May 26, 1957
All right, you sociologists at USC (and you know who you are) let’s aim
our microscopes close to home, shall we, and examine an apparently
forgotten campus rite: the Tri-Delt’s pansy ring.
The rite of the pansy ring was conducted by the Delta Delta Delta
sorority in May to honor young women who were engaged or had recently
gotten married and apparently began in 1923, although The Times failed
to record its birth–or death.
Like many ceremonies, it changed over time, but at its most elaborate,
the pansy ring featured a breakfast on the lawn of the sorority house
and a fashion show of the modern bride’s trousseau from a store such as
Robinson’s (the engaged woman’s sporting wear, evening outfits,
something called "going-away clothes," etc.) culminating in a procession of
young women in bridal gowns.
There were speeches on the importance of marriage and home, an
increasingly elaborate "mock wedding" with pretend couples, a thrown
bouquet "and a fast getaway in a convertible by the make-believe
newlyweds," The Times said.
The key moment came when each of the young women stepped through a
six-foot ring of pansies as their names and wedding plans were
announced and a bride from the fashion show tossed a bouquet to them
(white tuberoses and sweet peas, in case you’re planning to revive the
The most troubling aspect of the pansy ring is the attitude expressed
in the society columns and reminds me of the old (and I hope forgotten)
joke about women going to college to get an "M-R-S."
Here’s a quote from 1927, for example:
"When 14 co-eds from the graduating class at the University
of Southern California stepped through the traditional pansy wreath of
good luck at the annual pansy breakfast yesterday at the Delta Delta
Delta sorority house, the theory that college has its matrimonial
advantages was given considerable confirmation."
If that doesn’t raise some feminist hackles, how about this excerpt
from a 1955 speech by Mrs. Edwarda W. White, counselor of women at
USC who was announcing her own engagement?
"In a brief talk to the girls before the ceremony, Mrs.
White told them they were assuming an exacting, challenging role in
becoming housewives," The Times said.
"It’s one of the most important jobs there is," she said. "For when
there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the world. And
when there is order in the world, there will be peace."
You got that, ladies? The key to peace in the world is having a pot
roast on the table when your husband hits the door. None of this stopping
at Trader Joe’s on the way home to pick something up, either.
Changing times and attitudes seemed to have resulted in the demise of
the pansy ring, which vanished from the pages of The Times in 1968.
ps. I can guess what "going-away clothes" are but if anyone can elaborate on this fashion matter, I’d be pleased to hear from you.