The Founding of Delta Gamma at IU
One evening during the Spring of 1898, Lillian Bappert, Nellie Perigo, and Mary E. Coleman sat on the steps of a cottage at 409 S. Dunn in Bloomington, In. discussing the sorority question at Indiana University. They had just finished helping four friends -- one Theta, two Kappas, and a Pi Phi -- dress for the annual Panhellenic fancy dress party, which was a very important spring social function at Indiana University.
Of the three women, two had been "spiked" by sororities (invited to join), and they had many friends in the sororities that existed. None had any reason to be soured on sororities, but they did not like sororities as they existed in Indiana at that time. The three women discussed the girls among the "barbs" (Barbarians -- nickname for non-Greek women) and decided there were plenty of fine girls from which to form another sorority at Indiana.
After writing friends who had been in other colleges and making inquiries about sororities, a Pi Phi at Michigan urged the women to try for Delta Gamma and "to be satisfied with nothing less." The next step was to take the matter to Mrs. Joseph Swain, the wife of the President of the University, knowing they could do nothing without her cooperation.
Mrs. Swain was a Kappa Alpha Theta and a very broad-minded woman and very much interested in the welfare of the women of the institution. Both she and Dr. Swain were anxious to have another sorority established. Mrs. Swain undertook the correspondence with the national officers of Delta Gamma and gave the information that they desired regarding Indiana University.
Mrs. Swain informed the women that three other girls -- Alice Kinnard, Eva Ensle, and Estoria Dunham, who were members of a local sorority, Alpha Zeta Beta -- had already applied to Miss Nelson, the secretary of the Grand Council of Delta Gamma for a charter. These girls had pushed the matter further than the Effie Coleman and her friends, so they had the "right of way." Miss Kinnard's group asked Miss Coleman's group to join them in their efforts. They accepted on the condition that they would have a vote on any others to be asked to become charter members.
At the opening of the following fall term, the six women did not hold regular meetings, but they continued to try to meet young women whom they might include in their group if they received a charter. Otherwise, no one in the college knew of their hopes except their backers among the members of the faculty.
Late in October, Mrs. Swain received a telegram stating that two women would arrive that afternoon from Chicago to look over the six applicants. Not even the names of the visitors were given. Miss Coleman was living at the home of Professor Mottier and was the only student in the house. There was a spare bedroom that Mrs. Mottier offered for the out-of-town guests, whose identity and purpose were not revealed.
When Caroline McCabe of Sigma Chapter of Delta Gamma at Northwestern and Helen Davis of Zeta Chapter at Albion (Mi.) College arrived, they agreed to hide their pins and enter into the secrecy. They met that evening with the applicants and the next day visited classes and talked with the professors who knew of the applicants' plans. On Saturday the applicants invited a few of the faculty wives and the girls they wanted in Delta Gamma to a tea. Saturday evening Miss McCabe and Miss Davis had dinner with Dr. and Mrs. Swain at their home without any of the girls present.
Later that evening, some of the applicants' fraternity men friends called on them. They stayed until Sunday night at midnight. The applicants appealed for a charter to be granted by Thanksgiving when the spiking contract among the existing sororities would expire. Miss McCabe and Miss Davis left promising to do everything that could be done by the use of telegraphy and fast mail service to get the charter within four weeks.
At noon the day the spiking contract was to expire, Dr. Swain received a telegram that the Delta Gamma charter had been granted. He sent for Nellie Perigo and gave her the message. She went to Effie Coleman's room, and they wept. Miss Coleman wrote, "We wept copious tears -- not tears of joy either. We were overwhelmed at the task before us."
After offering spikes to Elizabeth Hedderich and Clara Snyder, the women delayed expanding their roles until after their own initiation. On December 10, Miss McCabe brought the Delta Gamma charter to Bloomington and initiated the charter members. Mrs. John A. Bergstrom, whose husband was a philosophy professor, offered the use of her home on Forest Place (current location of Ballantine Hall) for the initiation. Afterward, the group had supper with Miss McCabe. She and Effie Coleman went to the Kappa Alpha Theta party. Miss Coleman wrote, "We had felt Kappa Alpha Theta was our friend and for that reason selected Theta as our chapter letter."
Source: Coleman, Mary Effie, "Reminiscences of Our Fraternity," The History of Delta Gamma, 1874-1915.
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Page last updated: March 15, 2013