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The Palmer Society: A Flavor of the 20th Century

The Palmer Society was founded in 1921, the same year as the Franklin Society. The organization had as its mission to create a female literary society, with the hope of bringing literary societies back to Whittier College after they faded from existence at the beginning of World War I. Fullerton Junior College transfer Jessamyn West and friends reportedly researched and lobbied extensively to name the group for Alice Freeman Palmer, a prolific advocate of higher education for women during the late 19th century.

1921 Pin

In those early years, the Palmer Society was an intercollegiate society that read and performed plays with our cross-town rivals, Occidental College. Although membership in these years was tenuous at times, the Palmer Society entered the limelight with a page in the Acropolis, Whittier College's yearbook, in 1923. In those early years, the Society focused on the literary review, performing plays, and holding welcome teas for new members.

1928 Pin

As the years progressed, the interests of the Palmer Society expanded to include more social activities. The group subsequently reorganized in 1928, officially becoming a social society with a strong and continuing focus on scholarship and service. It was at this time that the group adopted the diamond-shaped pin that is still recognized as the Society's emblem today.

Since the Palmer Society's reorganization, the group has remained a strong and vital part of Whittier College's history. During World War II, as the Poet men heeded the call to arms and few men remained on campus, the Palmers held socials and dances for servicemen in an effort to keep spirits high. When the war effort ended, veterans returned to school with financial aid in the form of the G.I. Bill and societies returned in full force to the Whittier campus.

Societies in the 1950s were a high point of student life on the Whittier campus. Those in societies also participated in many clubs and student organizations. Several Palmers were honored as Prominent Poets; recognized by Who's Who In American Colleges and Universities; and tapped into Cap and Gown, the College's honor society for women. While societies enjoyed a collegial relationship during this time, they also competed for campus bragging rights through the annual Homecoming Float competition.

They also exercised social conscious and duty to service. During the Korean War, the Palmer Society sponsored a blood bank at Whittier College. One time, when the 1952 carnival was rained out, the Palmers invited all the attendees to "Bobbi's," a local hangout, so the fun could continue. Rich traditions also started to take root during this time. While the "Sweetheart Song" was used initially to serenade those celebrating life's special events, it was the "White Rose" tradition that has since been utilized to share important and life-changing news with our sisters. In fact white roses were common in those days, with one meeting having six such announcements!

Like their predecessors, the Palmer women continued to be involved on campus throughout the 1960s and '70s. Social activities and special projects filled the calendar, but there were many points of pride for the Palmers, including a great deal of success with Homecoming Floats: we won five sweepstakes awards, one creativity award, and one beauty award during the '60s alone! Palmers also consistently made a good showing at Spring Sing as well, with our many talented members, several of whom were in the choir, helping out the more vocally challenged to give an entertaining performance year after year.

Though the following decade brought turbulent times, it also brought changes in attitudes and more personal freedom on campus, and societies continued to thrive. Simon and Garfunkle drew even the Palmers to one of their concerts in 1970. During a few bouts of intersociety competition, we lost powder puff football to the Mets in 1972, but beat the Lancers in regular football in 1973. Great memories and stories abound from this time, including numerous pranks and practical jokes, especially during pledging- and not all aimed at actives or initiates. Indeed, we can credit a great many additions to the Palmer Song Book to members from this time period.

The Palmer Society, as well as many other societies, enjoyed an on-campus home to call their own during the 1980s. No matter which "hall" the Palmers called theirs, be it Philadelphia House or Hamilton House, you could always count on someone to be around to hang out with and enjoy sisterhood at the Palmer House. Members took great pride in their house and even sponsored pledge-active workdays to beautify this center of Palmer Society life. In fact, the Class of 1986 carefully transferred our pin logo to the wall of Hamilton House as a gift to the society. Pledge classes worked diligently on projects and banners to display proudly at the house.

In addition to stags with the male societies, the Palmers were known to play hostess to the campus with the Friday Afternoon Club Unlimited (FACU) on several occasions. And there was no doubt on campus that the weekend had ended when members sang the Float Song, among others, from the Palmer House porch following every Sunday-night meeting- even at the risk of being written up if the meeting went too late! Societies and clubs alike took on the responsibility of entertaining the Poet population by sponsoring "Club Opens" at the on-campus club almost weekly, providing numerous opportunities to dance and let loose. Closer to our hearts, Mother-Daughter and Father-Daughter activities that had been established by our predecessors continued to be enjoyed by the members. And lest it be thought that it was all fun and games, the Palmers volunteered at a local overnight homeless shelter and took it upon themselves to weed an unsightly and overgrown amphitheater as service projects.

The '90s brought many changes to society life on campus. Although society housing ended early in the decade, members still found ways to keep active social schedules that rivaled those of their forerunners. We can credit this decade with creating Club Overtime and "The Annual Spring Picnic," a prime opportunity to invite the campus' most eligible men out to play softball and enjoy refreshments. With a renewed commitment to community service, The Palmer Society sponsored a softball team, participated in AIDSWalk LA, and even sponsored an impoverished young woman from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia through IHA/UDP: Integrated Holistic Approach - Urban Development Project, so that she may attend school. In Spring 1999, the actives established The "Doc" McBride Book Scholarship in honor of longtime faculty advisor Dr. Michael McBride. This scholarship is awarded to a non-Palmer sophomore or junior woman who writes the best essay on how she exemplifies the Palmer values of scholarship, service and womanhood.

Today's Palmer undergraduates aren't much different from their sisters who preceded them. The Palmer Society still enjoys many of the same social opportunities that were time-honored events decades ago. Recent years have established the Palmer Little Brothers program, and actives still enjoy get-togethers with the other societies on campus. Sisterhood Week, retreats, Family Day, date parties, fund raisers, and community service projects fill their calendars, much like these activities filled the date books of the women in whose footsteps they follow. Although the number of students who choose society life is not as great as in previous years, the Palmer Society still strives to "attain to the highest ideals of womanhood." These and future Palmer Sisters are sure to grow to value the friendship, loyalty, service, and scholarship that are the cornerstones of our society. And most of all, as we share the events of our lives, we will do so with fond memories of our Society and true and loyal support of sisters.

Palmers Through the Years

Alice Freeman Palmer

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