Thursday, March 7, 2013

History is What's Happening Today

At Convention 2012, Fraternity Archivist Marilyn Haas assembled a small exhibit of clothing, jewelry, and other items connected to early Delta Gammas.  I was especially touched when one attendee joyously hugged the display case holding the battered tin lock box our Founders had purchased to hold their club's most important papers.  That humble artifact gave her a direct connection to Anna, Eva, and Mary.
The tin lock box is currently on display in the archives at EO.

Similarly, items owned by or stories about significant sisters like Ruth Billow (who started us on the road to Service for Sight), actresses Eva Marie Saint or Sabrina Bryan, or Congresswomen Mary Landrieu and Kelly Ayottet make our Fraternity's history real.  But history isn't just what happened in 1873 and it's not just famous people.

If you stumbled on your mom's diary, would you read it?  Of course you would!  The musings about the people she met, the parties she attended, even the chores she did and the weather she observed, would be fascinating -- a glimpse into life "back then."

Most issues of the ANCHORA from 1884 to 1939 are now available on Google Books, with more to come.  These magazines are filled with letters between chapters discussing football outings, rush parties, social events, and even weddings and funerals of sisters.  They make for captivating reading.  Yet there's very little chance that these correspondents, or your mom with her diary, imagined they were "writing history."

That's because, in the truest sense, history is what's happening today.  In fact, thanks to pervasive technology, it feels like everything happens faster than ever before.  But distressingly, that very technology is contributing to the loss of our recent history.  Although they say things on the Internet never really go away, they aren't exactly "curated," either.  Facebook posts get buried under the day's newest blurbs.  Instant messages and tweets hit the ether and are gone in an instant.  Digital photos lurk in cameras or phones but are rarely printed out and scrap-booked.  Our memories are becoming ephemeral.

What this means is that the newest pages of our history are blank.  Today's collegians may not think their recruitment parties or Anchor Games or philanthropy projects are "historic," but they surely will be in a few years.  When your little's little's little is being initiated, what you did today will be history to her.

It is important to keep records of our activities.  Delta Gamma has 21 chapters that are at least 100 years old; of those, 10 have celebrated their 125th anniversary!  These milestones are typically marked with the reading or publication of detailed chapter histories.  I can say from experience that it's getting harder and harder to fill in the last couple of decades' worth of events now that we no longer live in an ink-and-paper age.

Some chapters (I'm looking at you, Alpha Tau, Gamma Mu, Eta Delta, Sigma, and Gamma Nu!) have a keen awareness of the richness of their chapter legacy. More often, though, CDCs report little or no awareness of the need to keep track of chapter histories. That's why we've created a new requirement for the collegiate vp: Communications and their crews, a report in eOps+ called "Update chapter annual history." This brief report is due at the end of each semester. It asks about activities, member accomplishments, housing, awards, and other achievements. The information gathered is kept on file. Ultimately, it will serve the same purpose as the folders full of dance cards, initiation luncheon invitations, and newspaper clippings at the Frances Lewis Stevenson Archives at EO -- helping to paint the fullest picture of life in each of our chapter.*

March is "Women's History Month."  We, the women of Delta Gamma, are making history every day.  Let's make sure that the women who follow us are able to read, enjoy, and learn from the narrative we're writing today.

* And for the 18 chapters who still haven't done your Fall 2012 update, it's easy.  The director of chapter archives (alternately, the vp: communications) must log into eOps+.  Choose "Tasks" on the left-hand toolbar and you'll get a list of the forms that have been submitted or are due/past due.  Click on "Update Chapter Annual History - 12/1/2012."  The form itself is pretty much self-explanatory.  And remember -- the more detail you provide, the better your chapter's future history will read!  The next submission will be due this May.

Karen Ann Yaksich Kurlander, Beta Nu-Carnegie-Mellon, a freelance writer and self-proclaimed "history geek," spent 20 years doing public relations for various Bell System and Verizon companies, and then 10 years for the Morris County Historical Society at Acorn Hall.  The position of Director: Archives combines two of her great loves, Delta Gamma and old stuff.  You can reach Karen Ann at

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