Halls, Tombs and Houses: Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth
Conclusion | The societies today
About a third of society buildings today are College-owned. These include Kappa Kappa Gamma and Alpha Chi Alpha (Fig. 40). Some of the new sororities occupy former fraternity buildings now owned by Dartmouth, including Sigma Delta, Kappa Delta Epsilon, and Epsilon Kappa Theta (Fig. 39). A third of the organizations on Webster Avenue's "Fraternity Row," in fact, are not exclusively male organizations. College-connected affinity houses are part of the recent changes but stand on the fringe of the definition of student society; in some cases they occupy former or one-time fraternities as the Native Americans at Dartmouth organization does. This fact of College control over new houses has the effect of spreading the society precinct to the east, though fraternities no longer exist as far north and west as they once did.
In one sense the first-generation move of societies into wooden houses has not ended. Fraternities finally occupied all of Webster Avenue during the 1950s and 1960s by purchasing the last family homes, including four houses in a row: Tau Epsilon Phi (now occupied by Epsilon Kappa Theta), Alpha Chi Rho, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Delta Upsilon (now occupied by Kappa Delta Epsilon). This is a pragmatic strategy that new organizations continue to employ through the providence of the College.
Today's organizations are incapable of building their own houses for several reasons. The relatively high cost of buildings and land is one. In particular the smaller income that alumnae can devote to fundraising for their old college clubs, whether because women today make relatively less than their male counterparts did in 1900 or because the oldest alumnae are only in their fifties, means that women's society construction has not caught up to mens'. The organizations also mean something different to today's students and no longer hold the same sense of life-long association that once prompted alumni to attend annual national fraternity conventions. The administration's concern with the character of student social life, typified by the anti-racist mandates of 1950s and the 1999 Social and Residential Life Initiative, also leads the school to take an interest in acquiring society houses.
At Dartmouth, in this egalitarian and multicultural age, the greatest flurry in the recent foundation of new organizations of any type has strangely been among the class societies. Again, this is due to the advent of women as students and the gradual rise in enrollments. The first lasting class-society foundation in over 75 years was the pioneering coeducational Fire & Skoal senior society of 1975, and following it have been the secretive women's senior society Cobra (1978); Phoenix (similar, 1984); Griffin (coeducational senior, secret junior year, 1995); and Abaris (coeducational senior, secret, 1996). Of these only Cobra seems to have a permanent home, as its members have proposed to occupy the ex-Hillel House, a College-owned house on Lebanon and Summer Streets. It remains to be seen whether residential accommodations cause the group to move from relative secrecy into a more C&G-like open organization, or if the group will limit itself to holding meetings there.
The most notable of Dartmouth's new society construction in sixty years is in fact a senior society hall, the new Dragon151 (Figs. 41, 42). This is surely one of the few college secret society buildings erected in the country in several decades. The College built the 1996 building, designed by Randall T. Mudge & Associates of Hanover, to replace the 1931 tomb behind Baker (Fig. 42) which was in the way of new construction. That hall itself took the place of an aborted attempt of ca. 1923,152 presumably to build a large porticoed Larson & Wells design that exists in the archives. Where the old Dragon and the Sphinx retain mock front doors even though members "secretly" enter through the rear, the current grand staircase approach of Dragon carries this impulse to a new height. Members specified that the over-slim columns be removed from the smaller previous hall: The 1996 Dragon's conventional and unexotic Colonial vocabulary belies the society's Welsh-myth iconography and does not seem to succeed as the Sphinx does at "advertising mystery and inviting speculation."153