The Greek Life

‘Frat’ by John F. Barth published by Sam Fox (Cleveland, Ohio in 1910) and illustrated by Ray.

This handsome young man is smoking a long-stemmed clay churchwarden pipe. He poses comfortably, relaxed in his turtleneck sweater which in the 20th century became associated with academics and artists. The title of the song tells us that he belongs to a fraternity, a kind of student club. One of the cushions even bears the name of his fraternity, Phi Delta Phi, a combination of ancient Greek letters. Our frat boy is definitely ‘living the Greek life’, that means to follow the customs and rules of a fraternity. And so are the girls on the covers below.

Left: ‘Sorority Rag’ by Margaret Bartlett, published by The Thompson Music C° (Chicago, 1909). Right: ‘Sorority’ by Chas. E. Roat, published by the composer, (Battle Creek, 1908) and illustrated by Arthur W. Peters.

According to my perfunctory research a fraternity is a brotherhood, an elite club of like-minded people at university or college in the US and Canada. A sorority is the feminine counterpart. Fraternity brothers or sisters subscribe to the same ‘high’ values and beliefs. Many hope that their membership will be a stepping stone to a life of power, wealth and success. And I who thought fraternities were all about drinking inhuman amounts of booze, vomiting profusely and libidinous behaviour! Perhaps I got that impression forty years ago from the low-brow comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House

Fraternities were originally formed around 1775 as secret literary dining clubs, with rituals similar to the Freemasons. They always have been keen on using complex symbols such as their Greek-lettered names, but they are also fond of secret passwords and hand grips, and love intricate coats of arms…

‘Kappa Sigma Waltz’ by Frank Grey & Thomas J. MacWilliams, Published by Paul-Pioneer (New-York, 1941) and illustrated by Barbelle.

… and pins.

‘My Fraternity Pin’ by Geo. J. Bennett & Lou Klein, published by Witmark, M. & Sons (New York, 1933)

In the first quarter of the 20th century, the sisters and brothers made plenty of time to organise sports events, parties and dances and they tended to date within their ‘Greek caste’. This of course provided the inspiration for a number of songs.


Enough history. Time for a song, and what a song!  It was probably the most popular fraternity song around. Now sing along with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians: The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

The girl of my dreams is the sweetest girl
Of all the girls I know.
Each sweet coed, like a rainbow trail
Fades in the afterglow.
The blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair
Are a blend of the western skies;
And the moonlight beams on the girl of my dreams
She’s the Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

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