While fraternal organizations for men have been around since the early days of America’s history, fraternal organizations for college women are not as old.
Since before the American founding, there have been fraternal organizations for men based on religious, occupational, or philosophical grounds. Many of these organizations were centered around an institution of higher learning or in areas with a slightly higher population of men who shared common values.
However, similar organizations for women did not exist until much later in American history, mainly because women were not offered the same educational or political opportunities that their male counterparts enjoyed. Soon before the American Civil War, secret literary societies began springing up at female colleges to support women who found themselves in predominately male environments. These literary circles, often under the advisement of a university official, later gave birth to the American sorority system.
The First Sororities in America
In 1851, a group of women at Wesleyan Female College began a literary circle known as the Adelphian Society, with the word Adelphian coming from the Greek word for “sister.” Six women, who were between thirteen and eighteen years of age, founded the organization on the principles of furthering the “mental, moral, social, and domestic improvement of its members.” The Adelphian Society changed its name to Alpha Delta Phi in 1905 when it attained a charter as a national organization and changed its name to Alpha Delta Pi in 1913 to avoid confusion with a men’s fraternity.
Less than a year later, three teenage women founded a separate literary society called the Philomathean Society. This organization changed its name to Phi Mu Fraternity in 1904 and became America’s second oldest secret organization for women. Because the word “sorority” had not been introduced into everyday language when many of the first sororities were founded, some of these organizations still call themselves a fraternity to preserve their heritage.
Sororities in America Today
According to the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC,) the umbrella organization for twenty-six of America’s national / international sororities and women’s fraternities, there were over 4.1 million women around the world who are initiated members of a NPC sorority as of June 2009. Undergraduate members alone contributed over 1.3 million hours of community service and raised over $5.4 million for philanthropic causes.
Despite the good work done by members of all sororities across the globe, there are still issues that arise within the sorority system. Hazing and substance abuse are among some of the biggest issues that all fraternal organizations face today, and many take part in risk management programs and awareness events to educate the organization’s members and the campus community about these issues.
Sororities in America have a long standing tradition that continues to grow and evolve as the needs of college women change. In today’s college environment, traditional sororities compliment similar organizations for women based on race, religion, professions, and many other areas that will continue to provide companionship to college women in America and around the world.