Return to Front Page About the Gazette | Publication Schedule Contents of the Current Print Edition Search the Gazette | Browse Back Issues Send Us Your News Carolina's Home Page UNC's News Site
UNC home page UNC home page UNC home UNC home UNC home UNC home UNC home UNC home
Today's date:

* * Student organizations mirror the cultural shifts at Carolina,
        take on increasingly diverse roles on campus through the years

* * Photos from the exhibit: 'Di-Phis to Loreleis'
* * Library archives provide wealth of information about early campus life
* * For literary societies, a new century ushered in a long struggle to survive

Student organizations mirror the cultural shifts at Carolina,
take on increasingly diverse roles on campus through the years

It may be hard to imagine now, but the first Carolina students faced a common malady that to boys as young as 15 could seem deadly: boredom.

 There was no nightlife on Franklin Street and no sports rivalries to quicken the blood or girls to capture the heart. Elders prescribed practically all of student life, from the courses the boys could take to the clubs they could join.

Above, a “German” was a form of figure or social dancing that became popular after the Civil War. The German Club was organized in the 19th century to hold formal dances and other social events.

By the 1950s, the club was run by fraternities that began inviting big-name performers such as Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to perform concerts as a prelude to formal dances that followed.

Here, as featured in the 1954 “Yackety Yack” yearbook, students react to a concert Armstrong gave in 1954.

Daily chapel attendance was another requirement, as was membership in either the Dialectic or Philanthropic society. Founded in 1795, the two societies stood as the only two student organizations the University officially allowed until the Y.M.C.A. (now the Campus Y) was established in 1859.

The centrality of these societies – and the leadership skills they helped foster – is explored in an exhibit at the North Carolina Collection that traces the rise of student organizations, which number more than 600 today. “From Di-Phis to Loreleis: A History of Student Organizations at UNC” runs through the end of May.

If boredom was the common malady, many students turned to mischief making for a quick cure, said Linda Jacobson, keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

Cock fights, horse races in Hillsborough and the drinking of “spirituous” beverages were among the favored pastimes. Drinking alcohol became serious enough that several students formed the Temperance Society in 1829 to encourage moderation or abstinence.

In the 1830s, the students who created the Ugly Club and the Boring Club apparently paid little heed. The stated purpose of the Boring Club was to help members find “all the paths of vice in the college for fun and frolic.”

The Ugly Club, Jacobson said, was allegedly organized to help students overcome homesickness.

A homesick student would receive an invitation to South Building where he was greeted by the club’s leader, who wore a horned hat and banged tin pans, forcing the student to dance to the noise.

In 1842, University trustees voted to ban clubs and secret societies for fear their presence would dilute the influence of the literary societies and do harm to “the cause of good morals and sound learning.”

Although no record exists of the ban’s repeal, by the early 1850s, fraternities were meeting on campus without repercussions. In 1851, Delta Kappa Epsilon became the University’s first national fraternity. Others followed until the start of the Civil War, when undergraduates, many of them fraternity members, went off to fight.

Reconstruction forced the closing of the University from 1871 to 1875. Fraternities tried to gain recognition in 1877, but it was not until 1885 that trustees relented and officially welcomed Greek organizations.

Above, a photo from the 1950s shows a banquet in Gimghoul Castle. In fall 1889, students formed the Order of Dromgoole, a secret society they quickly changed to Gimgoole and later amended to

The students based the society on the legend, as told to them by Kemp P. Battle, of Peter Dromgoole, a student who disappeared from the University in 1833. Gimghoul Castle, the order’s home, was completed in Battle Park in 1926.

In 1889, the secret society that came to be known as the Order of Gimghoul was established. And the Order of the Gorgon was formed four years later.

Rise of music and drama
Faculty and trustees took a dim view of the performing arts in the early years of the University.

In 1797, the staging of several plays by members of the Di-Phi societies led University founder William Richardson Davie to write a scathing objection. “Our object is to make students men and not players,” he said.

That object – and Davie’s objection – stood firm for nearly a century. It was not until the 1890s that a glee club, a drama club and several instrumental groups, including the Mandolin Club, were formed.

The acting troupe Carolina Playmakers staged its first student-written performances in 1919 and several of the playwrights and actors in the first plays went on to national acclaim.

Among them was writer Thomas Wolfe, whose performance as Buck Gavin is legendary. Wolfe later moved to New York City and become a famous novelist.

Like Wolfe, George Denny, who played Jake in “When Witches Ride,” also moved to New York City to host the nationally distributed radio program “America’s Town Meeting of the Air.”

Jonathan Daniels, who played Tom in “What Will Barbara Say!” served as press secretary for Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman before returning to Raleigh to run the family business, The News & Observer.

The journey from sameness to diversity
The dawn of a new century marked the start of a rapid proliferation of student organizations, with an increasing number tied in some way to a specialized interest or shared identity.

In this sense, the student organizations served as a mirror reflecting the metamorphosis within the University itself as it expanded the curriculum, service mission and a student population that slowly began to include students who were not white, male Protestants from North Carolina.

Although the first woman was admitted to the University as a graduate student in 1897, it was not until 1923 that the University welcomed the nationally chartered Pi Beta Phi and Chi Omega. Even then, there were only 79 women registered for classes as undergraduates or graduate students.

Pamela Dean, author of “Women on the Hill: A History of Women at the University of North Carolina,” wrote that the slow growth of sororities at Carolina stemmed from national organizations’ displeasure about Carolina’s restrictive policies admitting women students.

By 1940, enrollment of women had increased only to 400. In 1951, the School of Nursing admitted first-year women, and three years later, the schools of medical technology, dental hygiene and physical therapy did the same.

By 1963, Carolina had more than 2,000 women students, Dean wrote. That year, the trustees voted to admit first-year women to the fine arts programs, and shortly afterward women could participate in all degree programs. But it was not until 1972 that the University began to admit women under the same standards as men.

The first Jewish students were excluded from established fraternities because of their religion, leading the students to form fraternities of their own. The first at Carolina, Tau Epsilon Phi, was formed in 1924 and the Alpha Pi chapter of Zeta Beta Tau was established three years later.

Here, too, there was a differentiation among members, with Tau Epsilon Phi members drawn mostly from sons of Eastern European Jews, while Zeta Beta Tau members typically came from a background of German Reform Jews.

By the early 1950s, the first black students had been accepted at the law school, but true diversity was still decades away.

Still, students from all over the country and the world found haven in the Cosmopolitan Club, whose purpose, according to a description in the 1957–58 student handbook, was “to bring together all people, regardless of nationality, race, color or creed, in order to learn from each other about the different cultures and associate with each other with the aim of promoting world understanding.”

In 1973, the Psi Delta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi became the first historically black Greek organization established at the University. It continues to operate today as one of eight historically African-American Greek organizations on campus.

Five undergraduate women chartered the Kappa Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta in 1973, marking the establishment of the first historically African-American sorority on campus. The chapter now counts eight Morehead Scholars among its alumni, including 1985 Rhodes Scholar Robyn Hadley.

The nation’s first American Indian sorority was established here in 1994 when three women of Lumbee ancestry and one of Lumbee and Coharrie heritage founded the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Pi Omega. The sorority now has 13 chapters in six states.

In 1996, when undergraduate Melissa Jo Murchison-Blake felt uncomfortable choosing between a white or a black sorority to recognize her bi-racial heritage, she found six other women in a similar situation. Together, the group of women established a multicultural sorority that became the Alpha Chapter of Theta Nu Xi. The sorority now includes 31 chapters in 14 states.

For more information about the exhibit, see

Photos from the exhibit: 'From Di-Phis to Loreleis'
All images on this page are courtesy of the North Carolina Collection and University Archives, Wilson Special Collections Library. Click on each thumbnail to load a larger image.

Catalogue of the members of the
Upsilon Chapter of Zeta Psi, 1858-1866

Of the 80 Carolina students initiated into the Upsilon chapter after it was formed here in 1858, 57 served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Nine were killed, including Henry K. Burgwyn, who became known as the "Boy Colonel" when at the age of 19 he was named a lieutenant colonel of the 26th North Carolina Regiment. He was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

University Dramatic Club,
as featured in the Hellenian, 1896

The UNC Dramatic Club's staging of J. Stirling Coyne's farce "The Little Rebel" in 1896 is considered the first play produced by a regular drama organization at Carolina. The production featured males in female roles, a common occurrence until the University's enrollment of women students increased in the 1920s. Gerrard Hall, which lacked dressing rooms, served as the theater for early productions. Students put on their costumes in the Y.M.C.A. building next door, then slipped into Gerrard Hall through a back window.

Rising presence of women on campus

The first women were admitted to the University for postgraduate courses in 1897, but as this illustration by Charles Venable in the 1907 "Yackety Yack" shows, it would be decades before women achieves equal access and status to men. The Women's University Club, which was later named the Women's Association, was organized in 1906. It provided self-government and planned activities for female students until it was later integrated with the men's student government.

The Cuban Club as featured in
the 1908 'Yackety Yack'

Throughout the 19th Century, the prototypical undergraduate at Carolina was a white, male Protestant born in North Carolina. By the start of the 20th Century, a handful of students from China and Cuba arrived. The Cuban students formed the Cuban Club, a forerunner of clubs to come that formed on the basis of their members' ethnicity, race or religion.

Amphoterothen Society, 1916

The society was founded in 1912 to promote extemporaneous speaking. At the start of each meeting, the leader announced a topic of discussion unknown to other members. Members were called in alphabetical order to speak on topic for precisely three minutes.

Program and ticket for
the Carolina Smoker, 1920

Religious-based lectures were the standard staple for the Y.M.C.A in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but even then it reserved time for fun and games as this 1920 flier shows. A Y.W.C.A was later formed, which eventually merged to form the Campus Y with its modern focus on public service and social justice.

County Club as featured in the
1924 'Yackety Yack' yearbook

In the early part of the 20th Century, county clubs became popular. The idea of forming clubs based students' county of origin was motivated by the absence of large cities and towns in the state and the fact that many of the students returned to their home counties to assume leadership roles. Buncombe County Club was the first to organize in 1903.

University of North Carolina Band at
Memorial Hall, 1920s

The UNC Band was formed in 1903 and performed for the first time a year later at a UNC baseball game. Although the band performed regularly at home football games and campus concerts, it did not appear at a basketball game until 1963 when Dean Smith invited it to perform at home games. Later, band member Keith McClelland assembled about a dozen musicians to form the Pep Band that has been a fixture at basketball games ever since.

Glee Club recording

On March 7, 1926, at the end of a 12-day tour that included stops in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia and a performance at Carnegie Hall, the Glee Club visited the studios of the Brunswick Talking Machine Company in New York City where they recorded two discs.

The first disc contained four songs, including “Go Down Moses” and “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray.” This disc is believed to be the oldest UNC-related recording in Wilson Library. The North Carolina Collection continues to seek the second disc, which included “Toll the Bell,” Angel” and “Hark the Sound.”

Click the following links to listen to these early recordings:'t_Hear_Nobody_

The Coop as featured in the 'Yackety Yack,' 1929

The Coop, formed in 1919, and the Cabin, formed a year later, were boarding houses that students organized and ran like clubs. Like fraternities, the two clubs hired employees to cook and perform housekeeping duties.

Brochure, "CPU Does Not Stand for
Community Party of the University."

In 1936, Professor E.J. Woodhouse organized the Carolina Political Union and invited prominent speakers to hold roundtable discussions on the issues of the day. Among the invited speakers were Franklin Roosevelt, socialist Norman Thomas and Harry Truman. In 1937, Leon Trotsky accepted an invitation to appear, but was refused a visa.

Women's Glee Club,
as featured in 'Yackety Yack,' 1937

By the late 1930s, there were more than 300 women students on campus and those who enjoyed singing found camaraderie among fellow members of the Women's Glee Club. By 1941, the female student population grew to 800.

Synchronized swimming, 1947

The Women's Athletic Association, sponsored the Splash Club, which according to the 1948 "Yackety Yack," had "big times doing formation and pattern swimming."

Andy Griffith, in "The Mikado," 1948

Andy Griffith, who graduated from the University in 1949, appeared in several performances by the Carolina Playmakers. Listed in the playbill as Andrew Griffith, the young actor played the comic role of Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner of Titipu, in “The Mikado’’ in 1948.

Student Elections, 1954

Students wait in line to put their ballots into ballot boxes during student elections in 1954. Today, students vote online.

Monogram Club, 1964-65

The Monogram Club was formed on Sept. 28, 1908 as an organization of athletes who lettered in their sports. The # 22 in the top left corner was designed for Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice.

The Left Heel, October 1966

Established in spring of 1965, the UNC chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society played a prominent role challenging the Speaker Ban Law, championing civil rights and protesting the war in Vietnam. It published "The Left Heel" as a means to disseminate its views.

DTH editorial supporting Carolina Gay Association, Sept. 17. 1974

The Carolina Gay Association became the first gay student group in the Southeast in 1974, but ran into criticism that same year when it gained official recognition from the University, which qualified it for funding. The CGA evolved into today's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Straight Alliance.

Black Student Movement Gospel Choir,
as featured in the 'Yackety Yack,' 1983

The formation of the Black Student Movement in 1967 gave African-American students a vehicle for activism. Its voice also found expression with the Black Student Movement Gospel Choir whose members continue to share their musical talents at cultural events and churches in surrounding communities.

Loreleis rehearsal, 1984

Taking their name from a song by George and Ira Gershwin, the Loreleis made their debut at a campus banquet in October 1981. By 1984, the group was defunct, but revived by Rah Bickley, picture in the blue V-neck sweater. The group is now made up of 16 women students whose repertoire has expanded from classic ballads to include pop, R&B and country. In 2004, the Loreleis sang the national anthem at Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

Members of Alpha Chapter of Theta Nu Xi participate in a march on Jones Street in Raleigh, Feb. 27, 2010

When Melissa Jo Murchison-Blake sought to join the Greek scene in 1996, her bi-racial heritage made her uncomfortable choosing between a traditionally white sorority and a traditionally black one. And when she found six other undergraduate women who felt similarly, she worked to establish Theta Nu Xi, which became the first multicultural sorority at Carolina. Chapters were added at North Carolina State and East Carolina in 1999. With a mission of promoting diversity, Theta Nu Xi now includes 31 chapters in 14 states.



Library archives provide wealth of information about early campus life

David Lowry Swain had served as governor of North Carolina before he began his 33-year run as University president in 1835.

Near the end of his tenure, he faced down the advancing army of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Decades before, early in his term as UNC president, he had to quell the shenanigans of Carolina students.

In a circular sent to parents on Sept. 30, 1840, Swain (pictured at right) spoke specifically of “one of these paroxysms of unnatural excitement” ignited by alcohol. He referred to the practice of older students getting money by tricking freshmen into believing it was a custom for new students to “treat” their senior classmates with cash.

After a group of 35 students obtained $2 each from freshmen, Swain wrote, “Wine and ardent spirits were procured from Hillsborough,” then consumed in the woods on a rowdy Saturday night.

The real trouble began when the drunken students returned to campus and battered open doors to the recitation rooms. “Gross indignities were offered to the Faculty when they interfered for the restoration of order,” Swain said.

To put a stop to the practice, Swain alerted parents that any senior who attended a “senior treat” would be denied a degree.

In his circular to parents, Swain cited another perpetrator of “evils” – the Ugly Club. Kemp P. Battle wrote in his “History of the University” that members of the Ugly Club disguised themselves with lamp black while insulting village citizens and committing “trespasses of peculiarly low and disgusting manner on private property.”

The Ugly Club and Swain’s circular are part of an exhibit at Wilson Library that traces the profound changes in student life over the centuries and the rise of organizations in which students could find a home to express their idealism, interests and unique identities.


For literary societies, a new century ushered in a long struggle to survive

* *

On June 3, 1795, five months after the University opened its doors, the student Debating Society held its first recorded meeting. Among the society’s 31 members was UNC’s first student, Hinton James.

At its third meeting, held that same month, members voted to split to form a second society called the Concord Society. The following year they changed their names to their Greek equivalents: The Debating Society became the Dialectic Society and the Concord Society became the Philanthropic Society.

More than two centuries later, the two societies are still active and hold meetings every Monday night in the Dialectic Society Chamber on the third floor of Old West. They also can be followed on Facebook at

On April 7, Kevin Cherry, a longtime Di-Phi member and supporter, will trace the societies’ long history when he gives the Gladys Coates University History Lecture at 5:45 p.m. in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in Wilson Library.

The title of his presentation, “And they Talked – Always They Talked: 215 Years of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies,” is taken from a line in Thomas Wolfe’s famous tome “Look Homeward, Angel.”

In the 19th century, the two societies stood as a monolith to campus culture and student life. Almost every student activity officially sanctioned by the University was done as a “committee” under the auspices of Di or Phi, Cherry said.

It was the practice for students from the western half of the state to join the Dialectic society, and those from the eastern half to join the Philanthropic, he said. Residence halls were segregated along the same lines, with all Di members assigned to west campus, all Phi members to east.

“Those students living in South Building were split down the middle,” Cherry said.

Students were seen as future leaders of the state, and there were only a handful of professions through which leadership could find expression: politics, the pulpit and law.

“University leaders recognized the role the societies played in developing highly practical skills students would need for the occupations of the day,” Cherry said. “Graduates needed to be able to write clearly and convince people of their arguments. They had to know how to give a formal lecture or speak extemporaneously.”

They also had to learn how to comport themselves as proper gentlemen while giving a speech or listening to it. For this reason, officers of the society would monitor debates and fine audience members caught laughing aloud.

Zeb Vance, a member who later became the governor of North Carolina during the Civil War, was notoriously funny, Cherry said.

“There is a story of a speech he gave where he had the whole room laughing so much that the society filled up its treasury,” he said.

Until 1848, the societies met in their libraries on the third floor of South Building. Old East and Old West served as new quarters until 1860 when the societies moved to their current chambers in New East and New West.

Throughout the 19th century, the societies performed the functions of student government before there was student government, Cherry said. They sponsored musical concerts, held banquets and lecture series, and in sum, provided niches for members to find an interest.

But by the start of the 20th century, their role as an umbrella for other student committees had already begun to devolve as the committees spun off into separate organizations. One spinoff was the “Yackety Yack”, the student yearbook.

The societies even lost their libraries after the new University librarian, Louis Round Wilson, coaxed members into donating their prized collection to the University.

“Looking through the minutes at the turn of the century, you see the societies letting members of the orchestra skip meetings for practice,” Cherry said. “Regular meetings were adjourned early so members could attend the growing number of musical and athletic events.”

The search for a new niche, Cherry believes, is one reason the Di-Phi societies tried to refashion themselves as a sort of mock legislature in the 1920s.

They joined with student government to oppose the North Carolina speaker ban law that was passed in 1963, but in the ensuing years were caught in a struggle for relevance, then survival.

By 1971, Di-Phi had dwindled down to one person, Stanley Greenberg from Orange County, Cherry said. Greenberg led the effort to revive Di-Phi by convincing 13 others to join him.

“He didn’t want the death of the oldest student organization on campus to be on his hands,” Cherry said.


Bookmark and Share

Follow UNC on Facebook

March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 Gazette as PDF

Click here to read the
March 16 issue as a pdf


* *Carolina embraces social media for instruction, communication

* *Student organizations mirror the cultural shifts at Carolina

* *ITS helps faculty make the transition from Blackboard to Sakai

* *For this Peace Corps veteran, home is where the next mission takes her

* *


(Including links to Gazette budget stories)

* *





* *

(919) 962-7124 - office
(919) 962-2279 - fax

The Gazette staff is always looking for ideas for interesting feature stories. Do you have one to share?

NEXT ISSUE: March 30, 2011

Copyright 2008 - 2011 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC home UNC home UNC home UNC home Carolina home Carolina home