Bound By a Mighty Vow: Sisterhood and Women's Fraternities, 1870-1920

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Sororities are often thought of as exclusive clubs for socially inclined college students, but Bound by a Mighty Vow, a history of the women's Greek system, demonstrates that these organizations have always served more serious purposes. Diana Turk explores the founding and development of the earliest sororities (then called women's fraternities) and explains how these groups served as support networks to help the first female collegians succeed in the hostile world of nineteenth century higher education.

Turk goes on to look at how and in what ways sororities changed over time. While the first generation focused primarily on schoolwork, later Greek sisters used their fraternity connections to ensure social status, gain access to jobs and job training, and secure financial and emotional support as they negotiated life in turn-of-the-century America. The costs they paid were conformity to certain tightly prescribed beliefs of how "ideal" fraternity women should act and what "ideal" fraternity women should do.

Drawing on primary source documents written and preserved by the fraternity women themselves, as well as on oral history interviews conducted with fraternity officers and alumnae members, Bound by a Mighty Vow uncovers the intricate history of these early women's networks and makes a bold statement about the ties that have bound millions of American women to one another in the name of sisterhood.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Turk presents a mostly balanced treatment of women's fraternities. She fills in gaps left behind by previous scholars."

-American Historical Review

Library Journal
Turk (social studies, NYU) draws upon a wealth of sources, including many primary documents, to investigate the early history of women's Greek-letter organizations, focusing principally on Kappa Alpha Theta, founded in 1870 by the first four female students of Indiana's Asbury College (later DePauw University). Painting an eloquent picture of how the bonds of sisterhood sustained these women and their fellow pioneers as they faced the hostility of male students and faculty, she then compares the first and second generations of women's fraternities-the former more concerned with scholarship and the latter with campus society and its pleasures. She goes on to examine the increase in exclusionary practices, the rise of anti-fraternity sentiment, and the lifelong significance of Greek membership. Although she concludes that the Greek experience has been a generally positive one for women, she maintains objectivity throughout. Turk is to be commended for illuminating a neglected but relevant chapter in the history of women's education. With fraternities and sororities a continuing and often controversial presence on our college (and high school) campuses, this scholarly yet readable work is highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-M.C. Duhig, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814782750
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 7/30/2012
  • Pages: 251
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Diana B. Turk is an assistant professor at the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Fraternities’ Past and Historians’ Present
1 Of Serious Mind and Purpose: The First Generation of Fraternity Women
2 The Most Socially Eligible: “At Home” with the Second Generation of Fraternity Women
3 A National Society to Rank with the First in America: Expansion and Exclusion in the Women’s Greek System
4 In Search of Unity: Fostering “High Ideals” in the Face of Antifraternity Sentiment, 1910–1920
5 Once a Sister, Always a Sister: Fraternity Membership in the Postcollege Years
6 Bound by a Mighty Vow: The Costs and Benefits of Fraternity Membership, 1870–1920
About the Author

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