The 1909/1910 Chinook yearbook devoted a full page to “The Installation of the Kappa Sigma.” In the text W.M. Coulter, a founding member of the first national fraternity at Washington State College, notes that the event “marks a new epoch in the fraternal life of the College.”
Indeed, according to William Stimson’s student history of WSU, Going to Washington State, by 1918 there were seven national fraternities on campus and four national sororities, in addition to a handful of local fraternal groups. Concerned that students were spending more time on their social lives than their studies, the faculty created a committee in 1911 “to regulate student activities in the interest of better scholarship.” For his part, President Enoch Bryan appointed a dean of women to keep tabs on the behavior of young co-eds.
The dean of women didn’t last, but the Greek system certainly did.
Today there are 40 fraternity and sorority houses at WSU and 13 more fraternal organizations without houses. And the social activities of Greek members are still a concern for college administrators. But a century after the first fraternity opened at WSU, it’s hard to imagine WSU without them.
Besides providing students places to live, the Greek organizations encourage them to be involved on campus, says Anita Cory, director of the WSU Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life. From the beginning Greek system students were active in student government. “I can’t think of a time that one of (the ASWSU officers) hasn’t been Greek,” says Cory, who has worked at WSU for 16 years.
And students who have been in a fraternity or sorority tend to stay involved with WSU long after graduation. While the Cougar Nation is made up of loyal alumni from all across campus, independents and Greeks alike, leaders of the WSU Alumni Association, the WSU Foundation, and even the WSU Board of Regents often turn out to have once been part of the Greek system. Twenty out of the 37 past presidents of the WSU Alumni Association and nearly a quarter of all WSUAA members have had Greek affiliations, for example.
“We all kinda say we had the four best years of our life here and we want to give back,” says Doug Thomas ’87, president of the Greek Alumni Association. Life in the Greek system “provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for young men and women to take on leadership roles and develop lifelong friendships,” says Thomas, who still gets together with four of his best friends from his fraternity and their families every Christmas.
Thomas and others point out that Greeks are responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of gifts to the University. While they comprise somewhat less than 20 percent of WSU alumni, they contribute more than 60 percent of gifts, he says.
The list of notable WSU graduates who were also Greek is a long one, says Bob Smawley ‘52, from Edward R. Murrow to former Governor Mike Lowry and businesswoman and philanthropist Phyllis Campbell.
While members of the Greek community are proud of that legacy, their reasons for continued support focus on the future. “It holds the possibility of providing wonderful opportunities for social, intellectual, and moral growth,” says Margery Rounds Muir ’54, who served for years as an advisor to her sorority. Not everyone takes advantage of those opportunities, she adds, but the students who do will emerge from their college days more mature, more capable, and more confident of their abilities to make a difference.
On the Web
A Century of Greek Life :: A brief history of fraternities and sororities at WSU (Our Story)
Growing Up on College Hill :: Marge Muir remembers Greek life and being a kid on campus in the ’30s and ’40s. (Our Story)
Memories of Rush 1963 :: by Gail Tustin Bacon (Our Story)