LOIS GREENE STONE - SORORITY
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
Rush week. Rush, to me, once was the caning of seats in a trolley car. Rush meant in-a-hurry. As an undergrad, it concerned sororities.
That time span, that was later defined as the "Happy Days" generation, was post-World War II and the then-ongoing Korean War. It was commonplace to “rush” as these organizations would allow members to be with other girls of the same religion and present an opportunity to mingle with fraternity males also of the same denomination.
I attended the party of the two possible places that I could join, and found the first friendly, but full of forced-smiles and a promotional atmosphere that spoke of why it was better than its competitor. I then went to the next and the members seemed to come from a cookie-cutter which had replicated one individual as they were a blurred group of co-eds with the same hairstyle, pleated skirts that appeared to be an unofficial uniform, and facial makeup to cover post-adolescent acne. Then I was quite literally told that if I pledged, I was not to then, nor ever, date men who were not in its brother fraternity.
With never any more make up than a pale pink lipstick and straight natural blonde hair that required me sleeping in metal rollers (before hair dryers or curling irons) but was never sprayed or “perfect,” my preferring wind to blow it and rain to moisten it, the second place was no option. My philosophy was inclusion; sororities seemed to say exclusion.
I did not sign up to potentially be considered a member of either. On the day the “results” came out, there were girls in my dorm literally sobbing about rejection. What was wrong about an acceptance that didn’t come? It wasn’t about the individual, but the distraught dorm-mates could not see that. We, in the dorm, were mixed religions and races; we were fine together. Yet the word “sorority” seemed to be very important to many.
At a dorm meeting, I proposed that we initiate our own non-sectarian, interracial unit, and ask the school to support our idea and give us housing. Such a concept had never been realized. The university approved. We also agreed that there would be no pledging, no excluding someone by a negative vote (then called the blackball system), and any female who agreed to live with kindness and consideration with women of any religion and race would be a member; that she must agree upon before moving into the dorm. Since we couldn’t fill the space for 66 co-eds, the university housed independent women with us and many became members and wore the sorority pin. Others who were uncomfortable with our premise, say being given a roommate of a different skin color for example, moved out as soon as was possible.
I hand-typed individual letters to colleges and universities across the nation; there were no computers or printers or any duplication machines except for mimeographs. I proclaimed our values with the key strokes on a Remington Rand typewriter, before electric typewriters made touching keys easier, and I naively believed this group would become a recognized national organization. I received letters from southern schools that were hateful. At my northern New England university, I had no idea that the South at that time differed regarding religious or racial tolerance. This was before integration. Other mail came back to me with "no" and statements about how the idea was quite awful, and those words surprised me from northern and mid-western places.
My grandfather, a photographer who photographed U.S. Presidents from Taft through Truman, gave me an idea to telephone Eleanor Roosevelt, whom he personally knew, and she allowed my grandfather to give me her personal home phone number. I called her in New York and explained my frustration with “society,” and said maybe if she could take the train to Connecticut and meet us and speak, it might acknowledge why our concept was important. She agreed; I bought her a corsage of her favorite flower, a camellia. There were no bodyguards when she got off the train, and she ate in our dorm’s dining room, accepted an honorary pin, and I so expected society would suddenly change.
Of course it didn’t. But Mrs. Roosevelt gave us reason to continue with our rebellious-for-the-time sorority house fully integrated in race and religion and we girls became adult women accepting others for their personalities and outlook—not what pews they sat in or whether their skin tones matched. Of course we all didn’t get along like some big friendship circle; we were people first, and our likes and dislikes were based on personality clashes or petty jealousies or such, but never on racial or religious differences.
Rush week still happens. And girls will slump in hallways looking at rejection slips and still sob and feel despair. “Sisters” can blackball a potential pledge, and dictate to an initiate. Despite that, there are now dorms of both men and women in the same building, curfews don’t exist anymore, dress codes are obsolete, and fraternal organizations are no longer specifically for one religion—at least on paper, as far as I know.
We have improved. Eleanor Roosevelt would be pleased with the 21st century’s advancements in technology and humanity. The South began integrating its schools in 1957. In 2008, the country elected a black President who held office for eight years. Our country has gone through numerous progressive movements since the 50s, and society has changed views and legislation for same-sex marriages, transgender bathrooms, and so forth. We are better than the "Happy Days" generation.
I see society the way I see the change in postage stamps. We no longer have to endure the bitter taste of a postage stamp to affix to an envelope but merely press it and it adheres with ease, and the stamps are forever so a rate raise doesn’t mean extra postage to use. We all make a difference and don’t need a bitter taste of life left in our mouths to try and make something stick; with a direct, simple yet solid effort, the newly affixed stamp of belief or support can stay in place, delivering us into new territory. While none of us can live forever, I want my time to still be helping shape values that will endure.
©2017 The Write Place at the Write Time
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