When You Accidentally Join a Jewish Frat

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Here’s a back-to-school story about frat life in 1916. Back then, there were no late-night co-ed parties and no crude welcome banners. The biggest problem facing a naive freshman was pledging a Jewish fraternity by mistake. That’s what happened to the author of this century-old Atlantic essay. When he realized what he’d done, he was so mortified that he ran away from school:

“You're sixteen years old,” she scolded. “You’ve got a fair amount of brains. My God, boy, do you mean to tell me you don’t know a Jew when you see one? Look at them, idiot; look at them. They have noses, hair, eyes, features, mouths, all different from anybody else. Can you honestly tell me you don't know that ___ is a Jew?” And then the melancholy catalogue began. One by one we ran through the list of every member of my fraternity. They were all, it seemed, Jews.