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History 1935-60

Setting the Scene

Let’s imagine (or, for some, remember) what it was like to be a woman living in the United States during the years 1935-60. You would have experienced the challenges brought on by the Great Depression, when 25% of the labor force was unemployed and hourly wages dropped 60%. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established minimum wages and prohibited child labor. You would see Prohibition repealed in 1933.

You would learn of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and have your life touched in innumerable ways by America’s declaration of war on Japan and Germany and the ensuing fighting on two fronts. You saw, or became one of, the women staffing factories previously manned by men. Rosie the Riveter came to represent the female workforce to you. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later knows as WACs), the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS) were all formed. You saw rationing instituted. Gasoline, shoes, meat, coffee, butter, cheese and sugar were controlled by ration books, gas cards and a point system. In 1945, you would have celebrated the end of the war.

You saw medical care change dramatically when penicillin, used by the military during the war, became available to civilians. The polio vaccinewas developed in 1955.

Perhaps you would have participated in a Shirley Temple lookalike contest, listened to Little Orphan Annie on the radio, or watched Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, James Cagney, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby at your local movie theater. You might have enjoyed a movie at one of the 2,000 drive-in theaters built between 1947 and 1950. Perhaps your family moved to a newly developed suburb where you may have joined your local Girl Scouts troop, taken ballet lessons or gone on a family camping vacation.

By the mid-1950s, you were listening to rock and roll music and watching television. The number of television sets soared from 3.1 million sets in U.S. homes to 32 million by 1955. You may have enjoyed American Bandstand, which began airing nationally in 1957, or a favorite quiz show. Maybe in the late 1950s you experienced “cramming,” where you attempted to cram as many people or objects into a small space like a phone booth. Or you may have joined the Hula-Hoop craze. And you may have been exposed to cultural shifts and innovation by artists such as Jackson Pollack, comedy duo Nichols and May, and actor Marlon Brando.

In larger world issues, you saw war again when, in 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. Communist Russian troops occupied most of the peninsula, and for the second time in five years, the U.S. was at war. You watched as Senator Joe McCarthy conducted Senate subcommittee hearings to seek out Communists.

You witnessed the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in the public schools was unconstitutional. You would have seen Rosa Parks refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, followed in 1956 by Martin Luther King, Jr. leading a boycott in Montgomery against segregation on local buses.

Alpha Chi Omega—Early in this Era

Fresh from the 1935 Golden Jubilee celebration of Alpha Chi Omega’s first 50 years, the Fraternity was strong, growing and proud. The 1937 National Convention, held in Glacier National Park in Montana, was described in The Lyre: “There was about this convention a delightful spirit of happy friendliness not often felt in so large a group. Convention provided pleasure for those present and accomplishment for the general fraternity.” And it was made even sweeter by the attendance of three of the living Founders—Olive Burnett Clark (Alpha, DePauw University), Bertha Deniston Cunningham (Alpha, DePauw University) and Estelle Leonard (Alpha, DePauw University). Due to poor health, Founder Nellie Gamble Childe (Alpha, DePauw University) was unable to attend.

Membership Statistics


Initiated members: 768

Collegiate membership: 1,753

Collegiate chapters: 58

Alumnae chapters: 39

Alumnae clubs: 53

Total membership: 13,991


Initiated members: 1,995

Collegiate membership: 4,982

Collegiate chapters: 92

Alumnae chapters: 7

Alumnae clubs: 153

Total membership: 48,239