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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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Two women at the C-Shop

Enjoying a soda at the C-Shop, 1942.


Sigma Nu fraternity

Sigma Nu fraternity, 1911. In the company of a skull and a cigarette-puffing bust of Shakespeare, the brothers of Sigma Nu posed for this informal portrait. Mostly undergraduate in membership, Sigma Nu also admitted a few graduate students.

The Social Scene

The place of fraternities at the University of Chicago was clearly on President Harper's mind as he prepared busily for opening day in 1892. At the first faculty meeting, he presented a proposal for limiting their influence. His position was defined in a speech later published under the title "The Antagonism of Fraternities to the Democratic Spirit of Scholarship," where Harper declared, "I for one am a firm believer in the old-fashioned literary society."

Harper had little regard for what he believed to be essentially non-academic, secret societies; but, since few members of the faculty and administration were eager to terminate fraternities altogether, the University chose instead to sanction them under the auspices of the housing office.

The number of fraternities rose in the following years as they gained autonomy from the University housing system. By 1928 the Greek system had reached its peak with 751 members and thirty-three chapters dotting the campus surroundings. The fraternities' strength in numbers and their access to important social positions made them a leading influence in campus social life.

Since Greek organizations were by their very nature selective and exclusive, not all students benefited from this development. Jewish students, for instance, had difficulty gaining membership info any fraternity other than the predominantly Jewish houses. African-American students, who encountered similar difficulties, formed the all-black Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, only to be barred from the Interfraternity Council on the dubious grounds that they did not have their own house.

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