Oral History Performance

Southern Oral History Organization

Listen to the Voices

SLU Interviews Gov. Jimmy Davis

Amistad Research Center to Study Treme Neighborhood

LSU Desegregation Exhibition

LSU Sororities, Fond Memories


Published by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University

Vol. II No. 2 Spring/Summer 1994


Oral history once again proved its value as both a research tool and a source for exciting, innovative, and enlightening public programming when six faculty and graduate students from LSU's College of Education presented a readers theater performance at the recent American Education Research Association Conference in New Orleans.

Presenters included assistant professors Petra Munro, Mary Ellen Jacobs, and Ann Trousdale, graduate students Molly Quinn and Natalie Adams, and Tammie Causey, of Teach for America.

Entitled, "Women Talkin': A Readers Theater Performance of Teachers' Stories," the program was based primarily on oral history interviews. The performers, who are also the authors/editors, chose the readers theater format to allow the women's stories to be heard in their own words.

Four teachers were featured:

Born in the South in the twenties and now living in the Pacific Northwest, Cleo is a recently retired secondary social studies teacher and school district administrator.

Anna, a midwesterner by birth, is an eighty-seven-year-old retired professor of education who worked for sixty years in the field of curriculum.

Virginia is an African-American elementary school teacher and principal who began her teaching career in the forties in the deep South.

Sarah, a southerner, spent over forty years as an elementary, high school, and college teacher.

Although their life histories were collected separately, the teachers depicted appear to be sharing a conversation about their lives and careers as women and as teachers.

"Overall, the feedback suggested that the readers' theater format portrayed the complexity and ambiguities of women teachers' lives in ways that traditional academic papers and articles cannot," Petra Munro reported on the response from the standing-room-only audience.

Munro continued, "Issues such as gender, place, class, race, historical and cultural context, which were central to the stories of these four women, were also meaningful to many in the audience and prompted them to tell their own stories. For many, the voices of the women we portrayed reflected the ambiguities as well as the joys of teaching, the struggles as well as the rewards."

The audience suggested several ways this performance could be used: for administrators to

gain a deeper understanding of how teachers make sense of their work, as part of in-service training for teachers to elicit discussion, or as a way to encourage pre-service teachers to explore their own reasons for entering the teaching profession.

"These comments suggest that what we do in the academy as `research' can be meaningful and useful for practitioners in the schools," Munro concluded.

The Williams Center's collections include many interviews with teachers similar to the ones on which this performance was based.

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SOHO First Annual Conference Big Success

Williams Center Director Pamela Dean was recently elected vice-president of the Southern Oral History Organization at that group's first annual conference held in Atlanta. More than seventy people from as far away as New York City and Louisiana who gathered at the end of April in Atlanta declared the conference a great success.

Sessions included a workshop on conducting oral history interviews and panel discussions on oral history in the classroom, community oral history projects, and using oral history materials in books and documentaries.

The Southeast is the last area to establish a regional affiliate of the national Oral History Association. SOHO's next meeting will be in the fall in conjunction with the Southern Historical Association, and the 1995 spring meeting will be hosted by the Duke Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, NC.

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"Listen to the Voices!"

A black screen. A deep, resonant voice begins to speak over the hiss and pop of static as a vintage reel-to-reel recorder comes slowly into focus: "I could see Huey was sinking and sinking fast. I went out and got Mrs. Long and the three children and brought them into the room. . . " Seymour Weiss is recalling Huey Long's last moments.

"Listen to the Voices," the Williams Center's new video, opens with this dramatic and moving excerpt from T. Harry Williams' 1957 interview of Weiss, Long's closest associate.

The video, which will be used to introduce the Williams Center and its activities to interested groups and prospective donors and participants, describes our varied programs and activities. All those featured in it have been involved with the Center in some way. Some, such as former Chancellor Cecil Taylor and Dean of Women Margaret Jameson, have been interviewed for our history of LSU series. Peter Soderbergh and Everett Besch, among others, have conducted interviews for this series. Other faculty members have used oral history projects in their classes or donated their own research tapes to our collection. Maxine Crump, both an interviewee and interviewer for the Center's projects on the desegregation of LSU and the Civil Rights Movement in Baton Rouge, narrates the video. In addition to these stars, I want to thank Mrs. T. Harry Williams; Mark T. Carleton; Joyce Jackson; Mrs. Jones; Spencer Maxcy, Dale Thorn, Suzanne Turner, and Petra Munro and their students; Shirley Hawkins, Quinn Coco, Melisse Campbell, the staff of Hill Memorial Library, the staff of the Williams Center, and Chancellor William Davis.

Special thanks also goes to Lane Berry and Ed Dodd of LSU Public Relations who did a superb job of producing the video, and for photographs, to Jim Zeitz, and to Elemore Morgan Jr. for use of photos by his father Elemore Morgan Sr.

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SLU Program Adds to Davis Collection

The Center for Regional Studies of Southeastern Louisiana University staff interviewed former Governor Jimmie Davis about his musical career last fall, adding to their developing Jimmie Davis Music Archive. Besides this most recent addition, the archive includes other interviews with Davis, sheet music of his compositions, and tapes and records of his performances.

Davis served as Louisiana's governor from 1944 to 1948 and again from 1960 to 1964. His "You Are My Sunshine" is Louisiana's state song.

Also last fall, Director of the Center Joy J. Jackson had her book Where the River Runs Deep: The Story of a Mississippi River Pilot published by LSU Press. The book, a biography of Jackson's father Oliver D. Jackson, uses material she gathered through interviews with him between 1978 and 1982. It chronicles his life from his birth in a fishing camp on South Pass at the mouth of the Mississippi to his work as a pilot in the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association from the forties to the sixties.

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Amistad to Study Treme's

Musical Heritage

The Amistad Research Center at Tulane plans to conduct video and audio interviews with long-time residents and natives of the historic Treme neighborhood in New Orleans.

Treme, a predominantly African-American community, was home to many musicians and composers, including Sidney and Leonard Bechet, Armand Piron and the Tio and Bacquet families and possessed a rich musical heritage.

The interviews, to be used in a documentary the Center is producing, focus on that heritage and the residents who contributed to and experienced it. In addition, living traditions of New Orleans including the Mardi Gras Indians, the second line, and jazz funerals will be covered.

Wayne Coleman, Amistad archivists, says the interviews will also complement oral history collections the Center already has such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritgage Project and the St. Marks Community Center Ethnic Heritage Project.

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LSU Desegregation Exhibition

Features Williams Center Tapes

The multi-media exhibition "Going to Change the World: Desegregation at LSU" is currently on display at the University's Hill Memorial Library. In addition to news clippings, court records, letters, and photographs, the display includes audio tapes of excerpts from oral history interviews conducted by the Williams Center.

The exhibit covers the beginnings of the process in the late forties when A.P. Tureaud Sr. filed suit to admit the first African-American students to the law school and continues with his son's enrollment as LSU's first black undergraduate in 1953. The exhibit also includes later events such as the integration of LSU athletics and the establishment of black fraternities and sororities in the seventies.

Williams Center research assistant Mary Hebert curated the exhibition with the help of Tara Zachary, also of the Center. It will be on view until June 24.

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LSU Sororities Evoke Fond Memories

Just to the east of Louisiana State University's campus twelve impressive houses cluster around the lake. Gracefully bending trees shade their white columns and wide verandas, reminding one of houses in a picture book. Within their walls are housed one of LSU's oldest and most enduring institutions, the sororities, and the Williams Center has focused on this aspect of LSU's history.

Sororities began at LSU just three years after the first female undergraduates were admitted in 1906. Seventeen women enrolled in what was then a military school. One recalled in the 1908 Gumbo: "Imagine our joy, when we learned that a generous fate had opened to us a long-closed door--that the University of our State had concluded to bestow on Louisiana's daughters, as well as upon her sons, the inestimable gift of a higher education."

As their numbers grew, the coeds, as they were called, sought the same social and intellectual experiences enjoyed by their male colleagues. One means was to form clubs. Upon admittance, each female student automatically became a member of the Co-Ed Club, but sororities proved an even better solution. Kappa Delta, the school's first sorority, colonized on the old downtown campus in 1909. Alpha Delta Pi followed in 1914, Delta Zeta in 1917 and Chi Omega in 1924.

From the beginning, "rush" figured prominently in coed life. Sororities courted or "rushed" prospective members to persuade them to join their organization. According to Katherine Herget Huckaby (Alpha Delta Pi, '21) rush was an exciting time. "It was at the end of the first term that they pledged. They rushed us all during that time, and, oh, that was just more fun than enough! We were rushed KD's [Kappa Delta] and all the different sororities. When we pledged Alpha Delta Phi, the next day they had signs hung around our necks, "Alpha Delta Phi Goat." We were all over the campus, and it was so exciting. I just went wild. I roamed the campus to see who had gone what."

Sororities and fraternities were the center of campus life, she continued: "We would have parties. We had a sorority house, and the Kappa Deltas had a sorority house, and we used to have the parties there. And then people in Baton Rouge would entertain in their homes. . . . The dances were at the old pavilion that was up there on campus. And oh, they used to have these elaborate decorations. The boys would stay up all night long decorating and fixing up, and I remember one Lambda Chi thing that that had a Japanese them that was just so pretty."

Unlike today, members did not live in the sorority houses. In fact there were no dormitories on the old campus for women. Most coeds were from Baton Rouge -- they were called "town girls"-- and lived at home. Those from out of town were required to live in boarding houses approved by the dean of women.

Knowing that living off campus meant they were missing many of the social benefits of college life, the women petitioned for dormitories. They were rewarded in 1925 when the university moved to the new, present campus, and the Pentagon Barracks downtown were converted into dormitories for them. Female students did not live on the new campus until the thirties when Smith Hall, now Pleasant Hall, was built.

The establishment of new sororities reflected women's growing presence at the "Ole War Skule." Alpha Chi Omega initiated its first members at LSU in 1926. Delta Delta Delta and Phi Mu formed in 1934. Kappa Kappa Gamma came in 1935 and Pi Beta Phi in 1936. Alpha Ze Delta and Alpha Omicron Pi opened a chapter in 1938, followed by Alpha Epsilon Phi in 1939.

Although the men had fraternity houses from the start, the woman had had to leave their houses on the old campus. Instead, each sorority had a room in the Panhellenic Building. Jane Middleton Porter (Chi Omega,'41) recalled the building:

"I think the Panhellenic Hall was built in a very short period of time, and people have always, we joked always because it was very poorly built, that it was built in a month."

Early fall rush functions, which were held in the un-air conditioned Panhellenic Building, could be trying, as Nina Pugh (Chi Omega, '45) remembered: "We all wore fall clothes from the first day of rush. We were in heavy woolens, hats, felt hats, gloves, and no air conditioning. You put on your best bib and tucker for that preferential party, a tea in the Chi Omega room. Everybody is there, and they are trying to look their best. Oh, and skirts were up over your knees, everybody in the wobbly, wobbly little heels and perspiration dripping off. Oh, it was so pitiful, just rivulets of perspiration all over you. You'd be miserable, and you had to try to put on your best face.

"I can remember going in the Delta Zeta room upstairs in the Panhellenic building, and all the Delta Zeta's were all clustered at the end of a room. I thought, 'Oh, what's happening up here?' Low and behold, [I] found out later that one poor little rushee had had on her best black crepe dress, and due to the heat and the perspiration it was wet and shrunk up above her petticoat, and all the members over there trying to pull her dress down."

The advent of World War II profoundly affected Pugh and her classmates not only in far-reaching and dramatic ways, but also in their every day lives. With all the male students off at war, the number of women enrolled rose drastically, resulting in a severe housing shortage, which by 1946 had reached crisis level. The Board of Supervisors responded by passing a resolution stating that no new out-of-state women students would be assigned rooms on campus. Plans for construction of new women's dorms were made, and by 1950, most of them had been completed.

Wartime also brought may changes in campus social life, as Winnie Evans Byrd (Delta Delta Delta, '46) recalled, "I think our social life was quite different. We did a lot more things with girls than we did with dates, . . . and we probably studied a lot more. I probably made much better grades," she said, laughing. Nina Pugh added, "Essentially you studied, it was patriotic. That was the most patriotic thing you could do, and you were urged to study and to engage in activities that helped the troops and the war effort, and to be thrifty. You had gasoline rationing. The dances were at the gym armory on the campus. Town girls like me would go stay in the dormitories with sorority sisters on weekends so the boys could pick you up at the dormitories and walk across the campus to the dance. You did a lot of walking, and if anybody had a car you might have four couples in the car. I remember going to an LSU-Tulane game in New Orleans. There were four couples in that old two seater Ford. You were glad you could get anywhere at all and do anything.

"After my freshman year the war effort took over. Everything was scaled towards the war effort. It was unpatriotic to spend money on decorations for dances or anything like that. It was patriotic to entertain the troops, and we'd invite them to dances and some people would date them. We went to the USO, all the sororities took turns going to the USO. You had your night to go and dance with the boys downtown."

After the war, men took advantage of the GI bill and returned to LSU in great numbers. By 1947, men outnumbered women four to one, and women's enrollment did not reach its 1940 level of 2911 again until 1960. But by 1965, women's enrollment increased to 4716 as universities encountered another product of World War II, the baby boomers. Along with this influx, the oil boom brought increased wealth and population to Louisiana and thus more students. The result of these two factors was another housing shortage. To meet this crisis, the university finally decided to build sorority houses.

Sororities had continued to flourish on the campus, even during the drop in women's enrollment that followed the war with the arrival of Delta Gamma in 1947. In 1959 Zeta Tau Alpha held its first rush, followed by Kappa Alpha Theta in 1962, Gamma Phi Beta in 1963, and Alpha Phi in 1965. By that year, 50 percent of the women on LSU's campus belonged to a sorority. According to Cheryl Greeson (Kappa Kappa Gamma, '65) the sororities were very supportive of their members: "We were encouraged to be active on the campus. We all took part in student government elections and actively campaigned for people and for causes. I think that we really learned to be the best person that we could be and that we really had a group of people that were very supportive of us . . . who would go out of their way to help you achieve the goals you wanted to achieve. If girls wanted to run for office, they had a support system. If girls were having trouble scholastically, they had a support system."

As the number and size of sororities grew, the Panhellenic building could no longer accommodate such large chapters, as Greeson again recalled, "I know our sorority cut our quota because we did not feel like we had enough room for actives and pledges to get together in that one room. Sororities were at a real high level of acceptance on the LSU campus at that time and were extremely popular, and so I think it was a matter of time before something had to be done about housing the unit and the number of girls. I do remember that the fire marshall was getting a little concerned about that many girls in one building."

But the administration was slow to accept the idea of building sorority houses. According to Greeson, administrators feared the loss of the camaraderie women shared. "All of the girls on the LSU campus lived together in the dorms. There was not a feeling of eliteness or exclusion. Everyone lived together; everyone ate together; everyone went to class together. I think there was a real concern that this would be lost and that there would be an exclusion of people and that some people would feel very left out because they were not in a sorority. Another concern that they discussed was academics. They were afraid that if the girls got out of a dormitory situation that the academic standards for the girls would go down, that perhaps it would be too loud. There was no real control over the girls lives once they did not have them there with their proctors."

Greeson, Barbara Dunn and Ann Dunn represented the sororities to the administration, and with the support of Dean of Women Helen Gordon they tried to dispel the administration's misgivings. They were successful, and in August 1964 the Board of Supervisors approved plans for twelve houses to be built on LSU land leased to the sororities for one dollar each for 99 years. The members were to be in their new houses by fall 1965.

To finance the homes, the sororities turned to their national organizations and alumnae. Many had begun house funds long ago, and LSU helped by guaranteeing loans for them.

Earlier that year in March, a lottery had been held to decide who would build on which lot. Elizabeth Breazeale (Kappa Kappa Gamma, '42) attended the drawing. "We were told that only eight lots would be available, and twelve groups wanted to build. Two representatives from each house were allowed to go, so I went as president of the house board and Janet Mahaffey, president of the chapter. "We went to the Board of Supervisors' meeting room. First we drew in alphabetical order to draw lots. When all those numbers had been drawn, every chair was filled, and we drew for the lot. But of course the traumatic thing was that only eight were going to be able to begin building. However, by the time we were under construction, the other lots had been prepared by the university, and all twelve were able to start building."

Breazeale described the drawing as "traumatic," and Carolyn Simpson, a Kappa Alpha Theta and a graduate of the University of Texas who had helped colonize LSU's chapter of Theta, remembered the anticipation when each number was drawn: "I pulled out a card, and it said 'seven,' and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh. That's the point [of land jutting out into the lake]!' There were a lot of people that seemed to want it, and when it came to Kappa Alpha Theta, I responded, 'Lot seven,' and there was a great big gasp in the whole room. . . . Most people thought they wanted the lot where Theta is today, which is right in the curve." Greeson adds, "That [lot seven] was considered the lot that had the best vantage point of the lake, but we were happy with our lots, and once you have it, then you find all the reasons why you love it."

The construction, though, was not without problems. A labor strike stopped progress on the houses, Breazeale remembered, "It was very frustrating to know that we had deadlines like moving in in November and the furniture arriving with no place to put it, to know that things were just sitting there." It seemed Mother Nature went on strike, too, when Hurricane Betsy hit in September, 1965, damaging houses that were already behind schedule.

With the girls expecting to move into the houses that fall, no dormitory rooms had been reserved for them. Incoming Dean of Women Margaret Jameson asked to visit the dorms as part of her own orientation. "I went into Annie Boyd and the old section of the Evangeline unit, and the first room I went into had about eight people living in it. And I said, 'My word, do you always have this many students living in a dormitory?'"

Marion Ferguson, Zeta Tau Alpha's house corporation president at the time, recalled the scramble to find other places for the girls to stay: "We called each alum who lived reasonably close to the university or who had big enough houses and even extra automobiles to use, and we actually 'farmed out' our girls who had no rooms. We did not get them moved in until December, but some of the most delightful friendships were made that way. Sometimes it could be a Zeta here and a Kappa Delta there, but they could get to and from class together."

All the houses were finally completed by spring 1966, and the process of learning to live in and really use them began. Margaret Jameson described two changes houses brought to sorority life: "[The first year] they had rushed like they had always done, which was when they came back, they had to go to hotels to stay, then they used the living rooms of the dormitories to have parties. . . they hadn't changed, and they weren't using the houses. It shocked the alums, and they said, 'Oh, we forgot that we have houses' . . . Well there were all sorts of problems that had to be worked through. For instance, no fraternity man would have ever thought of being a bus boy. Phi Mu's [housemother] Mrs. Gluck got the bright idea that she would ask a group of foreign students to come be bus boys and when they came back in the fall they brought all their friends over too. So she said to me she had more house boys than she knew what to do, and I said, "Well why don't we share them with another house." Of course now that's one of the prized jobs for [fraternity men] to have."

The seventies and eighties brought new sororities to LSU, including Sigma Kappa, Kappa Zeta, Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and Zeta Phi Beta.

In the thirty years since the houses were built, sorority row has become one of the most recognizable and evocative images of LSU. However, the role of Greeks has changed. Today only about 8 percent of LSU women belong to sororities. Higher admission standards and broader social changes have resulted in a greater emphasis on academics at the expense of the social activities that once were the primary focus of sorority life.

However, sororities still serve a vital purpose. They support and train many campus leaders, and their perspective has widened to include the off-campus community through philanthropic support for such causes as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the United Way, the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired, the Louisiana School for the Deaf, and the Rape Crisis Center.

When women first integrated LSU, sororities provided a refuge from the predominantly male atmosphere of the Ole War Skule. The friendships and sense of sisterhood they fostered gave the young women a "family away from home," a sense of belonging that is as valuable on today's larger and more impersonal campus as it was eighty-five years ago.

[Most of the interviews cited in this article were conducted by Melisse Campbell, a graduate student in the School of Mass Communication. Our series of interviews on sororities was partially funded by a donation from Panhellenic.]

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