Women aren’t used to this. Just a year ago, Owl members used to stand on their stoop on some weekend nights, calling out to women who sauntered past, trying to convince a few perfumed bodies to spend time in their club. Those who walked down the dark wood staircase at the A.D. during parties peered down on a sea of women clutching plastic cups in their hands, their numbers dwarfing the number of A.D. men. Even at clubs like the Fly and Phoenix, a well-orchestrated beg and a carefully-crafted name drop could earn most dolled-up females an entrance at the door, even when the guest list didn’t bear their names. But now things are different.
This year, the social ground women stand on at Harvard is shifting. Girls once could count on being the garnishes at every final club party, let in so new members could justify paying their membership dues. But today women are finding that not many final clubs are holding massive, raucous parties. Girls are realizing that socializing at Harvard’s isn’t always as easy as rapping a well-manicured hand on the door of a club designed for men. For many who count themselves among Harvard’s going-out set, the changed final club scene is creating a more adventurous social climate—bars in Boston, or the well-tred locales of their younger years, dorm room parties.
Some have found what they hope will be a more permanent solution. This year two new female final clubs and one new sorority hit campus, bringing the total number of female clubs up to eight. Many who never wanted to punch before are considering joining the next class of female final club inductees. Sarah A. Levine-Gronningsater ’03, the current president of the Seneca, says the number of girls interested in the club has been on a steady incline over the course of the last three years. She says about 75 girls applied for Seneca membership three years ago, while 100 applied last year. This year 115 girls have shown interest in the club.
“Even just within my room, one of my roommates is punching the Bee and one is punching the Seneca,” says Elena M. Belitsos ’05. “I never thought I’d do something like this, but I’m probably going to go check out the Isis event on Thursday.”
Many frequenters of final clubs say the “new social scene” was apparent to them even from the first nights back at school. Ashley N. Fochtman ’05 says she has been to final clubs almost every weekend this semester, and the biggest change she noted is just that gatherings are smaller. “Usually about 35 have been in the clubs when I’m there,” she says—and most of these groups are comprised of those with connections. “Sometimes some of my friends who don’t know the guys just can’t come in,” she says.
Melissa M. Gniadek ’02 was surprised when she breezed through Boston for a weekend and wasn’t allowed past the velvet rope and burly, out-sourced bouncer that kept non-invites out of the Fly’s annual Calypso party. “I just always think of the Calypso party as a big event everyone goes to when they get back to school,” Gniadek says. “I was never even that close to guys in the Fly, but they would always let us all in...I guess things are really different now.”
Things are so different now that many students said the first big party they went to this year wasn’t held by a male final club at all, but rather the female social group Isis. On the night of Oct. 2, a crowd teemed in front of the entrance to Sophia’s—a dance club on Boylston Street in Boston—trying to weasel its way into Isis’ fall party.
“I waited outside forever,” Fochtman says. According to Sophia’s website, the four-level club can hold up to 550 people during events. The fact that Sophia’s had trouble accommodating the new aimless Harvard social set indicates perhaps just how large an audience exists for the overtures of the women’s groups.
Catherine R. Sproul ’05 says that last year she was overly dependent on the insular world of male social clubs. Back then she was a lacrosse player with older, athlete friends in final clubs, and she says it made sense for her to spend her time there. “We were thrown right into the final club scene,” she says. “It was all we had.”
Sproul says that her more enjoyable evenings at Harvard inevitably revolved around activities at the clubs.
Elizabeth H. Hagan ’02-’03—an officer of the Women’s Leadership Project—says that though she hates to admit it, the majority of her favorite memories of Harvard after dark were formed in the halls of final clubs. “I’d say more than 50 percent of the fun nights I’ve had at Harvard involved the clubs,” she says. “It was just so easy to go to something like the [Owl’s] Catholic Schoolgirls Party.”
Rev. Douglas W. Sears ’69, former president of the Inter-Club Council, the board that oversees the eight male final clubs, has told The Crimson he favors the recent turn towards clubs which look less like “function halls” and more like traditional, male-only retreats. But where does this leave women at a school without even a centralized student center?
“I know part of this is due to the House system, but I don’t feel like I’ve really run into that many of my friends this year,” Belitsos says. “I used to see them at parties, but now I’m always having an effort to call or IM someone just to make sure we find a way to meet up.”
Nell G. Brennan ’02-’03 says that though she thinks the diminished final club scene may contribute to more social diversity, she thinks it also has the effect of giving an not-so cohesive school even less of a common meeting ground. “Things just seem less centered on Harvard than ever before,” Brennan says. “Kids that are over 21 will just go to bars, but that doesn’t draw you all that much closer to a school community.”
Sproul says that this year she’s been exploring Cambridge and Central Square with her roommates, buying drinks and spending money at bars like the People’s Republik and the Cellar. But though Sproul has enjoyed these adventures, she also feels distant from Harvard, and from her age group generally.
However, for many members of the fairer sex at Harvard, branching out this year may take the form of joining one of Harvard’s female social clubs. With one new sorority and two new final clubs slated to appear on campus, women now have eight clubs—bringing the number of women’s groups even with the number of men’s clubs. Sproul gushes when she talks about the possibility of joining the Bee. Fochtman and her blockmates plan on trying to join the Bee or Isis. “I’m in Dunster, and all of our blockmates live in single bedrooms without common rooms,” Fochtman says. “With a little less going on this year, it would be nice to have somewhere to go and meet new people, and even get out of our rooms.”
Hagan also finds her attitude toward female social clubs changing this year. When she was a sophomore—and current seniors were first years—the only women’s clubs were the Bee and the newly formed Seneca, and Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Gamma were the only active sororities. Even though she never thought about joining the small group of women in female social club scene back then, these days, with the diminished presence of men’s final clubs, she is more tempted by this option. “I haven’t had that much to do this year, and it’s been a little bit different, and sort of hard,” she says. “I think things would just be a lot more interesting—and hopefully exciting—if I could be in one of these clubs.”
If Hagan were starting anew, her social options would be even broader. Three new clubs on campus prove that, even at Harvard, girls just want to have fun.
She knocks on the door of the Fly primped out in a cute little dress. As the temperature hovers near freezing, someone she knows from section answers the door.
“Are you on the list?” he asks.
“Don’t make this harder for me than it is already,” he says as he slams the door.
* * * *
“What a joke!” Angie J. Thebaud ’04 says angrily, remembering her friend’s rejection at the Fly’s door. “‘Don’t make this harder for me than it already is?’” she says incredulously. “And she is the one that was standing out in the cold!”
Thebaud and her friend are now two of the founding members of the Sablière Society, a new all-female social group that has abandoned Harvard Square for the greener social pastures of downtown Boston.
“There is so much more to the college scene than sitting out in the cold knocking on the door of a final club and waiting for some sophomore to let you in,” says Thebaud, who is the society’s social chair. On a typical night this weekend, the girls didn’t spend any time in the Square at all.
At about 10 p.m., the girls headed to Caprice, a ritzy lounge downtown. The club owners are friends with the Sablière ladies, of course, so they walked straight through the entrance and directly to the VIP room in the back. After an hour-and-a-half, it was time to away to Pravda on Boylston Street. The in-crowd knew there was a party going on there that night, so Sablière thought it would be worth an appearance.
After chatting with some clubbing friends and a few glasses of champagne, the girls headed to Trio, which is billed as a lounge but also has a dance floor. Deeming the Columbus Day party worthy of a few hours, the girls partied with their non-Harvard club friends until Trio closed at 2 a.m.
But with sunrise several hours away and only a dreary Harvard social scene awaiting them back on campus, Sablière headed to an after-hours party a friend of theirs was hosting at his posh Greenhouse apartment. At 4:30 a.m. they made the trek back to the Square.
“We have so much fun doing those type of things,” Thebaud says. “Clubbing tends to be what takes up the majority of my weekend time.”
But according to Brooke L. Chavez ’04, the president and a founder of the group, Sablière will also focus on taking advantage of the intellectual, cultural and artistic aspects of Boston.
“We’re not advocating a keg in a small basement, but rather cocktails on the Common or wine at the MFA,” Chavez says.
The society is named for Marguerite de la Sablière, a 17th-century patron of La Fontaine, who turned her house into a meeting place for the literati from the court of Louis XIV. Sablière is also, coincidentally, the name of a nudist resort in France. Credit for the obscure name goes to Francophile Eugenia B. Schraa ’04, another founding member, who is also a Crimson editor.
“She was like, ‘Madame Sablière.’ And we were like, ‘Who?’” remembers Chavez. “But then we looked it up and thought it was perfect.” Chavez specifically didn’t want to pick an animal for the group’s namesake since it would be too “final clubby.” To make their unique status perfectly clear, they also deemed themselves a society rather than a club.
But the accent grave can make pronunciation a little tricky, leading some members to occasionally say SAH-BLEE-AY. “I don’t want to pronounce the ‘r,’” Chavez jokes. “I think it would sound better without it.”
Right now, the club has six founding members, all juniors: Thebaud, Chavez, Schraa, Caroline L. Donchess, Brittany J. Garza and Maria S. Pedroza, also a Crimson editor. Sablière plans to invite 30 women to a wine and cheese function off-campus this fall, according to Chavez, from which they will choose about 10 more women to form a core group. This spring, the society will hold a selection process that will be invite-only and almost identical to a final club punch.
Chavez says they hope to have about 30 members after the selection process this spring. “We don’t in any way want to be exclusive,” she says, “but we want the girls to really get to know each other and it’s really hard to take more than 30 girls into Boston.”
The girls are also using their Boston club connections to try and create a Sablière card that will automatically put the names of the members on the guest lists of exclusive clubs and give them discounts when they go out.
Sablière also plans to throw open parties downtown, starting with one right after the selection process to introduce the campus to the society.
“We want to get everyone into Boston,” Chavez says. “A few good parties are on our agenda.”
Chavez first thought up the idea for Sablière at the end of her first year, when she was growing tired of the final club scene. Thebaud says that she, too, used to be enthralled with the clubs.
“I would go to the final clubs all the time,” Thebaud says. “Like every weekend. And even during the week if I could. All the time. I was just thrilled when I could get in and people would talk to me.” But once she headed downtown, she never turned back.
“There’s just a huge gap between what’s fun here and what’s fun in Boston,” she says. And Thebaud thinks clubs focused on social life outside of Harvard will become a growing trend. “I think a lot of people at Harvard realize they’re living in a bubble,” she says. “People are afraid to take the T more than three stops down.”
Not too long ago, Thebaud decided to check out the scene on campus with a friend and see what she was missing. “It was the most horrible 45 minutes of my life,” she says. “We walked up five flights of stairs into this tiny sweaty room with one keg in the back and bunch of freshmen. We walked into a final club and there were just 12 guys sitting around. It was a joke.”
And she says the need for more social groups is even more pressing this semester as the final clubs begin to enforce a stricter guest policy. “It’s just hilarious that these eight clubs that we don’t even like that much are closed,” Thebaud says. “No girls have anything to do. It’s a total joke.” But for the girls of Sablière, the changes at the final clubs offer an ideal opportunity for new female social groups.
“It’s perfect timing,” Chavez says. “The social scene at Harvard is crumbling and needs a new structure.”
Two weeks ago, about 20 girls received a egg shell-colored note card with the word “Pleiades” written in blue ink with a blue star-shaped sticker dotting the ‘i.’ This Monday, those who were intrigued by the invitations had a 45-minute get-together in the Claverly common room, where they celebrated a birthday and played party games.
And if all goes according to plan, they will be inducted in the next few weeks as members of Pleiades, a new women’s social group that’s neither sorority nor female final club. But perhaps the question they’re asked most is: How do you pronounce that name?
“That was the first thing we went over at our meeting,” says Pleiades co-founder Abby E. Carruthers ’04, laughing. “It’s PLEE-UH-DEEZ.” In Greek mythology, the Pleiades are a group of seven sisters who were renowned for their beauty. The hunter Orion became smitten with the sisters, who asked Zeus for help in escaping his affection. He turned them into doves and they flew into the sky and became a constellation of stars.
So what’s the connection between the myth and the social group? “We’re hot,” says Tanya F. Perkins ’04, another of the co-founders, with a deadpan face.
“Seriously, though, we really liked the symbolism of the seven sisters,” Carruthers says. The groundwork for Pleiades was laid in New Haven last year at the Harvard-Yale game. Perkins and Carruthers, friends from their first year who hadn’t seen each other in a long time, bumped into each other.
“I was walking by Abby and she was like, ‘We should get together more often,’” Perkins remembers. “And she said, ‘We should have a club to get together more often.’”
“After New Haven, one of us e-mailed and then we got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s actually start a club,’” Carruthers remembers. “And then I mentioned it to Melissa [E. Miller ’04], and she was like, ‘I was thinking it would be cool to start a club, too.”
The rest is Greek history.
Last spring, Perkins, Miller and Carruthers began inviting girls to join the group. But instead of asking their friends to join, they turned to people they barely knew. “Why just take our group of friends and put a name on it? I want to meet new people,” Perkins says. “I invited acquaintances I had talked to in the dining hall but never gone out with on a Saturday night.”
In fact, a lot of the members were strangers. “I don’t know most of the girls who are in the group,” Carruthers says. “The three founders don’t know a majority of the girls.” But gradually the group is beginning to coalesce. In March, the members had brunch in the dining hall. One night they ate popcorn and watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights in the Claverly common room. A night of s’mores and hot chocolate rounded out their spring schedule.
By then, the girls wanted official recognition. They found the website of the national Panhellenic Council and began contacting some of the national sororities. “They wrote back and said ‘we can’t talk to you,’” Carruthers says. “They told us about the legal process.”
When the girls discovered how long the process would take, they decided to embark on a non-Greek course. “The whole sorority process takes a whole year. And with us already being juniors we weren’t just willing to sit around,” Perkins says. “So in the meantime we decided to go ahead with this Pleiades group so that if and when the third sorority is chosen, we have the option to look into it when it’s chosen.”
Carruthers adds: “In the meantime we want to have this group.”
For now, the girls don’t want to restrict themselves by being classified as a female final club or a sorority. “We want to keep our options open,” Perkins says.
In the spring, Pleiades plans to have an open application process and ultimately have 40 members in the group.
But this semester, the women just want to bond and decide the character of their group. There is no official dues requirement, and aside from the current three main aspects of the club—sisterhood, self-improvement and service—it’s up to all of the members to choose the direction of the group.
“When we leave the school, hopefully people will think of us as girls who are really close,” Carruthers says.
It’s All Greek To Me
While others seek out mesdames and mythological maidens as namesakes, some future socially connected Harvard women will have a good old-fashioned sorority to call their festive home. Panhellenic Council President Shira S. Simon ’04 is trying to bring a few more Greek letters to campus. As head of the body that oversees the two Harvard sororities, Simon is responsible for seeking out a third. Kappa Alpha Theta had already voted to bring a third sorority on campus last spring and after Delta Gamma also voted unanimously on Sept. 29 in favor, Simon got the official green light to contact the national sororities.
The interest in sororities at Harvard has grown dramatically in the past few years. About 120 women came to the info session for the joint rush last spring, according to Simon, but only 33 were asked to pledge.
“It’s become a totally and unnecessarily competitive process and that’s not what we’re going for,” Simon says.
Right now Simon is contacting the national Panhellenic Conference to find out what sororities are interested in colonizing Harvard. She says that about a dozen sororities will be on campus in the next semester to come to Theta and DG meetings and look at the rush process. Even though the council is moving quickly, no new organization will offer a rush this coming spring.
Ultimately, the authority to choose which sorority can colonize belongs to the Harvard Panhellenic Council, but Simon says she will consult with the founders of Pleiades, who talked to Simon over the summer about forming a sorority. But whether the twinkling Pleiades sisters evolve into Harvard’s newest Greek sisterhood or not, sorority leaders believe the female Greek scene will only get bigger.
“I can guarantee it,” says Theta spokesperson Thayer S. Christodoulo ’04.