Theta and the Great Depression

Category: Heritage

Elle Benak

Gamma deuteron, Ohio Wesleyan

My experience as archives intern gave me the opportunity to discover Theta in a historical context and to explore how different events throughout time have affected the Fraternity. I became intrigued with how Theta dealt with the Great Depression.

The Great Depression (1929-1941) is something we all have studied in school at some point, but we never really learn more than the fact that the banks crashed and numerous people lost their jobs. What I wanted to know was how Theta supported its sisters through this difficult time and how the Fraternity was affected.

The first place I looked to determine the Depression’s effect on Theta was in the published magazines from 1928 to 1940. Between 1928 and 1934, the magazines never made a direct reference to the Depression. It’s not until January 1935 that we published an article called the “Loan and Fellowship Fund V.S. The Depression.” The article expresses Theta’s gratitude to those who have donated to the fund during this time and shares stories of members the fund was able to assist.

What I found most interesting was that from 1930 to 1938, the magazine had several articles explaining the importance of women obtaining a college education. These articles are accompanied by several others that focused on how to apply for loans, what scholarships Theta had to offer, and how to donate to the Scholarship Fund.

To me it is extremely apparent the Fraternity wanted to make sure every member had the information and means to stay in school. In the November 1935 issue, a short cartoon strip portrays a young women whose family’s bank closed, and therefore her family could not afford to send her to college. But then her “guardian angel” (most likely a Theta alumna) suggests she apply for a Theta loan, enabling her to attend school.

The Depression’s effects on Thetas can also be seen in the chapter letters published in our magazine. These letters talk about girls transferring schools or taking time off to gather funds. In fact, the Great Depression affected Bettie Locke’s own family. Due to limited funds, her granddaughter, Genevieve Hartley Cones, first attended Indiana Central Normal College, a teachers college, before transferring to DePauw her senior year. Genevieve’s Aunt Edna, her mother’s sister, paid for her education. Edna’s letters, housed in Theta’s archives, include correspondence between her and Genevieve about the cost of attending college during the Depression.

While the Great Depression did not affect Theta and its members as severely as it did other parts of American society, it is still wonderful to learn about the support the Fraternity gave its young members to allow them to accomplish their academic goals.