Brave Young Woman in a Brand New World

Wheeler Hall, the UC Berkeley building at the center of the College of Letters and Science, in which Ursula was enrolled

Wheeler Hall, the UC Berkeley building at the center of the College of Letters and Science, in which Ursula was enrolled

It was the fall of 1919 when Ursula began her freshman year as one of 5,250 students enrolled in the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Just one year before, as World War I was ending, the University was contending with the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, according to a fascinating article in the Chronicle of the University of California. Almost a quarter of the campus community had contracted the disease, which took the lives of 20 students. The story reports:

“The most serious influenza epidemic to date would witness university buildings converted into make-shift hospitals, a segment of the campus quarantined, women students working as assistant nurses and “flu mask” manufacturers, public activities curtailed, classes canceled and spring semester delayed.”

By the time Ursula embarked on her college career, the Berkeley campus was back to normal. But that didn’t mean the drama was over; for Ursula — leaving home and donning her new independence — it was just beginning. In fact, the drama for her commenced two weeks before the start of school. As the Oakland Tribune reported on August 26, 1919:

From the "Oakland Tribune," August 26, 1919

From the “Oakland Tribune” 

“For three weeks the social fate of many of the freshman co-eds at the University of California has hung in the balance, but now the strenuous rushing season is over, and the sororities have mailed the bids to the successful ‘rushees.’

It is the custom of the women’s organizations to ‘rush,’ or entertain, a number of freshman co-eds for two weeks prior and one week after the opening of the college semester…”

Upon paging through an online digital scan of UC Berkeley’s Blue and Gold yearbook covering the college year 1919-1920, I discovered that Ursula was one such rushee. There on page 523, row 6, I saw her face peering out from among more than 40 other young women. She had apparently passed muster (I’m not surprised), and was one of several freshman women accepted into Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA).

Ursula's photo is among the Zeta Tau Alpha member portraits for the academic year 1919-1920

Ursula’s photo is among the Zeta Tau Alpha member portraits for the academic year 1919-1920

This national sorority was founded in 1898 at the Virginia State Female Normal School. The UC Berkeley chapter’s handsome, two-story house was located just north of campus at 1700 Euclid Avenue; the cost of board and lodging would have been between $30 and $50 a month.

The Zeta Tau Alpha house where Ursula lived with her sorority sisters

The Zeta Tau Alpha house where Ursula lived with her sorority sisters

A 2012 article in the Daily Californian noted that the chapter had participated in such service projects as volunteering in all-campus Red Cross drives during World War I and “adopting” a French orphan, which entailed sending funds to an overseas organization for the child’s care.

ZetaTauAlphaSeal_1921yrBookThe ZTA charter states that the sorority’s purpose is “to intensify friendship, promote happiness among its members, and in every way to create such sentiments, to perform such deeds, and to mould such opinions as will conduce to the building up of a nobler and purer womanhood in the world.” I imagine and hope that, as a freshman entering a new and exciting world, Ursula found such friendship and happiness during her time with ZTA.

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