HIGH LIFE : Times Change, but Girls' League Endures

Rebecca Leung, a junior at University High School, is an assistant editor of Sword and Shield magazine, president of the junior class, and a member of the speech and debate team, the California Scholastic Federation and Girls' League

A girl dressed in a blue uniform runs from classroom to classroom at University High School. She is holding a bunch of holiday balloons in her hand and pinned to her blouse is a bright yellow button that reads, "Forever Young, Winter Ball 1988." Before entering each room, she remembers to smile. After all, her goal as a member of Girls' League is to make sure every girl on campus feels welcome.

The main purpose of the Girls' League clubs is to create a closer spirit of friendship among high school girls. The clubs, which say they represent all the girls on a campus, attempt unity through encouraging participation in school activities such as the winter formal and Sadie Hawkins (girl-ask-boy) dances, the selling of homecoming flowers and holiday-related activities.

Girls' League clubs, which have been around in one form or another in California and Arizona since 1911, reached their height of popularity in the 1970s. While the number of clubs has been on the decline in recent years, at those high schools where Girls' Leagues still exist, they are among the more active clubs.

Responsibilities of each club vary from campus to campus. For example, the Girls' League at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove is not only in charge of planning the winter formal but also nominating the couples for the winter court.

At El Toro High, the club sells carnation corsages for the homecoming dance.

The girls at El Modena High sponsor two annual events that involve parents--the mother-daughter fashion show, which takes place on campus and features a catered reception, and the Dad Dance, which features fathers and daughters participating in a "Newlywed Game" and a dance contest.

At University, the club has begun a Big Sister Program in which each member is responsible for contacting five girls and inviting them to join any meetings or events sponsored by the club.

"The main purpose of this program is to involve all the girls at school," said Shirley Zahavi, president of University's club. "There are a lot of girls who are really shy who want to help plan the Winter Formal or sell homecoming mums. We try to include them."

Many Girls' Leagues help their communities through donations and gifts to such organizations as the Easter Seal Society, March of Dimes, the Orangewood home for abused and neglected children and local police and fire departments.

The Girls' League Federation began in 1911 at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, according to Katie Osborn, Bolsa Grande High School librarian and Girls' League adviser from 1974-87. Its purpose back then, said Osborn, referring to a club handbook, was to provide leadership guidance for young women. Its membership consisted primarily of upper-class whites who were taught how to be leaders and set examples in etiquette, behavior and dress for minority students.

"It was intended as a leadership group," said Osborn, who went to high school in Colorado, where there were no Girls' League clubs. "It was intended to include a select number of girls who were chosen to represent all the girls at school. These girls were the ones who were looked upon as leaders."

Though Girls' League may have been discriminatory in its beginnings, the clubs are fully integrated today. Of University's 30 elected members, 10 are Asian. Of Garden Grove's 28 elected members, seven are Asians and three Latinos.

"I don't agree that students are being chosen or discriminated against because of their race," said Maanivi Mittra, 17, secretary of her Girls' League club. "At Garden Grove High School we have a very diverse community, consisting of Asians, Hispanics and other races. As you can see from our Girls' League (membership), the races balance each other out."

During the heyday of Girls' League, two conventions took place every year. The fall convention was primarily educational in nature with the girls sharing ideas about planning successful events. The spring convention was mostly for fun, with participants learning crafts and skills.

Admission to each convention was $10 per student, and the money went toward scholarships for Girls' League members.

A Girls' League newsletter called the "Blue Moon," begun in the mid-'40s, called itself the "voice to all Girls' League clubs." Published "once in a blue moon," the newsletter told about upcoming conventions and events.

Girls' League reached its zenith of interest in the early 1970s with between 80 and 100 chapters. However, with the 1972 passage of the federal Education Act, which included Title 9--a ruling whose intent was to end sexual discrimination in any educational program receiving federal aid--high school clubs that were not open to both sexes were declared illegal.

The Los Angeles school board immediately closed down its district's Girls' League clubs.

But many Orange County clubs refused to fold and were ultimately rescued by a court interpretation of the Bayh Amendment, which said clubs that were single sex by tradition and also consisted of members younger than 18 were allowed to remain intact.

But a Girls' League with a central coordination, conventions and a newsletter was a thing of the past. From this point on, the clubs existed on the school level only. By 1980, active chapters had dwindled to 19.

In the beginning, girls were elected to membership in Girls' League but only a few schools still follow this tradition. Most, such as El Modena, El Toro, Corona del Mar, Magnolia and Valencia high schools, allow all interested girls to join.

But the tradition perseveres at University, Bolsa Grande and Garden Grove high schools, where there is a limited membership and where each club requires its members to wear some type of uniform on a regular basis

Limiting the number of group members benefits the club, says Marjie Adcock, adviser at University.

"Having a limited membership ensures that the tasks will be completed," she said. "If there is a smaller group, things will get done because the members elected are obligated to work for Girls' League and will dedicate themselves."

More than 90 girls tried out this year for the 30 available positions on the University Girls' League.

Audrey Almeda, a senior, has tried out for the club every year. "I think that's a good idea to have an exclusive club on campus," she said, though she has never been selected for membership. "People take so much pride in choosing the best students for the club. And since I didn't make it, I know that there must be a reason why.

"I figured that I wasn't the representative type--I think they are just looking for the more well-rounded type--the intellectually, physically and psychologically all-together type of girl."

But most Girls' Leagues are looking for students who are willing to make a commitment.

Julie Anderson, senior at UCLA and a past Girls' League president at University, said, "In interviews, the girl's social position is not taken into account. We look for diversity, time availability, enthusiasm and dedication.

"Many say that girls who are popular on campus are the ones in Girls' League, but that's not entirely true. I have found that the girls who are active are the ones who tend to gravitate towards these clubs."

That doesn't change the minds of some girls who view Girls' League as an elitist group.

Amy Hoekstra, 16, University senior, said, "Last year I tried out for Girls' League before I knew what it was. I didn't make it, but then I found out what it was . . . a useless organization. I really felt that the panel was biased because they picked people by reputation, instead of who they really were."

Having exclusive groups on high school campuses has also led to a comparison between Girls' League groups and college sororities.

"I can understand others comparing or seeing Girls' League as a sorority," Zahavi said. "But we really aren't. Sororities tend not to have a main purpose, but Girls' League does."

Elizabeth Tyler, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta at Brown University and former Girls' League president at University, said there is a difference: "I guess a sorority is not always what I expected it to be. They're more social; there're more parties; there are secret rituals, and it's even a lot more conservative than Girls' League."

Girls' League members find their club worthwhile because of the friendships gained.

Heather Yeaney, a University sophomore who recently moved to Irvine, said, "I joined because of the people that were trying out. I felt the friendliness and the closeness. But most of all, I enjoyed the image of Girls' League reaching out to others and helping."

While some Girls' League clubs remain strong, there are far fewer around today. Clubs at Rosary, Los Amigos, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Marina high schools no longer exist.

"Girls' League isn't as visible as it needs to be," Osborn said. "It was intended to be a leadership group, but it seems to have turned into a social organization instead. It hurts to see such a worthwhile organization disappear."

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