Update #2: High School Fraternities and Sororities

As I mentioned in my first post, the majority of the remaining articles I found are from educational research journals. The articles are by administrators who are against or ambivalent towards high school fraternities and sororities. These papers gave me an insight into what administrators at the time were thinking and doing to try to stop or work with the organizations. The remainder of the papers I found are from newspapers that discuss actions of administrators/parents.

A high school principal wrote a paper published in an academic journal in 1909 that stated four main issues with secret societies: “they are undemocratic; they develop friction in the student body; they defy school authority; and they tend to moral degeneration of their members” (Travis, 1909). This succinctly states the main arguments I found against high school fraternities and sororities.

About being “undemocratic,” William Graebner, a history professor at the State University of New York, College at Fredonia, states that blackballing was typical. This is where just one vote to reject a candidate for membership was enough. Graebner also mentions how a survey in 1904 found that these secret organizations could be found in 40 to 50% of the nation’s high schools, with 8% of the school body in public schools and 36% in private schools a part of them on average. Graebner’s paper as well as another paper by E. G. Cooley talked about how many argued that because public schools are funded by taxpayers, the fraternities and sororities were undemocratic since not everyone was invited for membership when public schools are made to be inclusive to everyone (Graebner, 1987; Cooley, 1905; “A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities,” 1905). Another paper calls high school fraternities and sororities undemocratic as well because they “prevent the free formation of social groups.” This occurs when students try to leave them peacefully, but they cannot without there being accusations of disloyalty and dishonor (“A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities,” 1905).

On developing friction in the student body, several papers point out that the organizations often discriminate against certain classes, races, and religions (Graebner, 1987; Cooley, 1905). Cooley mentions that on average, fewer poor children can go to high school as they need to help earn money for their families, and so separation of students into groups based on class is unfair and causes unease (1905). Attempting to join one of these organizations and being denied membership will often create unease. Popularity usually had a part in whether a student was allowed membership and so creating these exclusive in-groups and outgroups created much tension between students (Graebner, 1987; “A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities,” 1905). Cooley also mentions how in a high school with 1,330 students and 130 of those in a secret fraternity, the 20 of the 25 elective positions were filled by fraternity members, sufficiently creating a “frat ring” (1905). Another reason they develop friction among students is that new members often are forced to go through a humiliating act as a part of their initiation (Graebner, 1987). Not to mention, many of these hazing rituals are dangerous for the students’ wellbeing, as some of the newspapers told of that I talked about in my first blog post.

On the accusation of “defying school authority,” teachers, administrators, and parents felt that the organizations caused students to grow up too fast and throw them into a world of “early sophistication, imitation of elders, worldly social success, manipulation of community politics and experimentation in vice” (“A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities,” 1905). These high school fraternities and sororities tried to imitate collegiate Greek letter organizations in name, dress, and actions (“High school fraternity,” 1902). Graebner talks about how teachers and administrators wanted to socialize students on their own terms, not where students ran the show (1987). Efforts to get rid of them drove them underground, making supervision of them even more difficult, and one paper called them “centers of rebellion” (Graebner, 1987; “A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities,” 1905; Harris, 1920). These fraternities and sororities drew loyalty of students away from their school and towards their organization (Graebner, 1987).

On “tending to the moral degeneration of their members,” papers mentioned how members put “leisure over grades” and encouraged discrimination against certain groups (Graebner, 1987; “A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities,” 1905). “A discussion of high-school fraternities and sororities” lists that the organizations cause: “idling, expense, trivial conversation, indulgence, love of display, and the spread of gossip” among members (1905). Going to back to hazing, members were also willing to humiliate and even physically harm their fellow peers when otherwise they most likely would never have done so.

These papers from educational journals have given me a lot of insight into specific arguments opposition had against high school fraternities and sororities. They also mention what was done to get rid of the organizations and I will look more into these as I continue to write my paper. It seems like many of these arguments against high school fraternities and sororities still exist as arguments against collegiate fraternities and sororities. I have created a basic timeline of high school fraternities and sororities based on the articles I have found, but I will continue to synthesize information and hopefully post my summary soon!


  1. Hi Margaret,

    I’ve really enjoyed reading about your research on high school fraternities and sororities! It’s super interesting how similar high school fraternities and sororities are to today’s university counterparts, and your update about issues that the opposition used to argue against high school fraternities and sororities has helped me think about what steps might be taken to draw away from the negative parts of such groups. With the talk of disloyalty and dishonor, “going underground,” and breaking rules, I’m curious, were any comparisons made to gangs historically, which have had similar traits? And while your research has focused on the peak of high school fraternities and sororities, have you found similar articles about university sororities and fraternities?

    Looking forward to reading your summary!

    Sean Tran

  2. Hi Sean,

    Thank you for your comment and questions! In answer to your question about gangs, some of the articles by teachers/school administrators did briefly compare the high school fraternities to gangs. I didn’t actually pay much attention to that while reading the articles, but that is an interesting thought you’ve brought up. I’m sure the whole similarity to gangs was also used as reasoning for why the organizations should be banned. About your question on college fraternities and sororities, I actually had not looked for articles about them because my topic is based more on the history of high school ones, and I already had a lot of background knowledge from my Fraternities and Sororities Coll150 class last semester. However, I did end up looking for some while writing my paper and I will include more information about them in my summary post coming soon!



Speak Your Mind