Senior Order was founded in 1937-1938 by then Dean Virginia Thomas at the Greenville Woman’s College as an elite leadership honor society for female students. Membership was originally limited to 12% of the senior class, but currently, 15 rising senior women are tapped into the society every spring. Requirements for membership, as set forth by Dean Thomas, include humility in leadership, exceptional character, emotional maturity, outstanding scholarship, dependability, integrity, cooperativeness, unselfish and humble service, the gift of being a true friend, and sincerity. It stands as the last remaining tradition begun at the Greenville Woman’s College that is still celebrated at Furman, with 500 plus members. It is considered one of the highest honors a woman may receive from Furman University.1
The current Furman University used to be separated into the Greenville Woman’s College campus and the men’s campus, which is the current Furman. From 1934-37, the Woman’s College combined with Furman and gradually relinquished control of the college over to the men’s campus Board of Trustees and the women began to commute to Furman to take classes with the men. Former Judge John L. Plyler was university president and the Depression was taking a toll on the school — many buildings were extremely run down and tuition was rising, which aggravated parents and students.2
Senior Order was founded because Dean Thomas saw a need for students’ input into the way the university was run, and she wanted to ensure that the women’s voices were being heard by the combined administrations. A description of Dean Thomas' life was published in her obituary in the Greenville News on December 8, 1962:
Her Christian love enabled her to see in each person the beauty and truth with which he had been endowed by his Creator, and to share with each a vision of Eternal Beauty. For she was one of those rare persons to whom it seemed to be almost instinctive to say or do the right thing, to make the right decision and see that it was carried out as it affected the formative years of the young people entrusted to her and her associates. There was about her an indefinable quality, a strength of personality, certainty of purpose and depth and breadth of wisdom that was far more tangible than mere physical presence. Miss Thomas believed in education in its broadest sense, the full development of the mind, the body and the spirit. In directing the curriculum, she placed the emphasis where it belonged: on scholarship, the inculcation of strong character and a happy sort of Christian faith.She maintained strict discipline in the enforcement of reasonable rules and regulations without seeming to be overly strict. She interpreted the rules leniently when she knew that leniency would arouse a reciprocal responsibility in the student. In dealing with students who had personal problems, Miss Thomas was not one to be leaned on; instead she seemed to inspire new strength and the will for a fresh approach which enabled the student to solve her own problems.
Marguerite Chiles, the first advisor to Senior Order, was a sophomore at Furman when the first Senior Order class was tapped. While she was a student, she was the president of the junior and senior classes and was initiated into Senior Order in 1940. Chiles later became Virginia Thomas’ secretary, then the director of personnel, and in 1965 the Dean of Women at Furman, living in the dormitory with the women. She had a warm personality, a rare spirit of independence a humorous sense of fun that attracted students to her—she even had a “Furman room” built into her house which students filled constantly. She advised Senior Order for years until her retirement. She was responsible for rescuing the bell from the Woman’s College and for installing it near the Bell Tower on the current campus. In 1952, the Furman faculty awarded her the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for her noble humanitarian qualities of character. In 1977 she received the Alumni Service Award, the American Personnel Award in 1979, and The Guidance Association gave her the Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Humanitarian and Caring Person Award. 3
Carol Daniels, the current Senior Order advisor, was tapped into the honor society in 1982. She graduated from Furman with a degree in Economics and Business Administration and returned to Furman in 1983 as the Student Life Coordinator. Her major responsibilities include advising student media, Panhellenic and the sorority system, guiding the student body officers, class officers and liaisons for the Student Government Association and setting the standards of the University Discipline Committee. This historical account of Senior Order was written in her honor.
According to Dorothy Anderson Robelot, Class of 1938, Alice Ross created Senior Order’s symbol in the 1940s. The women originally met once a week for meetings in “The Shack” (a building that Senior Order women petitioned to move to the current Furman campus in 1937), or in the lower floor of Poteat Hall. The Hall was named after Dr. Poteat who was the President of Furman from 1903-1918. There was a china cabinet containing all of his china collected in foreign lands, and as legend would have it, there was a bowl with a haunting dragon who demanded that a young woman be sacrificed to it each year in order to ensure the safety of the student body. The women of Senior Order dubbed themselves “The Daughters of the Dragon” because they “sacrificed themselves” for the good of the student body through unselfish service and devotion. “The Daughters of the Dragon” were nicknamed “DD”, which was eventually represented by the two Greek alphabet Deltas on the symbol. The Senior Order colors, yellow and black, were also chosen in the 1940s.
The members of the first Senior Order class were personally asked to join by Dean Thomas, but the tradition evolved so that later Senior Classes were tapped during a mandatory chapel service for the women of the student body. Each Senior Order member would choose a “little sister” from the newly chosen class, and would go and tap them in their seats one by one, uttering "As we were chosen… so we choose. And we choose you!" According to Louise Wells, Class of 1944, “The current Senior Order members sat onstage in chapel and following a brief explanation of the significance of the Order, one girl at a time would come down the steps from the stage, walk to the row where the new inductee sat, and tap her on the shoulder. The inductee would then follow her back to the stage while another would experience the emotional high of being tapped. The formal initiation ceremony would take place in a city park off of Main Street late at night with a bonfire for added solemnity. This was usually preceded a few nights earlier by a fake initiation with an April fool-like ending. The early 1940's was an age of innocence and the streets of Greenville were perfectly safe for the group of sleepy but excited college girls. All frivolity ended with the initiation and Senior Order was a solemn and meaningful part of our college lives. At graduation we wore with pride the triangular neckerchief which signified we were a part of Senior Order.”
Members began to wear Senior Order pins fashioned in the shape of the symbol in the 1940s because Senior Order functioned, among many other things, as an organization with the qualities of a sorority because during that time period, sororities were not allowed on Furman’s campus. When Miss Chiles was the advisor, the formal initiation happened at a weekend campout on Paris Mountain. The women listened to devotionals from Miss Chiles, heard Dean Futch’s "bell talk", found their pins via scavenger hunt, cooked lunch, passed the gavel from the old to the new members, had a fireside chat about the spirit of Senior Order all together and the older women would conduct the last "bull session" where they would talk about the issues of the campus with the new class. The old class would traditionally have their new little sisters pose for portraits, which were essentially created to poke fun at their personalities. They would also have a member write a hymn for each initiation and the members would have a worship service together.
"Father teach us self-control and keep us from intolerance.
Keep our eyes clear to do thy will and give us the courage to do it.
Use our Senior Order now and let us be Thine instrument.
Keep us mindful of our task, be it great or just a little bit."
After initiation, the women would receive their yellow scarves with their initials and year of graduation lovingly embroidered on the material by their Senior Order big sister. The women would wear the scarves for a week after initiation in the 1940s, which is a tradition that is still celebrated by each new Senior Order class. Also, a humorous annual poem would be written about all of the women and their activities and accomplishments on campus in order to document the year for their annual scrapbook.
Over the years, the women of Senior Order have been involved in numerous activities on campus and have received many honors. Countless women have been inducted into Who’s Who of American College Students, have won the titles of Miss Bonhomie, Homecoming Queen and May Queen, have been student body presidents and officers, have been representatives in the South Carolina Student Legislature, have been editors of The Paladin newspaper and the Bonhomie, have been presidents of their sororities, have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, Hand and Torch, Omicron Delta Kappa and others, have started their own traditions and have done many more things and won many various honors. But most of all, the women of Senior Order set a standard of excellence on campus through their personal conduct, character, values and goals that spilled over into everything they did so that any organization or event the women were apart of was made excellent by virtue of their presence.
Furman University’s Senior Order is not the only one in existence. Winthrop College has a Senior Order with very similar criteria and Wofford College has a Senior Order of the Gnomes. Continuing the traditions set by women who have gone before them, in recent years each Senior Order class has taken on a service project to benefit the University and Greenville communities.
As Janis Crockett described in her November 23, 1963 Paladin article, "The Members of Senior Order exemplify a true spirit and enthusiasm for their school and togetherness within their group in addition to those qualities of scholarship, leadership and character for which they were chosen for membership in the honorary organization. To most girls in it, Senior Order is most of all a spirit, an attitude, an indefinable something which they feel and which means a great deal to them. Senior Order was originated on the old campus to organize things within the student body for which organization was lacking.”
Senior Order is an honor conferred on the best of the best women of each graduating class, and has filled many roles over the years including that of a student government, a think tank, an event planning organization, an organization that reaches out to alumni, a sorority and a philanthropic non profit. As one of the longest standing traditions at Furman, it has been and always will be an organization that represents the ultimate goals, beliefs and heritage of Furman University.
Written by Julianna Battenfield
2Alfred Reid, Furman University: Toward a New Identity, Durham, Duke University Press, 1976. Pgs. 129, 160.
3Information found in Senior Order scrapbooks from the 1960s, currently housed in Furman University’s Special Collections & Archives.
4Quaternion Constitution, Furman Special Collections & Archives.