Women's Literary Societies

Alpha Kappa Chi, 1917-1918


Literary societies were once a common feature at Concordia.  Alpha Kappa Chi (AKX) was the first all-female literary society at the college.  Even as its focus shifted from literary pursuits to social events to charitable activities, AKX provided a way for Concordia women to engage with their campus and their community for over eighty years.  Phi Kappa Chi (PKX) was another popular women’s society at Concordia College from 1946 to 1969.  Although PKX was relatively short-lived, it provides an interesting look at some of the factors that influenced the rise and fall of women’s (and men’s) societies at Concordia.

Alpha Kappa Chi (AKX)

AKX was founded on October 5, 1916, as Concordia College’s first all-female literary society. [1] Literary societies for men had existed in the United States since the eighteenth century, but only began to play a role in the education of college women in the late nineteenth century. [2] Before AKX was founded Concordia had one literary organization, the Periclesian Literary Society, which admitted both men and women.  When Concordia merged with Park Region College in 1917, one society was no longer sufficient to accommodate all the students.  A number of female students decided to create their own “exclusive women’s literary society.”  AKX had twelve charter members including the group’s first president, Martha Brennun.  The women chose “Good and Useful” as their motto. [3]

AKX was involved in both scholastic and social pursuits.  In 1925, the group voted to “enter into union” with the all-male society Mondamin. [4] Literary societies like AKX initially served an academic purpose. Mabel L. Aasen was a sophomore student when she wrote about the histories of literary societies at Concordia in 1927. [5] According to Aasen, these organizations “[gave] the student a chance to put to practical use many of the theories he [or she learned] in class.” [6] Members showcased their literary, forensic, dramatic, and musical skills in annual public programs. [7] AKX was also involved in social activities.  The women helped design floats for the college homecoming parade. They also held banquets and picnics. [8]

After World War II, AKX transitioned from a true literary society to a primarily social group. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, AKX had between 40 and 60 members, peaking in 1968 with sixty-four members. Most activities were social. Members held smoking parties called “joint smokers,” Christmas caroling parties, rollerskating parties, sleigh rides, progressive dinners, and softball games.  They also sponsored campus events like the Winter Carnival and All-School parties and suppers. From 1958 to 1970, AKX held an Annual Bridal Show where members modeled wedding attire provided by local businesses. [9]

As more student organizations were formed, societies like AKX lost their position at the center of campus social life. Membership declined in the 1970s, reaching a low of seven members in 1981 and 1987. [10] The decline in society membership at Concordia was consistent with the trend nationwide.  In the late 1960s and 1970s, membership in Greek organizations “plummeted” at schools from Michigan to Berkley. [11] AKX continued to be involved with the Winter Carnival and homecoming; however, most energy was devoted to pledging.  According to college yearbooks, during these years, AKX and Mondamin developed a reputation as a “rowdy group” and “the most misunderstood campus society.” [12]

With encouragement from Concordia’s administration, AKX began to focus more on charitable activities. In 1988, Concordia urged societies to “rethink their goals,” and AKX responded to the challenge. From 1988 to 1996, AKX sponsored an annual Christmas Ball to raise money for Toys for Tots. Members also organized blood drives and held car washes to raise money for charities. These changes renewed interest in AKX. Between 1989 and 1996, the group consistently had between twenty and thirty members. [13] This resurgence was short-lived as suspensions led to the end of the society. The group was first suspended in March of 1996 until the fall of 1997 for violating college policy during pledging. [14] AKX held fall pledging again in 1997, but was suspended a second time in December of 1997 for violating Concordia’s alcohol and hazing policies. [15] AKX was unable to make a comeback after this two-year suspension, marking the end of the organization’s eighty years at Concordia College.

Phi Kappa Chi (PKX)

Phi Kappa Chi (PKX) was a women’s society at Concordia College from 1946 to 1969. By 1946 there were four women’s societies at Concordia.  PKX was founded to meet the needs of the increasing number of Concordia women who wanted to join societies. Since societies had quotas limiting the number of members they could admit, not all the women who wanted to join a society were able to do so.  In May 1946, thirteen freshmen women who knew they would not be able to join a society solved this problem by founding Phi Kappa Chi.  The women chose “Love, Labor, and Laugh” as their motto and selected royal blue and white as their colors.  In 1947, PKX gained a brother society, the all-male group Beta Tau Omega (BTO).  PKX grew quickly from twenty-two members in 1947 to thirty-nine members by 1954. [16]

Societies were at the center of social life on Concordia’s campus in the first twenty years after World War II.  In 1963, over seventy percent of Concordia students were members of a society by their senior year. [17] PKX reached its peak membership with sixty-one women in 1962. During this time, the society was involved in community and charitable activities.  PKX brought back the previously discontinued tradition of the Winter Carnival in 1959, which was an inter-society event. The group also hosted many parties including an “Indian party,” a tobogganing party, and a Sadie Hawkins pizza party. Members also did projects for charity such as donating food baskets to needy families and hosting Christmas parties for orphans. [18]

In the late 1960s, a changing social climate contributed to the breakup of PKX and BTO and signaled the beginning of the end for Concordia societies. The brother-sister arrangement of Concordia’s societies complicated matters. [19] Some students found the structure too restrictive. [20] On January 10, 1969, PKX’s brother society, BTO, announced in a letter to the Concordian that they had decided to “break up” with their sister society. They cited a “difference in ideology” as the main reason for the separation: BTO members “resented” being expected to take part in activities they found uninteresting simply because such activities were long-standing traditions. The split was controversial.  In the letter announcing the breakup, BTO acknowledged that the choice to split was a “one-sided decision.” [21] Later, PKX members confirmed that they felt they did not have a choice in the matter. [22] Students predicted that a men’s society would be able to last on its own but that a women’s society would not survive independently. [23] This turned out to be true as PKX disbanded by the end of spring semester in 1969. [24]

In 1968, Concordia had fourteen societies. By 1977, only six societies remained. [25] This rapid decline was largely due to the increased number of organizations and activities available on campus. [26] Societies were no longer the only way for students to meet new people. The heightened political awareness of the late 1960s also helped to shape the kind of activities preferred by college students. Students in the sixties and seventies largely rejected the exclusivity of societies. The short and tumultuous history of PKX provides insight into the fluctuating popularity of women’s and men’s societies at Concordia College.

Author: Hans Frank

[1] Mabel L. Aasen, “History of Literary Societies at Concordia College,” 1927, Student Government, Student Organizations & Activities, 1896-2012, Record Group 18; Literary Societies, Series 4; Literary Society Histories, Subseries 7, FF 7, Concordia College Archives, 4.
[2] Michael Hevel, “The Public Displays of Student Learning: The Role of Literary Societies in Early Iowa Higher Education,” Annals of Iowa 70 (2011), 2-3.
[3] Marie Stove and Ruth Rugland, “History of the Women’s Societies of Concordia College,” 1929,  Student Government, Student Organizations & Activities, 1896-2012, Record Group 18; Literary Societies, Series 4; Literary Society Histories, Subseries 7, FF 5,  Concordia College Archives, 2.
[4] Stove and Rugland, “Women’s Societies of Concordia,” 2.
[5] "Placement Bureau Gives Data. On The Graduating Class." Concordian (Moorhead, MN), Sep. 19, 1929.
[6] Aasen, “Literary Societies at Concordia,” 2.
[7] Concordia College, Scout ‘19-’20  (Moorhead, MN: Junior Class, 1920), Scout ‘21, ‘22, ‘23 (Moorhead, MN:  Junior Class, 1923), Scout 1925-26 (Moorhead, MN:  Senior, Junior and Sophomore Classes), Concordia College Archives; Concordia College, Cobber 1932  (Moorhead, MN:  Students of Concordia College, 1932). [Hereafter the Cobber yearbooks will be cited with Cobber followed by the year or years cited.]  Cobber, 1941.
[8] Cobber, 1926, 1929, 1937, 1939, 1941.
[9] Cobber, 1937-1969.
[10] Cobber, 1970-1978, 1981-1989.
[11] M. G. Lord, “The Greek Rites of Exclusion,” Nation, Jul. 4, 1987, 12.
[12] Cobber, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1987; 1988, 70-71; 1984, 158.
[13] Cobber,  1988, 70-71; 1989-1996.
[14] Heather Hauschild, “Two Concordia societies dissolved until fall 1997,” Concordian, Mar. 29, 1996, 1.
[15] Amanda Parise and Darrell Ehrlick, “Three societies shut down for violations,” Concordian, Jan. 9, 1998, 1.
[16] Cobber, 1953, 1954, 196; 1956.
[17] Erik Johnson, “Last half of century sees diversification, reorientation of Cord societies,” Concordian, Jan. 14, 1977, 9.
[18] Cobber, 1962, 100; 1961, 123; 1956-1962.
[19] Colleen Myers, “Societies Confront Crucial Challenge To Meet Changes In Social Patterns,” Concordian, Nov. 22, 1968, 6.
[20] Chris Ward, “Social Societies Need Divorce,” Concordian, Nov. 22, 1968, 2.
[21] Beta Tau Society, Letter to the editor, Concordian, Jan. 10, 1969, 3.
[22] Tria Church, “Phi Kapps-Beta Taus Separate: Societies Have Mixed Reaction,” Concordian, Jan. 31, 1969, 3.
[23] David Briles, “Fluctuation Troubles Societies Cohesiveness,” Concordian, Feb. 7, 1969, 6.
[24] Concordia College, CY, 1969, Concordia College Archives, 146-147.
[25] Johnson, “Reorientation of Cord societies,” 9.
[26] Myers, “Societies Confront Crucial Challenge,” 6.