19th century program cards
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For over eighty years, from the Euglossian and Euphonian societies of the 1850s to the Alpha Delta, Phi Alpha Zeta and Arethusa societies of the 1930s, Greek Letter Societies flourished at Brockport. These sorts of societies have their roots in the "literary" society movement. The essence of the movement was the desire to provide a social and intellectual forum for students. The societies offered debates, readings of essays and poems, musical recitals, dances, teas and other activities. Up until the development of a student government in the 1920s, and various clubs and other groups, the Greek letter societies were the only organizations in place that could support events like the above. Often these activities took place in the room that each society had in the building.
The Alpha Delta sorority room in the old Normal circa 1900.
A major figure in the history of Greek societies here was Principal Charles MacLean, who in 1869 supported the organization of the Gamma Sigma fraternity. The societies of the 1850s, which MacLean had participated in as a student, had faded away and he welcomed the revival of Greek life. He encouraged the young men with financial support and the use of a room in the building. The following year of 1870 saw the creation of the Arethusa sorority. A few years later in the 1880s the Alpha Delta sorority was established.
The Alpha Delta sorority in 1927.
Another fraternity was established in the 1890s, the Phothepian, which later became Phi Alpha Zeta.
Phi Alpha Zeta in 1927.
The college archives has extensive records from these societies. Folders of dance cards, with the pencil attached by a string with which the young lady would pencil in her partners for the dance; notebooks of minutes of meetings; posters, flyers and more. For the young men and women these societies offered opportunities to learn to work with others and express themselves intellectually. Many of the groups over time established chapters in other schools in New York and there would be periodic meetings between officers of the various chapters. There are older alumni yet who fondly recall their time in one of these societies!
Times change though and in the construction of the new building in 1939-41 there was no provision made for rooms for the several societies that were then in existence. According to a letter from an alumna of that era, "To our amazement and disappointment, we learned that Dr. Hartwell felt sororities and fraternities were undemocratic and he banned them... It was not surprising, in view of his ban, that many social cliques resulted..., which were not very democratic." After a hiatus of many years Greek life returned to Brockport in the 1980s.