can't imagine why we did it, maybe it was a pledge duty to see if we could do unpleasant work without complaining. The room I cleaned had nude pinups all over the walls, so I felt morally obliged to make a written comment on the fellow's choice of art. And the frat complained to our sorority, and our pledge leader,Janice, was ashamed to tell us that one of our group had done such an awful thing. I was pleased when I went up to her later and told her
it was me. I wasn't ashamed. I was proud that I'd made a stand for what I thought was right. But perhaps it was the first time in my sorority career when I realized that it was difficult to be an individual. They wanted conformity.
When our trial period was up, we had a grueling Hell Week when we were supposed to prove once and for all we had the guts to be a true sorority girl. We
were lead to believe we would be asked to do all sorts of difficult and nasty things like eating goldfish, but it couldn't have been too bad because I can't remember any of the jobs we were given except scrubbing the kitchen floor with toothbrushes. We all passed and were deemed worthy to be initiated.
We had to wear long white dresses for the occasion and were given long stem red roses, and our sister-mothers bought us special presents. We each bought an
Alpha Gam pin. Mine was plain because I couldn't afford the pearl studded version, but it was gold. Karen gave me a necklace with the Alpha Gam motto on the pendant.
The ceremony was secret - but really there was nothing about it that needed to be a secret. It was a mixture of formal ceremony and sentimental promises
to follow the rules of the group. I gave my promise freely, and with good intention. I was proud to be an Alpha Gam Girl. There was a song we sang at the end, "Alpha Gam Girl here's our promise to you. Alpha Gam Girl may you always be true. True to what’s right and the stars above, Guided by faith and by Alpha Gam Love. Shoulder to shoulder and true hearts within, Loyalty we pledge to you. Always you know we shall ever be true. Alpha Gam Girl, we love you." Sentimental and stupid, but just the taste of romance and acceptance
that I wanted, and no doubt there were tears in my eyes as I sang it.
Once initiated we were allowed to attend the proper group meetings which happened on Monday nights. They were very formal in structure and various of the adult “old girls” attended too. There were announcements of forthcoming events; ways in which we could promote our cause; warnings of those who were treading the dangerous path; that sort of thing. And then shortly thereafter we had elections and I was elected treasurer. What a thrill. Not only was I accepted, but immediately placed into the inner circle of elite.
I had the job of collecting the monthly dues, and chasing up those who were tardy. I had to keep the books, which somehow never quite balanced for me, but by the end of the year, I'd managed to fix them in a way that they seemed to be balanced, and I thought I wouldn't get found out. I did have charge of paying in the group money to the bank and it was quite a considerable amount each month. But somehow my columns and rows didn't quite add up.
After I became an officer, I also went to the Executive special meetings on Sunday nights when the real business of the group was enacted. Here we had
the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and similar representatives of the group from the alumni. We talked about the nitty gritty of the organization. It was when I got into this inner wheel that I started questioning rather than just glorying in the group. One of the jobs of the officer group was to enforce discipline. We had two occasions of this that particularly upset me.
One was a very pretty and popular girl called Jane who had fallen low in her grade average. She was brought before the committee and told in no uncertain terms how she had let the group down, and how if she didn't improve she would be kicked out. She had family problems. I don't know exactly what, but it sounded as if her parents were split up and she was being used as a family football. But the group were totally unsympathetic to her excuses. She cried and they humiliated her. And I cringed. Poor Jane. I thought it was wrong to do that to her. Maybe her marks were low. Maybe she had problems, but to badger and
humiliate her - it was just awful.
The second item I remember was Sandy, a junior who was a very fun loving girl and she'd gone to a party and had got drunk. She had apparently disgraced the Alpha Gam name by her deportment. Sandy was tall and big and I was really rather frightened of her. She could be very scathing to us younger girls when she felt like it. But now it was her turn to be called to order and told that she must mend her ways or she would be forced to leave. I didn't like the idea of her being drunk at a party. I thought she was a very unpleasant person anyway, but I didn't like the way she was put on trial, with the 10 or so of us
judging and condemning her, with no one to speak for her, and no one being interested in what she had to say in her own defense. Again I wondered how this nice group of girls could have changed into such a nasty vindictive bunch of harpies but I didn't say anything. I didn't like it but I kept quiet.
The next year, I went along for the ritual rush season, but this time I was on the other side of the fence. I heard the catty and sometimes nasty remarks made about the potential members, as we cruelly decided whom to continue seeing and whom to reject. It was awful. Some of my friends whom I encouraged to sign up for rush were then chewed into little pieces and were thought to be not quite up to our caliber either academically or socially. These were nice girls that I liked more than my sorority sisters. I was unhappy about the situation and
I wanted to get out but part of me wanted the friendship and reassurance of my friends within the group too.
The answer for me came in the form of a job. Even though I had worked for the summer and the fees weren't too high at NDSU, it still was a financial drain
on my parents’ resources having both Judy and me at college. I saw a job advertised as a filing clerk at Fargo Clinic, 5-9 each weekday evening. I went along to apply and was given the job. I now had the excuse to give up being an officer (the alumni treasurer did find out that my books didn't balance but she didn't shout at me too much) and to give up the ghastly meetings. I did still go there for lunch, and I had to keep paying a part of the dues, but I had my evening meal at a cafeteria right near the clinic.
In my senior year there was no need for me to work, because Judy had finished college and said she would pay my school fees. Mom had retired and I had got a school loan of $500, but I didn't really feel it was fair for Judy to pay my sorority fees, since I didn't want to belong anymore anyway.
The sorority group said membership was for life. Once you were accepted into the ranks, you stayed a member unless they kicked you out for some gross
misdemeanor. Well, I was going to break with tradition and quit. In the previous year my mother-sister Karen had been elected president of the group. I decided to write her a letter telling her just how I felt about it. I had no reply, and when I went off to college that year I just assumed it was all over and done with. I ate my meals at the Lutheran meeting rooms, and socialized with my non-sorority
friends whom my group had not thought good enough to join us. When I
chanced to meet ex-sisters on the campus, they would turn their heads away, so as not to have to seen me. Then one night I had a phone call from Karen. “You are come to the executive meeting to appear before us to tell about your motivation for wanting to leave the group,” she said.
I said, “No I'm not going there to stand on trial for you to treat me like a
She waited a week for further instructions and then called again with a last chance request for me to go before the group. Again I refused. She said they
would take action to have my name stricken from the books, and I would need to turn in my badge and any other Alpha Gam jewellery I had. I said, “No, those are mine since I paid for them, and I can always sell them for the gold.” Karen hung up on me. But over the next week I felt bad that I'd put Karen in a spot. She had been a very good friend to me, and she was now acting for the group, and couldn't let her personal feelings interfere. So I took the pin and the necklace she'd given me and gave them to her. She looked very relieved.
That is more or less the end of the story. A month or so later I had a formal letter from the National Alpha Gamma Delta headquarters in Michigan or somewhere, and it said that I was no longer a member. My name had been
permanently erased from their books. I was rather tickled by the fact that they made it seem like their idea - not mine from the very beginning. I was no longer a sorority girl, and I was proud of it.