CHRONICLES: Sorority GirlsBeta Alphs Gamma house party at the Fenner home on Bayou Liberty in Slidell, circa 1948. Front row from left: Ninette Perrilliat, Anne Greenslit, Laurette Montgomery, Nancy Nicholson. Back row, from left: Barbara St. Paul, Pat Ewing, Doris Charbonnet, Margaret Hilzim.

We had more fun than you can possibly have,” M.I. (Mary Irene) Richeson Scoggin remembers fondly. “That was how I made most of my friends.” As a B.A.G. – Beta Alpha Gamma high school sorority member – she was part of a New Orleans tradition that some New Orleans private high schools ended 50 years ago this summer.

In 1957, Louise S. McGehee School, Academy of the Sacred Heart, Isidore Newman School and Metairie Park Country Day School all decided that their female students could no longer pledge a high school sorority. St. Martin’s followed suit. The four local sororities affected, each of which drew members from all those schools, were B.A.G., T. S., D.O.P. and C.A.L., with those initials standing in for their Greek letter names.

Their demise sparked a new trend that gradually lessened the influence of what had been the highlight of many New Orleanians’ school years.

New Orleans sororities had long been established.  T.S. member Cammie Kehoe Lewis’s mother had been a member of T.S. in the mid 1920s. Mary McLellan, who entered McGehee in 1931, was also in T.S., and speaks fondly of a Christmas dance at the St. Charles Hotel: “I remember getting a new white dress with a velvet sash,” and in that era she also recalls C.A.L. sorority, which may have begun as a Charles A. Lindbergh fan club, hence the initials.

Susie Kittredge Hoskins was in B.A.G. while she was a Sacred Heart student, and cites personality differences between sororities. “I just was not a jock with curvy legs and a huge serve at volleyball,” she laughs, explaining why she was not a T.S. The four sororities were joined in a Panhellenic association which published a yearbook in some years and set the governing rules for the groups. There was an annual Panhellenic fundraising event – one year it was a style show benefiting the Lighthouse for the Blind.

Rush week for incoming sophomores was in mid-August from Sunday through Thursday. Each sorority hosted three themed parties, with the events staggered through the week and scheduled half an hour apart. Girls could be rushed by one or more sororities. Lucky girls being rushed by all four would receive a schedule giving the party theme (the B.A.G. Heaven party, the T.S. Baby party, the C.A.L. Pirate party, the D.O.P. Pajama party), the address of the home where the party was given, the proper clothes (“good dress,” “shorts,” “baby clothes”) and the name of a “date” (a sorority member).

“All those invitations, and the favors and the song books – those were made by the members,” Constance Carriere Barkley points out as she displays samples in her scrapbook.

Those chosen to join would be initiated, first in an informal manner. As Gary Gillis Baker describes,  “You’d wear clothes backwards, they’d put you in somebody’s driveway where they poured condiments all over you. There was a lot of ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am.’”  The formal initiation was “a ceremony – the drama of it all, what it means.”

“We had sorority pins,” recalls D.O.P. Joan von Kurnatowski Feibelman, “and there was a secret meaning, of course.” The rest of the sorority year was taken up by weekly meetings on Saturday mornings, followed by lunch at College Inn on Carrollton Avenue, house parties across the lake and Christmas and spring dances for the members and their dates. There were also sports competitions and singing competitions between the groups throughout the year.

The sororities’ members set the rules and governed themselves and insisted on decorum, even during the house parties. As Gary Baker recalls, “You were governed by your peers. You had to be in by a certain time, you checked your name off a list, you couldn’t drink.” Peer pressure demanded conformity to the rules. Even in meetings the rules were strict. “When we went to see (the late State Representative) Johnnie Hainkel at the Legislature, I told him we had a better Parliamentarian at T.S.,” Cammie Lewis insists.

Legacies, daughters and sisters of former members were almost automatically extended an invitation. But freshmen girls hoping for a rush invitation had to be on their good behavior all year. As Susie Hoskins explains, “to be thought of as a person with a bad reputation sort of automatically eliminated you from rush.”

Other New Orleans schools had a different set of sororities, but all the groups had similarities. An important sorority at Andrew Jackson High school in Chalmette was Sigma Delta Chi, whose members even had a special car horn honk to summon friends:  DA-ta, DA, ta-DA to sound like the syllables of the name. (Most other sorority members remember blowing “chicken” – DA-DA-DA  ta-ta-ta DA-DA-DA)
Frances Tangman Belloni was a P.A.K. member. “Pi Alpha Kappa was primarily at Fortier. One of my friends went to Fortier and she pledged me and became my big sister. I went to East Jefferson.” P.A.K. was in a Panhellenic association of local sororities, which included “P.E.P., O.P., A.D.K., X.L.O. and T.O.T.” she remembers.  D.B.S., a national high school sorority founded in 1903, was in New Orleans at one time and apparently had other chapters in Mobile and in other Southern towns.

As for initiation, “We had Hell Week … I was in a pledge class of about 15 girls, I think nine of us made it and became members.” Happier memories were the two annual formals and the regular dances. “We would pay the band out of the treasury and we would all sell tickets to the dances.” The events might have taken place at the Arrow Room on Jefferson Highway, or the Lakefront Airport, Frances Belloni explains. “Nobody had a small dance; there were huge crowds. The wonderful thing about it was live music – there was just nothing like it!”

House parties across the lake, huge slumber parties on weekends, weekly meetings after school – a sorority could take up a great deal of time. Plus, “we were terribly clique-ish and there was no democracy whatsoever,” she notes. Her sorority required members to put in service hours at nonprofit agencies. “I used to go to the Home for the Incurables and I’d come home crying.”

Friendships with girls at other schools, lots of fun activities, a chance to learn how to organize and run events – why would schools want to get rid of sororities?

With weekends being taken up with sorority activities, and the sorority sporting events taking precedence over school teams, the schools themselves were having less influence over their own students. And there was another, more personal, effect on students.

“The bad thing about it was a lot of little girls were left out completely,” Gary Baker points out. Even Academy of the Sacred Heart, in an unusual act of unity, agreed with the other private schools that the 1957 summer rush could not take place. In a few years, the members graduated and the sororities ceased to exist. Eventually, they became less important at other schools as well.  The hey-day of the high school sorority in New Orleans came to an end.

As Constance Barkley notes, “I probably enjoyed them more after they were over, and I realized what I had lost.”