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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

The Mitzis and Tridettes

I have long been curious about the Mitzis and Tridettes -- These were clubs or sororities for high school girls that started sometime in the 1920s, or at least became the subject of society announcements in the 1920s. The Mitzis existed a couple years before the Tridettes and seemed to be slightly snootier, if I can use that term. They were called the Mitzi XX or Mitzi 20, which implied that only 20 members could be in the club. However, membership seemed very fluid, with women in college frequently mentioned and even married women being members of the club. One accounting of the membership in 1926 indicated that Mary Funk, a resident of Evanston and college student, was the president of the Mitzi XX. So when did the clubs become a high school organization?

In the twenties the clubs had regular weekly dinners, bridge parties, dances and wiener roasts. The Mitzis frequently had dances at the Bloomington Country Club but the Tridettes were more likely to have their dances at the Maplewood Country Club. Other venues used were the Bloomington Club, the Green Room of the Women's Exchange, and The Illinois Hotel. Miss Ethelwynne Penrith, a 17 year old Tridette, lived at the Lafayette Apartments and had a few meetings of the Tridettes at her apartment. In 1924 the club met at the Lafayette Inn, the restaurant on the ground level of the apartment building, where 50 girls and their dates had a four course meal. After dining, the couples went to the rooftop garden for a dance with the Cleatus Club band providing the musical entertainment! This was just after the Lafayette Apartments were built and were the latest word in chic living in Bloomington in the Twenties.

In 1925 the Mitzis had a holiday dance at the Illinois Hotel. The girls on the decorations committee were all high school age, but the dinner committee was composed of Mrs. Norval Goelzer, Dorothy Steidley, 21, and Geneve Tyler, 15. ALL dances were heavily chaperoned. Of the 25 attendees at the dance there were six chaperones and three girls from out of town and four more married people.

It is very confusing to think of high school girls and college women belonging to the same club -- what could they have had in common?

In the 1930s the clubs became more civic minded. In 1930 the Mitzis had a charity ball, open to everyone, for the benefit of the United Welfare Fund. In 1940, Mitzis and Tridettes were involved with the Red Cross as fund raisers:

On the left is Miriam Wyatt, president of the Mitzis, and Elizabeth Knecht, president of the Tridettes, both in Red Cross uniforms. They are with Grover Helm and Mrs. Frank Rorabach, chairman of the fundraising. (Pantagraph Negatives Collection). The two clubs were selling tickets for a dance at the O'Neil Pavilion to benefit the Red Cross. I've yet to see an image of the O'Neil Pavilion in Facebook or anywhere else!

In December of 1938 the Tridettes and Mitzis played Santa's Helpers, packing candy for the children who would attend the Christmas Jubilee at the Majestic Theater. Each of the girls in this photo are named in the Pantagraph Negative Collection -- entitled "Girls packing candy" by the photographer, Catherine Hoobler Lane.

In the fifties things started to go sour for the Tridettes and Mitzis. In 1951, the State of Illinois enacted a law that made secret societies, or closed societies, illegal in high schools. The two groups were certainly not "secret" but school authorities felt it was improper for any club to restrict its membership in any way. In order to continue, the clubs had to have completely open membership. Local school authorities did review the situation in 1951 and ruled that sophomores could not join the clubs and that membership had to be open -- no rushing and no invitation only parties. Parents of the club members protested to no avail, and then agreed to enlarge the sponsorship group so that more girls could join the clubs. Parents of course had been members of the same clubs before their children were born, and wanted their children to have the same experiences they had enjoyed.

A Tridette initiation in December 1941.

But in 1954, actions of a boys' society caused the school administrators to bring down the hammer. The "Hot Shots" (not the 4-H Hot Shots) were involved in a hazing incident that left one boy bruised and bloodied. The administration declared that none of the social clubs would continue -- not the Hot Shots, the Jolly Fellows, the Mitzis or the Tridettes. Despite this ruling, reports of the social activities of the Mitzis and Tridettes persisted in the Pantagraph. The names of initiates and elected board members were published up until 1956 when the school administration threatened expulsion of any student participating in the social clubs.

How did you feel about the Mitzis and Tridettes? Did you feel excluded, or were you a member? Were the clubs a pervasive influence on high school life? How did the girls identify themselves as club members at school? No images of the Hot Shots were found in the PNC, and just a few of the Jolly Fellows. The Hot Shots are not to be confused with the 4-H Club "Hot Shots" of course, that was an entirely different kind of club.

Jolly Fellows dance committee, Feb 1940: (Duncan, Clark; Crane, Jim; Wilson, Daryl; and Raney, Ralph)

Search: "Mitzis" "Tridettes" "Sororities" "Jolly Fellows" "Clubs"

All photos are from the Pantagraph Negatives Collection and are used with the permission of the McLean County Museum of History.

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