Bound By a Mighty Vow

Sisterhood and Women's Fraternities, 1870-1920

251 pages

22 illustrations

June, 2004

ISBN: 9780814782828



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Diana B. Turk is an assistant professor at the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University.

All books by Diana B. Turk

Sororities are often thought of as exclusive clubs for socially inclined college students, but Bound by a Mighty Vow, a history of the women's Greek system, demonstrates that these organizations have always served more serious purposes. Diana Turk explores the founding and development of the earliest sororities (then called women's fraternities) and explains how these groups served as support networks to help the first female collegians succeed in the hostile world of nineteenth century higher education.

Turk goes on to look at how and in what ways sororities changed over time. While the first generation focused primarily on schoolwork, later Greek sisters used their fraternity connections to ensure social status, gain access to jobs and job training, and secure financial and emotional support as they negotiated life in turn-of-the-century America. The costs they paid were conformity to certain tightly prescribed beliefs of how "ideal" fraternity women should act and what "ideal" fraternity women should do.

Drawing on primary source documents written and preserved by the fraternity women themselves, as well as on oral history interviews conducted with fraternity officers and alumnae members, Bound by a Mighty Vow uncovers the intricate history of these early women's networks and makes a bold statement about the ties that have bound millions of American women to one another in the name of sisterhood.


  • "Turk illuminates a previously neglected, marginal(ized) subject in her balanced assessment, showing how women's Greek letter fraternities reflected larger social currents: gracefully written and handsomely presented."


  • "Turk paints an eloquent picture of how the bonds of sisterhood sustained these women and their fellow pioneers . . . Turk is to be commended for illuminating a neglected but relevant chapter in the history of women's education."

    Library Journal

  • "Turk presents a mostly balanced treatment of women's fraternities. She fills in gaps left behind by previous scholars."

    American Historical Review