Greek Life at the University of Nebraska

Project Editor:J.V. Dorsey, UCARE, 2008

Table of Contents

A Brief History of The Greek System
The Greek Timeline
The Greek Hall of Fame
Greek News
Dean Gustavson and the Greek Riot of 1952
Greeks and Minorities
Theta Nu Epsilon (Sub Rosa)
Senior Scroller Society (Sub Rosa)
Greek Life in Images and Artifacts
The Greek Grave Yard

On September 15, 1871, a group of twenty-five students petitioned and were allowed to form the first student organization. They were given a room in University Hall provided that the nine-thirty curfew was not broken on their Friday night meetings. Thus the literary society, The Palladian Society, was born and became an instant attraction to college life. Entertainment was scarce in the 1870's, so sometimes townspeople, faculty and even the chancellor attended meetings. More societies formed and these new societies provided an excellent environment for social growth. A lot of students regarded the group as one of the best things about the college experience.

In the 1880's fraternities made their appearance at the University and the social power structure of the campus began to change. Fraternities were organizations of men living together. In January of 1883, the Alpha Epsilon chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity was established and became the first stable (Phi Delta Theta was the first ever) fraternity at the University. Kappa Kappa Gamma became the first "female fraternity" or sorority in 1884. Following these first organizations were a host of Greek fraternities that are still on campus today. Members of fraternities of the time were more concerned about cheap living quarters than they were about socializing. Greek houses were less expensive than dorms or apartments and thus became popular. With the quick sprouting of Greek organizations came conflicts with the literary societies who were losing members and influence to the Greeks.

The members of Phi Kappa Psi pose for a group photo in 1896.

The Men of Phi Kappa Psi

The opposition (and non Greeks) were called "barbarians" and by the mid 1880's the war between them had begun. In the "frat fight of 1884" the Palladian's revised their constitution to exclude fraternity members. As a result, a large number of people withdrew and formed their own societies. The Hesperian (the student newspaper), was controlled by the "barbs" and continually slashed fraternities. The paper claimed that fraternities were composed of wealthy people who had to have their friends selected for them. By 1900, eleven fraternities and five sororities were established and on campus and the literary societies were losing ground. Greek members began to find that there houses provided a home away from home and helped make college much more enjoyable.

As the social agendas of the Greek organizations began to grow, so did the concern for Greek scholarship. The Board of Regents worried that people were coming to the University to experience Greek life instead of concentrating on their studies. As a result of these concerns, the Intra-Fraternity Council was formed in 1905 and the Intra-Sorority Council in 1906 to regulate Greek activities. This pattern of concern for academics continued throughout the history and development of the Greek system.

In the 1920's the University grew to over 10,000 students. The population explosion created a housing shortage and stimulated growth among the Greek chapters. By the fall of 1926 nine new Greek houses were added to campus. Now, the Greeks clearly dominated the social scene on campus. University parties that were once extremely popular were now occupied by only nave freshmen, while fraternities and sororities offered formals, parties and exchanges. As the social scene picked up, scholarship went down and citizens began to complain that more students were smoking, doing the two step and more girls were wearing rouge.

The depression in the 1930's and the World War in the 1940's had an impact on the Greek system. The war seemed to boost fraternity interest; in 1941, 272 men pledged fraternities and in 1942, 470 pledged. Fraternity membership provided support, comfort and contributed to the enjoyment of college life for young men facing the uncertainties of war. Nine fraternities closed down, and the last ten struggled during the war. In 1946, all but one reopened again with a fresh attitude. The men were returning from the war older and more mature.

The newest members of Alpha Delta Pi ca. 1960.

Alpha Delta Pi pledges

New dorms built in the 1950's took away from Greek interest. The dorms offered better accommodations compared to the Greek houses. Also, fraternities were being criticized for racially restrictive membership and bad initiation practices. This caused new rules and motivation from the Intra-Fraternity council and the Greek system began to improve and polish all aspects of university life.

Since the 1950s, the Greek system at Nebraska has grown in size and presence. Now the Greek system at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of the biggest in the nation with thirty fraternities, fourteen sororities and fifteen percent of the university population.