Did you know that James Hillhouse High School used to be the premier college preparatory high school in New Haven?  Back then, it was called New Haven High School, because it was the city’s only high school. Students from all over the greater New Haven area attended the school. Notable people who graduated during this time include:

Ernest Borgnine:  Academy Award winning actor

Richard C. Lee:  Long time mayor of New Haven

Constance Baker Motley: Distinguished Jurist

Levi Jackson: First Black Captain of Yale Football team and First Black Executive at Ford Motor Company (learn more about him in episode 6)

Like many college preparatory high schools, Hillhouse hosted 32 Greek letter organizations. Most were local, specific only to Hillhouse. But some were part of a growing network of regional organizations, with adult former members sitting on governing boards. 

As a child, I perused my parents’ yearbooks and imagined my life as a high school student. The Greek letter organizations were prominently featured and I often wondered about them.  Did they propel a student to popularity?  How hard was it to get in?  What types of activities did Greek letter students engage in?

Only after I grew up did my adult eye notice that all the Greek letter organizations were segregated by ethnicity, race, and religion. For example, Italian Americans who attended James Hillhouse High School in the 1940’s could choose from four Greek Letter Organizations:

Phi Epsilon Alpha Sorority, Established in 1929

Alpha Theta Pi Fraternity, Established in 1927

Phi Theta Sorority, Established in 1939

Kappa Iota Pi Fraternity, Established in 1933

My father was a member of Alpha Theta Pi. My aunt was a member of Phi Epsilon Alpha.

In addition to the Italian groups were Irish groups, Anglo groups, Jewish groups and Black groups. 

These were the only groups at Hillhouse that were so segregated, so I wondered, how did students navigate between segregation and integration? So I went to the New Haven Colony Historical Society Archives (now the New Haven Museum) and checked out old yearbooks and the materials they had about Greek Letter organizations. I also interviewed 18 individuals about their experiences in these organization.

I never got a definitive answer to this question, but I learned a lot about what the organizations did; what kinds of resistance they faced from the larger society; and in the end, an amazing surprise, one that I never expected to learn when I first started the research. 

Always a creative writer at heart, I decided to turn my historical analysis into a play.  I “performed” the play live at symposia, conferences and in the classroom.

With Zoom technology, I can now present the play to all of you. For ease of watching, I broke it up into 6 Acts.

Video will be posted above and on YouTube.

I will post a new installation each week.




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