Having survived the battering Depression years in commendable condition by carefully guarding finances and perfecting the internal machinery of the Fraternity, Phi Mu faced a crossroads by the time of the 1940 National Convention.
Five months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and America was plunged into World War II. Phi Mu’s officers could not have predicted how profound those “future changes in the fraternity world” would be.
The first concern was to encourage women to stay in college. They were advised that education should not be sacrificed to the war situation. The National President addressed this message to collegiate members:
“The job for the collegiate member is well defined. It is not only to give part-time aid in war activities, but is more definitely to prepare for post-war service – a preparation for the future, since the post-war period will find this a woman’s world. Women will be in government, women in science, women in education, women in business, in industry, and in the professions. Finish your education and equip yourselves along those lines for which you are best suited. Women are the hope of the future America.”
– National President-elect Alice Miller, Eta Beta
Campuses were undergoing changes never before experienced. Vacations were canceled, classes were held year-around with a full semester in the summer, and Saturday classes were the norm. On almost all campuses, soldiers were seen everywhere.
Women students took over posts as editors of the yearbooks and campus newspapers, and in student government without a problem – except for one of sufficient time.
Social programs were greatly reduced and lacked the usual elaborate decorations. Each college Panhellenic was made responsible for cutting down on time and money spent on recruiting members and for deciding such questions as defining the academic year when school was in session year-round.
Because of wartime travel restrictions and rationing, national conventions of most fraternities and sororities were canceled, and Phi Mu was no exception. The 1942 National Convention was canceled, but the Fraternity felt fortunate to be permitted to have a National Leadership School and War Service Conference in 1943.
Resignations were frequent among fraternity and sorority national officers because of war service demands or changes of residence. Phi Mu experienced only one National Council resignation but several at other levels.
Sorority and fraternity magazines also were hard hit. The paper allotment for The Aglaia was reduced, and the use of metal in engravings for pictures was curtailed. The magazine ran articles on helping the war program and featured the many Phi Mus who had joined the service or had given outstanding volunteer service.
In recalling the World War II years, National President Alice Miller expressed pride in Phi Mu’s achievements. “The more I think back, the more impressed I am with the service of the Phi Mus during the pre-war, war and post-war years. The Service Dinner [honoring Phi Mus in war service at the War Service Conference in 1943] was something to behold, and you popped your buttons over the various services – and the sacrifices.”
In the Vietnam War of the 1960s and the Korean conflict that followed, many Phi Mus served as nurses and in various branches of military service. In the “Desert Storm” action of the Gulf War in the early 1990s, Phi Mus were in actual combat units.
Although these were serious engagements, they did not affect campuses and the Greek world to the extent of the two world wars.
Effects on Chapter Life
The accelerated class schedule during World War II, coupled with the fact that many students left to go into branches of the service or into industry work, caused chapters to experience so much turnover in membership and in officers that budgets and methods of operations were affected.
Most chapters met their financial situations by increasing the number of pledges and initiates. The 1,004 pledges and 616 initiates of 1942-43 constituted the largest pledge and initiation figures to that date in Phi Mu history.
Chapter houses were being taken over for army and navy use on some campuses, while on others servicemen occupied both the men’s and women’s dormitories and women lived in vacated fraternity houses.
At some chapters, blackout drills were utilized for song practices as the members gathered in the dark. A 1943 Founders’ Day ceremony in Pittsburgh was interrupted by an air raid alarm. During the ensuing blackout, Beta Theta collegians entertained with an impromptu concert of Phi Mu songs.
Interruptions to normal life took a toll on alumnae activity as well. Affected by the constantly moving population and transportation curtailments, alumnae groups scheduled fewer meetings, and a few groups had to disband. Alumnae concentrated on assisting collegiate chapters struggling with membership turnover and high housing costs.
Hundreds of Phi Mu alumnae joined the WAVEs, the SPARs and WAACs, and enlisted as nurses in the marine, army and navy service. Some became pilot instructors; still others ferried airplanes to England. Those on the home front worked in aircraft and tank plants and other war industries. They served the Red Cross Recreation Corps and did civilian work at air and naval bases and army posts. As volunteers, they gave literally thousands of hours to war service.
Collegiate chapter expansion was slow, with only four chapters added from 1940 to 1945. Even so, any gain was seen as a real achievement in such restricted and abnormal times. Most unfortunate was the loss of 10 collegiate chapters during that same period. A few of the losses were only temporary, and the chapters were successfully started up again after the war.
After the war, most chapters increased in size due largely to increased college enrollments and improved family finances. Men’s fraternities began to revive in these post-war years.
This date in 2001 will long live in the memories of United States citizens and, indeed, the entire world. Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington and a terrorist- commandeered airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania left more than 3,000 people dead and wounded.
An immediate effect for Phi Mu was cancellation of a fall 2001 National Council meeting. With air travel restricted, Chapter Consultants were forced to change travel plans, and many more of their visits were made by automobile.
Phi Mu chapters across the nation contacted the Executive Office and volunteer officers asking how they could help. They began raising funds and joining campus efforts for the American Red Cross and blood drives. Phi Mu Foundation spread the word that it was accepting donations designated for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. In November, the Foundation sent the total raised as a gift from Phi Mu to assist those who had lost family members in the disasters.
Students lined up to donate blood, leaders of numerous organizations began discussing fund drives, candlelight vigils had overflow crowds and American flags appeared on bicycles and backpacks.
Source: Lamb, Annadell. C. The History of Phi Mu: The First 150 Years. The Grace Group, 2002. Print