When sororities were banned at Stanford

Sorority 1892
Members of Kappa Alpha Theta, circa 1892. The group first rented a large house in Mayfield before moving to Alvarado Row on campus. (Photo: Stanford University Archives)

On April 20, 1944 – 75 years ago – the Stanford University Board of Trustees voted to discontinue sororities and use the campus sorority houses as general residences for women.

According to the Stanford Historical Society’s book A Chronology of Stanford University and Its Founders, the ban was applauded by female students, who had complained that sorority rush was unfair and “undemocratic.”

A Stanford magazine article in 2016 called “6 Cardinal Sins,” recalled the announcement of the ban this way: “When Stanford President DONALD TRESIDDER announced in 1944 to a packed auditorium of women that sororities were to be abolished, he was greeted by a standing ovation and a spontaneous rendition of the Stanford Hymn. Their joy was in part rooted in a demographic crunch – a big increase in female enrollment in the ’30s had not been matched by an increase in sororities, making rushing a highly competitive process, and leading to charges of elitism and exclusion.”

That demographic shift caused a rift between women living in residences and those selected for sororities, according to a 1999 Stanford magazine article called “The Estrogen Shack.”

Author Jennie Berry wrote, “The divisive nature of rush in the 1940s was what led Stanford’s trustees to ban sororities from campus in 1944. At the time, the announcement met with widespread approval. Nearly three-quarters of Stanford women back then rushed. The nine housed sororities, all on the Row, rejected many applicants, and the selection process became even more competitive when more women came to Stanford during World War II. It was not unusual for depressed rejects to transfer to another school.”

The ban was lifted by the trustees on Dec. 13, 1977, which approved the concept of “subjectively selected” women’s organizations, providing the groups “maintain local control over membership and meet university policies against discrimination,” according to A Chronology. Four years later, Delta Gamma became Stanford’s first officially recognized sorority in 37 years.

In May of 2018, Stanford magazine reported that interest in sororities was increasing. According to the article “The Delta: Numbers are up at Stanford sororities,” there was a 59 percent increase from 2007-08 to 2017-18 in the number of women who completed the sorority recruitment process and a 123 percent increase in the number who actually joined.

Today, there are 26 social Greek letter organizations at Stanford.