Thursday, April 12, 2012

Greek Letter Societies of Yesteryear

The room shown here may look a little sparsely furnished to us, but it was one of several rooms in the old Normal School building set aside for the fraternities and sororities of the day, and undoubtedly was the setting for many lively events. (This room was for the Philalethean fraternity.) These societies were also known as "literary societies" back in the 19th century and were a part of Brockport student life from the 1860s through the 1930s. Especially in the earlier years, when there was no student government, a limited number of clubs and so on, the societies were important sources of social, intellectual and entertainment opportunities. They sponsored debates on topics of the day, held oratorical contests, hosted dances, brought noted contemporary speakers to the school and held athletic contests as well.

By the 1930s the student government had begun, and many of the functions the societies had played were picked up by other bodies or groups, and they became more purely social. Ernest Hartwell came as head of the school in the late 1930s, and planning was launched for the "new" building (today's Hartwell Hall.) Hartwell was apparently unsympathetic to the role of the societies, and did not include rooms for them in the new building, effectively ending a long standing tradition.

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