Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Leisa D. Meyer


This dissertation examines the role of white, Greek-letter sororities in the creation and enforcement of standards for white women's behavior during the twentieth century. While sororities at white, southern universities first served as supportive networks for the few female students on newly coeducational university campuses, I argue that they transformed into spaces that promoted "heterosocial" activities and enforced members' heteronormativity through "lessons of 'ladyhood" and required attendance at fraternity parties and participation in heterosexual dating. as a means to guarantee their popularity among students on their respective campuses, sorority chapters sought the attention of the campuses' fraternity elite. This national emphasis on chapters to maintain or gain status through relationships with men's fraternities shifted the focus of sororities from supportive systems for women students to that of organizations, which functioned in support of, and ancillary to, the male-centered university's culture of masculinity. Consequently, the groups' realignment of purpose taught women to interpret their social value in terms of their relation to, and acceptance by, men.

With a focus on sorority chapters at southern universities, this work brings attention to the understudied subject of southern women's higher education in this period and part played by institutions of higher education in maintaining conventional gender norms for white, southern women. to many deans of women, university administrators, and parents of young women, sororities seemed to provide positive lessons such as social skills and citizenship training. Yet, I argue, white college sororities' "educational" programs fostered elitism, encouraged, discriminatory behavior, and required group conformity, all while the national organizations made claims that they were training women to become good citizens. I examine the functions of these groups at both the regional and national level, to show the common mission of these national organizations in defining, through their membership, the "acceptable" United States citizenry as white, middle to upper class, and, for the most part, Protestant. By placing the story of white, college sororities in an historical contest, this dissertation demonstrates how the organizations' relationship with college campuses, university administrators, and non-Greek-letter (independent) students changed over the course of the twentieth century. Not only a story of Greek-letter groups, this work examines the changing nature of student cultures on university campuses over this period and how those shifts reflected transformations in American society beyond the campus.



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