Sororities were started very soon after the opening of the Women’s College. The early ones were called “fraternities.” Alpha Beta Fraternity was established in 1893 “to promote the mental and moral development of its members and to further social intercourse.” It began by featuring extemporaneous speeches, the first ones being “The Repeal of the Silver Bill” by Mary Emma Woolley 1894, the first president of the fraternity, and “The Trouble in Morocco” by Martha Clarke 1895. The fraternity soon turned its attention to Shakespearean plays, and in 1896, with the performance of Twelfth Night, began the annual presentation of a play by Shakespeare. The plays went on for sixteen years, first in the Women’s College Building, later in Pembroke Hall and Sayles Gymnasium. After 1898 the performances, which had been attended by women only, were open to the public. The initiation rites for new members of Alpha Beta involved the wearing of a badge and communicating for a time in writing only. The next sorority was Delta Sigma, which was formed as a local organization in 1896, and merged in 1901 with another local society, Alpha Delta Sigma at Tufts. The Tufts chapter became Alpha chapter and the Brown chapter Beta chapter of the new Delta Sigma. The other sororities established were Alpha Epsilon chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, which began as a local society called Tri Kappa, in 1897, Theta Lambda Tau in 1901, Beta Delta Phi for Catholic women in 1903, Gamma Delta in 1903, Zeta Zeta Zeta in 1905, and Kappa chapter of Sigma Kappa in 1908. In 1911 the Executive Committee, conceding that “the existence of fraternities was helpful during the earlier years of this College,” now found them “deleterious to the welfare of the College,” and expressing the opinion that in future organizations “students should be grouped not along lines of social cleavage, but on the basis of definite interests and purposes,” voted that the fraternities in the Women’s College should henceforth admit no new members. Alpha Beta alumni, having reorganized into a play reading group, continued to meet informally for many years.
Sororities did not reappear on campus until 1974, when fourteen black women undergraduates. met in the Crystal Room in Alumnae Hall to charter Iota Alpha chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. The leader of this enterprise was Janis DeFrantz ’76, whose mother had been affiliated with the sorority. This first African American sorority has been joined by two others, Delta Sigma Theta and Sigma Gamma Rho. In 1979 eleven women who had joined together to form a sorority decided to affiliate with Alpha Chi Omega, and conducted a “rush week,” during which representatives of the national organization were on hand in the Crystal Room in Alumnae Hall to recruit pledges. Alpha Chi Omega died out in 1983, but was revived the next year. A chapter of the national Kappa Alpha Theta fraternity was formed in 1983 by nine women students who were joined by other members in cluster housing in Sears House for a year before being given housing in Diman House.