Withrow–the first 50 years of Sigma Gamma and Dux Femina Honor Societies

by Bob Linnenberg ’63

Membership in a high school honor society is usually based on a student’s academic achievement. To be “tapped” for the Cum Laude Society, which flourished at Withrow in the 1960s and 70s, a student had to maintain a grade point average indicating academic excellence in all studies. For some other organizations, such as the National Honor Society, grade requirements were not as strict, and citizenship and participation in school activities were considered necessary for membership.

Both of these national organizations had chapters at Withrow at one time or another, but we had our own examples of the latter in Sigma Gamma and Dux Femina. Not only were our local groups created to honor worthy seniors, but their primarily purpose was to serve the entire Withrow community, both students and faculty.

The history of Sig …
Senior Guides was formed in the fall of 1933 under the aegis of Assistant Principal Rayburn W. Cadwallader. Twelve boys were selected from 36 nominated by the faculty to “aid those students who are not doing their best in school and to help freshmen accustom themselves to the new surroundings.” The boys were selected on the basis of scholarship and citizenship. Adopting the Greek letter name of Sigma Gamma, the group soon found themselves escorting new students and visitors, and consequently prepared a guidebook to the school

…and the herstory of Dux
In January of 1940, it was proposed by Principal Walter Peoples that a “female Sigma Gamma” be established as an honor society for senior girls. In March of that year, 16 senior girls, all of whom had applied for membership, were chosen by faculty members for Dux Femina. The name was chosen from a line from Virgil’s Aeneid, “Dux femina facti”, meaning “A woman was leader of the deed”. A grade average of 85 or above and “participation in activities, and general prominence” were requirements. Before the end of the school year, the new Dux members had visited 15 elementary schools, talking to 8th grade girls about the experiences they would face as freshmen at Withrow in the fall.

Activities and contributions
The 1940s and 50s brought little change to Sigma Gamma and Dux Femina. Both continued in their service of guiding and tutoring new students and raising money for worthy projects and scholarship funds. Sigma Gamma began organizing and sponsoring the senior prom. The group also bought a glass enclosed bulletin board and supplied napkins (for the first time) to the lunchroom, provided a new flagpole in the stadium, and bought new mirrors in the boys’ gym. In 1945 Sigma Gamma held a successful contest for a new Alma Mater. The girls of Dux Femina were busy raising scholarship funds by selling flowers, souvenir plates, bracelets and stationery, and by selling refreshments at sporting events. Sigma Gamma continued the sponsorship of the senior prom and began organizing and running the schoolwide carnival and dance, Tigertown Twirl, a highly successful fundraising event for many years. Any and all profits from these events went to a scholarship fund to be presented to worthy students on Awards Day. For many years, Dux sponsored a Senior Boat Ride at graduation time. Membership level in Sigma Gamma was set at 12 at its founding in 1933. With the exception of 1942, with 13 boys, the number remained at 12 until the late 1960s when the selection process was altered and the number began to fluctuate. Dux Femina, which was founded with 16 members in 1940, reduced its number to 12 girls with the class of 1955. Like Sigma Gamma, the number of members began to fluctuate in the late 1960s

Groups represent school life in society
Over the years the membership of Sigma Gamma and Dux Femina represented a cross section of school life. Participation in activities such as Student Council, the
Annual, Tower News, choir, band, orchestra, and dramatic clubs would all be considered for selection. Playing on sports teams and participating in the Minstrels and Sounds of Withrow were activities that helped students earn nomination. Social clubs also played an important part. During the 14-year period when social clubs were recognized by the Board of Education, 87 percent of the girls in Dux were sorority members and 72 percent of the boys in Sigma Gamma were fraternity members. Considering the demographics of the Withrow school district, Sigma Gamma and Dux Femina were almost exclusively made up of white students during the first 50 years. The first black member of Sigma Gamma was in the class of 1950, the second in the class of 1963. The first black member selected for Dux was not until the class of 1967.

The excitement of selection
The members of Sigma Gamma and Dux Femina were chosen in the spring by the senior members, with faculty recommendations, from eligible members of the junior class. On Class Day, when awards and scholarships, including those provided by Sig and Dux, were presented to graduating seniors, the names of new members were announced at the conclusion of ceremonies. The graduating Sigs would huddle, and shouting “Sigma Gamma calls”, summon the new members one by one out of the stands. The new Dux members were announced with a poem in their honor and presented with a carnation and a gold bracelet. A Sigma Gamma pin and a Dux Femina bracelet were sources of pride for the few that were so honored. Be that as it may, there were many equally qualified students passed over either by senior members or, in some cases, by faculty, for membership. As in any organization, politics, personalities, and prejudice sometimes played a part in selecting new members. Some considered the groups to be elitist and discriminatory, but, regardless, the service and support the groups provided to the Withrow community was exemplary.

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