Gamma Lambda Chapter was founded at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont on June 1, 1923. The Chapter was closed in March 1969.
“The strength of the hills is His also” are the words of the Psalmist engraved above the portals of Meade Memorial Chapel dominating the campus of Middlebury College, and such strength permeated the spirit of this college established in 1800, the 25th institution of higher learning in the United States. Its simple, solid buildings of Vermont granite stand firmly between the Alleghenies and the Green Mountains.
Middlebury first admitted women in 1883. Six years later, the first sorority was organized and every Middlebury woman was a member of Alpha Chi. In its 34 years as a strong local sorority, 265 members were initiated.
This group, and the Monmouth fraternity Kappa Kappa Gamma, founded 19 years earlier, were similar in aspiration and in focus on “literary works.” In 1923, the transition from Alpha Chi to Gamma Lambda Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma was indeed “far more like a marriage than a conversion.” Once the decision was made “at a very serious meeting” in 1922, the year of preparation, of voting, of learning “national ways” seemed an eternity.
May Whiting Westermann, Nebraska, made a visit in 1923 and “we all fell in love with her … for she was so lovely and stood for such high ideals.” But emotions must have been mixed. Fifty years later an alumna remembered “Eight freshmen were not enthusiastic about transferring their loyalty … Alpha Chi ties were strong.” And these ties continued throughout Gamma Lambda’s 46 years. There are still those who remembered that June 1, 1923, in Breadloaf Inn when 21 petitioning members, eight freshmen, and 35 alumnae became Kappas. An initiate wrote later, “I remember sitting blindfolded with my friends … the windows were open and across the road the sheep pastured would from time to time let out a loud ‘baa-aa-aa.’ It did not seem as serious as it had when we joined Alpha Chi.”
Many of the traditions of the local group became those of Gamma Lambda. Alpha Chi night was annually honored and perpetuated the original group. Greek names indicating an outstanding characteristic continued to be given each initiate and were used in all formal meetings and recorded in minutes until May 1945. By 1950, these names were no longer used in roll call. Some parts of the Alpha Chi ritual were kept and a dearly loved song became the processional of the Fraternity: “We Look to Thee, Kappa Gamma.”
A focus on cultural activities was evident with talks by faculty, the entertainment of visiting lecturers, reports on the arts by chapter members, intersorority debates, support of campus events, and books for the chapter library.
There were Christmas parties for community needy, Easter parties for faculty children, and homecoming festivities for alumnae and parents. There was no lack of fun on this campus in its rural setting, but the attention to philanthropic services increased: Community Chest donations, contributions to the blood bank, scholarship support, world service funds, participation in the local elementary school program, and the creation of hospital tray favors. During World War II, Gamma Lambdas make afghans and rolled bandages for the Red Cross, and raised money for the Nora Waln Fund.*
In the fall of 1952, the Brandon School for mentally retarded children and adults became the center of chapter service involvement and remained so until 1968, with many hours of service. Girls were taught to cook, to become maids, to care for themselves, to make clothing and other skills. For many years, each Kappa gave a “little sister” individual attention. The fall 1958 issue of The Key reported “Organizing the trips to Brandon is a masterly piece of scheduling … . The project is fundamentally one born of sympathy and the wish to help … .”
Service came to characterize the chapter, but Panhellenic spirit was strong, too. Although Middlebury grew, it remained a small rural college. The size of the campus contributed to inclusion rather than exclusion. There were annual parties with independents and with other Greek groups. Membership recruitment skits and ideas were shared. There were all-Greek sings and campus projects such as scholarships, war orphans, and sports events. Gamma Lambda initiated the Junior Panhellenic Council on 1942. There were combined open houses for potential new members and Sunday night suppers for all groups.
There was a tradition of high scholarship and, during the first decade, approximately one-third of the members were Phi Beta Kappas. Four times the chapter won the campus scholarship cup and once a Fraternity award for greatest improvement.
The chapter produced campus leaders and was recognized twice with the Westermann Efficiency Cup. At the 1956 General Convention, the chapter performed a model initiation service. One portion of “Kappas on Campus,” a movie produced by Kappa, showed scenes of Gamma Lambdas and the Middlebury Winter Carnival.
Middlebury maintained a policy of unhoused sororities. The Kappas inherited from Alpha Chi the Little White House as a rented meeting place until it was sold in 1946. The chapter then moved to rooms in the village.
In March of 1969, when The Key carried the notice that the Gamma Lambda Charter had been surrendered, many who rated this chapter among the best were shocked and puzzled. But it was not a sudden demise.
As early as January 1932, influenced by Depression years, an anti-sorority feeling was evident, and the chapter drew up a petition to abolish sororities at Middlebury. Advisers received the petition “sympathetically.” In the spring of 1932, a moratorium was declared and fraternities were suspended. There were infrequent meetings and no membership recruitment. Scholarship dropped. The following year, with the question still unsettled, five Kappas resigned, and then one reconsidered. In February 1934, Gamma Lambda began to function again, with back dues and pledge fees paid by the alumnae. Normal recruitment, pledging and initiation services were reestablished.
Again in 1945–46, after the war years, recruitment was deferred because of campus unrest. Once more, the value of sororities was debated. In 1949, a letter to Fraternity Headquarters suggested a more relaxed policy about recommendations for membership. However, the chapter survived and even gained strength in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, there were occasional resignations, concern about attendance at meetings and the use of fines, problems in performance of duties, and a need for chapter unity. As the student revolution grew on all campuses, the governing body of the college decreed that mandatory membership recommendations be eliminated from charters. Many resignations from Gamma Lambda and other sororities resulted. The resolution to withdraw became imminent. A letter to Headquarters mentioned the matters inherent in the chapter’s history of no on-campus housing, the small size of the college, the present sorority form being incompatible with democratic principles, and the fact that all Panhellenic groups were leaving Middlebury. With the approval of one-third of the Gamma Lambda alumnae, the Fraternity Council reluctantly granted the withdrawal request in March 1969. The undergraduates who wished to become Kappa alumnae were granted this privilege.
•The Nora Waln Fund for Refugee Children began in 1940, at the suggestion of The Key Editor Helen Bower, Beta Delta—Michigan, when she learned that well-known author and Kappa Nora Waln, Beta Iota—Swarthmore, would not be permitted to leave war-torn England to speak at Kappa’s 1940 General Convention. Helen proposed that the money budgeted to bring Nora to America be used instead as the start of a fun, to be distributed by Nora to children and others in England who had been bombed out of their homes. Donations poured in as the project became Fraternity-wide cause. After the war, Nora learned while on an assignment for the Atlantic Monthly that many poor Norwegian babies had only newspapers for swaddling clothes, and immediately promised that Kappa Kappa Gamma would create and send 5,000 layettes. Many chapters and alumnae participated.
The previous information was excerpted from The History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, 1870-1976.