Old Photos: Kansas Sorority Girls From 1939

The article “Kansas Girls: It’s Fun for Them At State University” was published in the Life Magazine in the December 1939 issue.

The girls who go to the University of Kansas are as different in their looks and backgrounds as the buildings in which they live. The buildings are sometimes classic, sometimes Tudor, sometimes Georgian. Some of the girls are dull and some bright, some pretty and some plain, some grinds and some “jivers.” In a typical freshman class of 700, about 110 will be farmers’ daughters, 75 merchants’ daughters, 40 teachers’ daughters, 25 bankers’ daughters.

Their State University is at Lawrence, perched on the highest hill in eastern Kansas. It is a surprising town to find in the most middle of the Midwestern States. Settled by New Englanders, it is very much like New England except that the wind blows all the time. The streets are lined with spreading elms and some of the houses have captain’s walks.

In regular session, 1,500 girls attend the University, which is co-educational. For the most part they have a very good time at college, often living better than they do at home. A fourth of them occupy sorority houses; less than a third, dormitories. The rest board out around town. Their college life is heartier, more social and much more frankly concerned with boys than it is at an Eastern women’s college. Almost all the girls are Kansans who settle down in Kansas after graduation. As alumnae, they are the most closely knit group of people in the State, binding all Kansas together from town to town to town by friendships made in Lawrence. The way they learn to live, to dress, to behave, to look at life and culture, affects their future and the future of their State in a hundred small and subtle ways.

Most people in these photos are in their 90’s now, but if you recognize someone you know, please don’t hesitate to comment or write to me. One of my previous postings turned into a real life story and helped some family members reunite.

Kappa Alpha Theta House boasts classic pillars © Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Some cook and clean to save expenses.© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Just before bedtime a Theta girl posts time she wants a freshman pledge to call her in the morning - a typical pledge chore.© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

The House Mother, Mr. Klinkenberg, has been given 5-lb box of candy in which are Dorothy's and her fiance's pins. Mrs. Klinkenberg gives them to Dorothy's best friend.© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Dorothy Jean Roberts get her engagement pin.© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Entertainment at Theta is provided by the girls themselves. The violinist is Edna Givens.© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

© Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.

The last photo wasn’t available so I copied it from the magazine directly together with the caption.

A Negro sorority is Delta Sigma Theta, which meets in members' rooms. There are 52 colored girls at K.U. Negroes hold the University in high respect. The whole tradition of the State is pro-Negro. The first battles of the border warfare between slave holders from Missouri and Free-Soilers in Kansas were held at Lawrence. The Free-Soilers finally won out and their victory quickened the coming of the Civil War. © Time Inc. Alfred Eisenstaedt.


  • I Travel for JOOLS

    This was really fun to look at.  You can sure tell the “haves” from the have-nots”, although since this was during the depression, it’s a wonder that any of them made it to college, not to mention the black women.

  • That Kappa Alpha Theta house is still standing, just east of campus at about 15th and Tennessee.  Also, holy crap those girls are skinny.

  • This is a pretty good article. The writer was spot-on: Lawrence at that time really did have a strong new-England flavor. I’d still very much consider it the crown jewel of Kansas.

    The writer mentions in passing that they live better in Lawrence than they do at home. He’s alluding to the fact that in 1939 most of rural Kansas (which, categorically is most of Kansas), did not have electricity or indoor plumbing — much less an electric refrigerator, electric iron, electric clock, electric lights, and electric mixer as prominently pictured. Living the high life, indeed! 

    • Jjskck

      Indeed, re: rural Kansas in the ’30s.  Every time I see a feature on the Dust Bowl my jaw drops.

  • Kfaerber

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos.  I had the joy of sharing that house during the late 70’s.  I recognized many rooms.