Section: Features

1950s fraternity “Division Diary”: gossip, banter and chaos

Seventy years ago, The Kenyon Collegian was a very different read. Vol. 80, which ran from Oct. 2, 1953, to May 21, 1954, featured many editorialized articles, satirical op-eds and one full page in each issue dedicated to recent fraternity activities. 

The page was titled “The Division Diary,” after division housing in the dorms, and would usually share a page with the local advertisements. There were 10 different one- or two-paragraph sections, one for each fraternity, which would provide weekly updates and detail what they were up to that weekend: “The Psi U’s had a lobster party in the woods Saturday Evening, and their television set is broken,” an excerpt from one Diary said.

A few other snippets from the Diary:

“Saturday afternoon the Archons will settle down with setups and then with the first casting of evening’s darkening shadows, they will really start to drink.” (Archons)

“To disperse the idea that Alpha Delts at Kenyon are illiterate, the chapter can point to the fact that Bill Greaves, ’53, won the fraternity literary contest.” (Alpha Delta Phi)

“Bartels has switched from Scotch to Gin Rickeys. Quoth he: ‘It’s more intoxicating this way.’” (Delta Kappa Epsilon)

“On Sunday evening last, Bob Ritzi had a toothache.” (Delta Tau Delta)

The Diaries were mostly focused on what each fraternity had been drinking that weekend, pledging and initiation updates and who got “pinned,”— that is, who had a new girlfriend, whom they usually met at one of the dances that women were invited to. 

In these Diaries, there is a clear lack of a filter or sense of professionalism, which gives these issues a community feel. A 2019 Atlantic article by Adam Willis discussed the way college newspapers have become bureaucratic, inevitably changing the tone of student papers across the country. As with the Collegian, “few school newspapers are financially independent from the institutions they cover,” he wrote. “College administrators hold powerful leverage over student journalists and their faculty advisers.”

In a similar vein, the Division Diaries and non-news sections were very personal. Students were mentioned by first names and nicknames, the different fraternities would make sport of each other and the paper generally covered more of the social aspects and traditions of Kenyon. 

The Division Diary stopped appearing in the spring of 1954. Until then, however, they were consistent. Even when the issue only spanned four pages, one would be dedicated to the fraternities, which were inextricably linked with Kenyon’s social life. In the last fall edition of 1954, an anonymous letter to the editor was published criticizing the column.

“It is abominable to the nth degree. In no newspaper above the high school level have I seen such a childish, trite, slanderous, and petty column. It is obviously a means for the writers of it to ‘slam’ their enemies with vulgar and many times obscene references. It is in short, nothing but the cheapest kind of a gossip column,” the editorial said.

The harsh critique may allude to a sense of freedom that students had within the publication to express every opinion and complaint. 

In the same issue, the editor wrote in response, “I want to answer our anonymous friend’s criticism of the Division Diary. The Diary’s original purpose was to tell the news of the various fraternities on the Hill. In many respects, it has deviated from this aim into more of a column concerned with personalities in the fraternities. I am sorry that our friend does not appreciate the good natured kidding found in the Diary.” And with that, the Diary disappeared.

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