Wait! What?

The very first sorority on the Hillhouse Campus, BT- voted to VOLUNTARILY disband?

I held the minutes of that meeting in my hands, while sitting in the New Haven Museum. The vote was close, but ultimately they ended their sorority in 1947, 60 years after they first colonized.  They called on all other Greek organizations to follow suit. Elm Tree yearbooks in the late 1940s featured “Hail and Farewell” parties for disbanding groups in the “secret societies” section. As our respondent in this act notes, those heeding BT-‘s call were exclusively the Jewish groups, of which there were 8: four sororities and four fraternities.

But why?  Unlike the criticisms of the 1910’s, the post-war critiques centered on advancing the democratic cause. To several in the Greek letter system, their groups smacked of elitism, anathema to the new democratic order.

This unexpected finding forced me to reconsider a number of historical events in the 1950s. The call for democratizing the society had its origins in the immediate post-war era, perhaps even during the war, as the KIPOD dance implies. The society, especially the young, had sacrificed much in their fight against fascism. Such a struggle caused them to rethink everything: the taken-for-granted segregation of people into ethnic, racial and religious groups, and the notion of equality as Americans.  Greek letter societies seemed a throw-back to an earlier age: Grandma’s high school.

The worldwide call for democratization had profound effects. In 1946, Jordan declared its independence from British colonial rule, followed by India and Pakistan in 1947 and Sri Lanka in 1948. Syria became an independent Republic in 1946, cutting its colonial ties with France, and across the Pacific the Philippines declared its independence from the US. These countries paved the way for robust independence movements that took root throughout the world in the coming decades. 

Further, several  scholars and commentators argued that US Civil Rights Movement  of the 1950s was an outgrowth of this world wide zeitgiest. After all, Martin Luther King was greatly influenced by Ghandi’s methods of non-violent resistance, satyagraha.

Who knew that a local New Haven sorority was playing such a prescient role in its bold act to disband?

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