The Development of Sororities and the Inter-Sorority Council
The history of sororities is closely associated with the efforts to open up educational opportunities to women at the University of Virginia. When UVA was first founded in 1819 under the direction and planning of Thomas Jefferson, he envisioned a southern institution dedicated to educating the sons of the Southern aristocracy, training them to be the future leaders of the new nation. In keeping with this vision, the University of Virginia remained an all-male, all-white institution for much of its history. Women were permitted to attend summer teaching Institutes in the 1890s and were also permitted to enroll in graduate programs beginning in 1920. With this initial trickling of women on the Grounds, female fraternal organizations, commonly referred to as sororities, began to crop up to match the male fraternities that had existed on Grounds since the mid-1800s. Chi Omega was the first such organization to come to Grounds in 1927 and soon after in 1932 the Kappa Delta chapter was established.
Amid rising public pressure and an impending lawsuit, in 1970 the College of Arts and Sciences admitted women to its undergraduate program, effectively making the University co-educational. Almost instantly, the academic and extracurricular environment changed, as women sought to prove their worth to their male classmates. In the following years, many sororities and women’s fraternities were chartered at the University. By the end of the 1970s, eleven chapters existed at UVA, with several more colonizing in the early 1980s. These female organizations provided networks of support and sisterhood for these early pioneering women.
In keeping with the tradition of “student self-governance” that all Virginia students esteem so highly, these sorority women established the Inter-Sorority Council in 1975 to serve as the governing body of the sororities on Grounds. The Inter-Sorority Council (ISC) functioned similarly to the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), the body charged with overseeing the numerous fraternities. These original women choose the name Inter-Sorority Council to demonstrate their equality to their male fraternal counterparts, as well as to the University community, administration and members of the greater Charlottesville community. The ISC elected its own leaders, developed its own policies, procedures, and programs, and sought to further the unifying mission of each sorority while also providing networks of academic and social support for the women of UVA. The ISC became completely self-sufficient and student-run like many other organizations around Grounds.
The Present Inter-Sorority Council
In December 2005 the chapter delegates of each of the active ISC chapters voted to formally affiliate with the national governing body of sororities, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). However, because of the rich tradition associated with the name “Inter-Sorority Council” and the struggle women faced to even attend UVA, the chapter delegates overwhelmingly opted to continue to refer to the collegiate governing board as the Inter-Sorority Council. Members of the University administration, including those within the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and area NPC delegates supported the ISC in this decision precisely because of the culture and heritage associated with the name. However, the ISC has taken great steps to revise its procedures and policies to ensure compliance with NPC policies and rules. Furthermore, members of the ISC Executive Board, including the President, Vice President of Recruitment, and Vice President of Judiciary annually attend the Southeastern Panhellenic Conference (SEPC), the largest annual meeting of collegiate NPC governing boards in the United States, which includes representatives from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and others.
Today the Inter-Sorority Council governs 15 NPC chapters and over 2700 women, making it the largest organization of women on Grounds. Sorority women are extremely active within the UVA community and many hold leadership positions in many of UVA’s most visible organizations. Sorority women have been chairs of both the University Judiciary Committee and Honor Committee, President of Class Councils and Trustees, representatives on Student Council, members of the Arts and Sciences Council, Engineering School Council, and Commerce Council, active members in the University Guide Service, Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, student member of the Board of Visitors, program directors of Madison House, as well as numerous positions in other organizations. Many ISC women are also actively involved in athletic organizations, including varsity, club, and intramural sports. The women of the ISC continually outperform their female non-Greek counterparts in the area of academics. The Greek female GPA is consistently higher than the non-Greek female GPA at UVA.
The ISC strives to uphold the five pillars of Sisterhood, Service, Scholarship, Support, and Student Leadership. The ISC’s mission is to support and promote the well-being of the 15 chapters of the ISC and their members in their interactions with each other, as well as within the Greek community, the University community, and the greater Charlottesville community. The members of the ISC work to develop programs that meet the needs of the members of our community and we constantly seek input and guidance from those inside and outside our community. The tradition of female Greek involvement and dedication is strong at the University, and the ISC continues to strengthen these bonds while remembering those pioneering women who had the courage and drive to sustain an organization that can provide so many benefits and rewards to its members.