The precursor to women’s fraternities at the University of Alberta is often thought to be Club SIS, established in 1908.
When the University of Alberta opened in 1908, there were 45 students enrolled, seven of whom were women. Miss Ethel Anderson, student head of the women’s athletics program, and the six other undergraduate women established Club SIS, orSeven Independent Spinsters.
The following year, those women formed the Wauneita Club as a successor of Club SIS. All women students at the University automatically belonged to the Wauneita Club. In 1929, the Wauneita Club became the Wauneita Society and was incorporated into the Students’ Union.
Its name is derived from the Cree word meaning “kind hearted” and the newly formed Wauneita club devised its traditions and rituals from Cree culture and adopted “Payuk uche kukeyow kukeyow uche payuk” (“Each for all and all for each”) as its motto.
For nearly 50 years, every new woman student had the Wauneita blanket of friendship draped around her shoulders as part of a First Nations-themed initiation ceremony. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was a women-only Wauneita Lounge in the Student Union Building (now University Hall). Wauneita Lounge welcomed undergraduate women who needed a place to go to get away from their studies (or to study away from other distractions). A fire often burned in the huge fireplace in the cozy wood panelled lounge welcoming women to kindle new friendships or to greet other women with “Haw Kola?” (How are you, my friend?)
In the upheaval of the late 1960s, growth of the University precipitated the loss of the Wauneita Lounge to administrative offices and the Society was without a home and meeting place. Instead of a few new members each year, thousands of initiates were paraded by the fire, many not understanding the symbolism of the ceremony.
In time, new woman students did not even realize that they were Wauneitas. Interest in the Wauneita Society declined and it ceased to be listed as an active organization in 1973.
That is not to say that women’s fraternities do not exist at the University of Alberta. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The University of Alberta is home to a number of women’s fraternities, including Pi Beta Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Ceres Alberta, Alpha Gamma Delta, and Delta Gamma. Each has something unique and interesting to offer.
Why call these societies “women’s fraternities” and not “sororities”? This debate has been ongoing. As with other colleges and universities with Greek-letter societies, the University of Alberta had, at one time, used the title “sororities”. However, this practice was changed when the Panhellenic Council, the governing body overseeing sororities worldwide, decided to amend the jargon to combat the negative connotations often, in their opinion, associated with the term sorority.
In recent years, a somewhat neo-feminist movement in sections of the campus community has encouraged the resurrection of the term sorority, as certain groups felt referring to themselves as “female fraternities” implied they were derivative of their male counterparts.
The result is that groups themselves have chosen whether they wish to be referred to as “female fraternities”, "women's fraternities", or “sororities”.