Happy International Women's Day!
How fitting that International Women's Day, fall in the midsts of National Ritual Celebration Week! While we are celebrating the meaning of our individual chapter's Ritual, and the values our affiliation holds us to - it is also so important that we remember the purpose for our association and the power that such association can bring.
Association is a powerful tool that women have used throughout history to make positive change - from the role women played in the emancipation movement to women's suffrage, association and a common purpose have driven women forward to the positions of power and community we are able to pursue today.
Excuse me while I flex my academic muscles... the parallel of the American Feminist Movement and the Fraternal Movement is one that fascinates me:
While fraternal organizations have been an active source of association in the United States since 1778, many still do not understand their purpose or their role on college campuses across the country. Contemporary depictions of sorority life are centralized around images straight from television; blonde upper- class women wearing Greek letters, drinking alcohol, and looking for the most handsome and eligible fraternity brother. Not only are these images grossly misguided, but the collegiate acceptance or imitation of such are far from the goals and developments of today’s sorority women as well as those of the earliest Greek women, who’s origins date back as early as 1851 (cough cough, that's us). The grounds for development of these original associations directly sought the academic, social, and political advancement of women. Women in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries found themselves in the midst of a society that was extreme in gender polarization and allowed for little advancement for women in society. Women used the secret society and later the sorority as a tool to overcome the vindictive acceptance of these women as students by their male counterparts, both students and teachers. The earliest of these organizations and those that would follow under their model were formed to support female students at various colleges and universities across the United States. The founders of each of these groups developed a baseline of fundamental behaviors that would be incorporated to their academic, social and extracurricular undertakings. The primitive use for these associations acted greatly in opposition to those of men’s organizations, many of which acted with great animosity towards the few female students on their campuses.
In exploration of these organizations, the history and initial development is two-pronged. The first secret society for women began in 1851, then resurfaced with the first Greek letter organization for women in 1870 (shout out to our Panhellenic sisters!). Wesleyan Female College, the first degree-granting institute in the world for women, was home of the two first secret societies for women. In May of 1851 the Adelphean Society was founded by a young Eugenia Tucker and five of her classmates; at first this society was bound together by nothing more than a large ribbon adorning each of their dresses inscribed with their endeavor. Unknowingly to their first members, this institution would come to touch the lives of millions of women throughout history. Their initial purpose, as regarded by founder Octavia Andrew Rush, was to “[found] the society for mutual improvement." The vocation for this “mutual improvement” was centralized on academic advancement and improvement.
Eugenia Tucker found that many of the women attending Wesleyan were not as focused on academics as she felt they should have been. Their discourse was that of academic, religious, and political debate, committing themselves to a rigorous course of study. In the following year, 1852, the Philomathean Society, now known at Phi Mu Women’s Fraternity, would join the Adelphean Society at Wesleyan Female College, similar in their purpose and practice. While these two societies pre-dated the term “sorority,” their ritual traditions and academic ambitions would standardize the practices of such women’s organizations in the future (those Macon Magnolias will get you every time!).
While the foundations were being laid for collegiate associations, women had already begun to organize in similar means in the fight for women’s advancement and the advocating of gender equality. Three years prior to the founding of the Adelphean Society, nearly three hundred women gathered in Seneca Falls, New York for the Seneca Falls Convention. This two-day convention led to the drafting of the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, a controversial drafting written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This document set forth, as former slave, statesman, and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass the "grand basis for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women."
Shortly after these Sentiments were signed, the first Women’s Rights Convention would take place in Worcester, Massachusetts. The first of many conventions, and a distinctive and momentous event in the history of women’s liberation, called to order the demands and details for a standardized plan of action to address the grievances against the legal and social limitations placed on females. Speakers at the convention addressed and spoke in defense of the legal limitations of women set forth by the Bible. Others spoke of the limited access of women to areas of higher education. Argued for sociopolitical changes in regard to the women’s movement, Lucy Stone argued for sociopolitical changes in regard to the women’s movement, and that women as persons had the right to vote and to own property, Abby Price spoke on the necessity to grant more open and equal access of women to employment and trade. In addition to the recognition of the social distortion of gender roles, Sojourner Truth spoke at the convention regarding the need to recognize the disconnect of race in society and called for the equality distribution of rights for women of color that other members of the convention were working to obtain. [Passage from "Women's Development in Organizational Leadership: A Study of Women's Fraternities and their Role in the American Feminist Movement" Mary Simeoli, 2011, all rights reserved]
The issues faced by the early members of the Women's Convention body and by our founders are still very present and still very relevant in our lives today. While we must always strive to fulfill our Ritual promise and organizational obligations - we can also never forget the strife and oppression our founders faced as young women with a common purpose.
Today, let us not only remember our Ritual and it's meaning, but also the importance of using our association to fulfill common goals, making this world better for generations of women to come!
Love and Loyally