Piedmont High Social Clubs
1925: PHS Yearbook:
Boys: Kimmer Shielding
1934 PHS Yearbook:
Boys: Kimmer Shielding and Rigma Lions
1942 PHS Yearbook:
Girls: Winema (a woman's club only one mentioned)
1950 PHS Yearbook:
Boys: Argyle, Kapa Klan, Kimmer Shielding, Rigma Lions
Boys: Kapa Klan, Kimmer Shielding, Rigma Lions (Argyle is missing)
Posted by a 1963 PHS Alumni
Trying to find out history of our social clubs/high school greek system of sororities and fraternities is quite difficult due to the lack of historical documentation, secrecy after being banned in 1955 (post Stinson Beach incident) and lack of people alive today to contact that know the whole history. The early yearbooks I own and those posted on ancestry.com show the men's groups but interestingly enough do not post pictures of the women's groups. There are quite a few obituaries, a few biographies and even Linkedin profiles on the internet that mention Rigma, Kimmer, and Junior Assistance League memberships showing how important these clubs were to many members, similar to many of us in the Greek System in college. When I was graduating high school (1998) the active women's clubs were BH, JA, JO and Rigma and Kimmer for the men. When my sister graduated PHS, quite later in 2014, the clubs were no existent and she had never heard of them.
Queen of the Hills (1953) described not belonging to these social clubs at Piedmont High as "the greatest tragedy imaginable for many students." To all of you who did not join - I can assure you it isn't the greatest tragedy imaginable.
This page is an attempt to put together a picture of what the clubs were like through the information that is available if you have any more documentation or stories please contact me and I would be happy to document it. Personally, on what I believe was bid night, I had JA come to my house around 12am or later, knock on my door, hand me white flash cards with everyone's name written in red and asked me to go with them. I politely declined and returned to bed. Our neighbors said you could hear them blocks away coming. (Somewhere in my bins of Piedmont history I still have the JAL invite cards and a ticket or two to a winter JA party my senior year.)
The social scene was once dominated by social clubs, which resembled college sororities and fraternities, reminiscent of Lindsay Lohan's Mean Girls. While the social clubs raised money the organizations with which they were affiliated, their charitable exterior was just a front for what they really were, mainly drinking clubs. The male clubs died out in the mid-1990s when they grew irrelevant, but the female social clubs didn't end until 2004 when the incoming senior class exhibited overwhelming indifference and distaste for retaining the tradition. ”The school was covered in the New York Times when in the mid-1990s it began breathalyzing all students before dances.
The San Francisco Examiner - Tue - Mar. 15, 1955
Frats and Sororities Dominated Social Scene of PastUntil the mid-1990s, selective – and hard-drinking – social clubs were a prominent part of the Piedmont High School scene
Selectiveness. Social domination. Smirnoff.
Words that physics teacher Glen Melnik uses to describe Piedmont's social clubs that grew popular after the high school's founding in 1921.
Membership to one of PHS's six fraternities or sororities was crucial for acceptance, until they grew irrelevant in the mid-1990s.
"They totally dominated the social scene," Melnik said. "If you weren't in a social club, you wouldn't be invited to any parties."
Social clubs were associated with drinking pools, Melnik said.
"When I first got here, I went to a club event when I didn't know they were going to drink," Melnik said. "The principal was really mad and said, 'Melnik, I should fire you.'"
There were six clubs at the high school, Melnik said. There were three for the boys, the Kapas, the Rigma, and the Kimmers, and three for the girls, the JO's, the JA's, and the BH's.
To join a fraternity or sorority, students first had to endure a bidding process in which they applied for acceptance. If they were deemed worthy, prospective frat members had to perform initiation rituals, some of which were taken to the extreme, Melnik said.
"I remember there was one kid who had to run through Bonfare naked," Melnik said. "Another had to run down Sea View naked."
P.E. teacher Mike Humphries remembers similar hazing, he said.
"One club of guys hosted the 'Undie 500' from Hampton Field to Mulberry's, which was called Convenient back then," Humphries said. "Guys in the bushes would try to tear the runners' underwear off so they were half naked by the time they finished the race."
Drinking was so prevalent that students would drink in the early afternoon right after lunch, Principal Rich Kitchens said.
"It was not uncommon for them to have Friday afternoon parties after lunch, where there'd be beer," Kitchens said.
The clubs were so influential that they interfered with everyday life, Kitchens said. "They were so selective that on teams with Kimmer and Rigma players, players in [social clubs] wouldn't pass to the other players as readily."
In many situations, the sororities were crueler than the boys' fraternities, Melnik said.
"The sororities were like Mean Girls," Melnik said.
"They were selective and hurtful to the girls who didn't get in. It was very harmful to the psyche of many kids," Kitchens said. "Today, we try to include everybody."
Humphries shares similar sentiments.
"I just remember feeling particularly sorry for girls who didn't make it into the club," he said. "You could always hear the cars going around and honking in the town after the bids had been chosen. It must have been like rubbing salt in the wounds for those who didn't make it."
Special Education Para Educator Diane Robb, who graduated from Piedmont in 1983 and was a club member, remembers the club's charitable contributions.
"We raised money for our organizations and we had parties on the weekends," Robb said. Although the social clubs posed charitable exteriors, they had ulterior motives, Melnik said. "One of the girls' clubs, the BH's, stood for 'Baby Hospital', so they donated to Children's Hospital," Melnik said."junior assistance league"School administration deemed the fraternities and sororities illegal because they encouraged drinking, Kitchens said.
"They were selective, discriminatory, and I think there was open acknowledgment of alcohol use," he said.
Melnik said that students gradually grew uninterested in the clubs, so they grew irrelevant.
"There was a large [influx] in the Asian population at our school, and there just wasn't as much interest as there had been," Melnik said.
Humphries is glad that the era of social clubs at Piedmont has come to an end, he said.
"[The clubs] were just a way for the cooler kids to separate from the not so cool ones," he said. "I don't know that the administration could have done much about the drinking … It hasn't changed that much now in terms of drinking, it's just not as organized."
The_ San Francisco Examiner -
Sun - Oct. 26, 1947
The_ San Francisco Examiner -
Sun - Nov. 2, 1947
Piedmont’s Past: Academics, Social Life, Athletics, and the Bird Calling Contest, March 17, 2014:
In 1976, the PHS football stands would have been crowded to the brim with enthusiastic “clubs” cheering on the Highlanders on a Friday night.
However, students today experience a more blended social atmosphere, compared to the fraternities and sororities, also known as clubs, that shape PHS’s social past.
“In those days,” Rick Kurkjian, Class of ‘73 said, “the high school was tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade. Piedmont Junior High was seventh to ninth grades.”
Kurkjian said there were four boys clubs: Kimmers, Rigma Lions, Kappas, and Bishops.
“In 10th and 11th grade I was in the Kimmers. They threw several parties a year including a South Seas Party and a Senior Farewell formal dance,” Kurkjian said. “Parties were for members and their dates, no one else was included.”
Kurkjian said he quit Kimmers because they were exclusive, like many of the clubs at PHS at the time.
“There were three girls clubs: Baby Hospital, Junior Assistance, and Junior Organization,” Karen Ellis, Class of ‘84 said.
Ellis said the club parties all had different themes and were in the Hills or at students’ houses. She said each club chose four sophomores to join, and in the fall many juniors and a few seniors were chosen by giving bids which were dropped off on doorsteps early in the morning.
“Looking back now, especially since I have kids, I feel horrible these clubs went on and how hurt the kids must have felt who never got bids,” Ellis said.
Kathy Kelleher, Class of ‘79, was a member of the Junior Assistance League, and said that the social scene was a bit cliquey. "In hindsight, they were exclusive and left a lot of great people out,” Kelleher said. “The girls clubs were loosely associated with charities.”
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Nov 21, 1933:
Tomorrow will see the third annual service club basketball contest at Piedmont High gym when the Kimmer Shielding and Rigma fives meet in a charity contest. Both groups are parts of prominent school clubs and on both teams is almost the entire Piedmont varsity.
Oakland Tribune - Thu - Nov 1, 1937:
Piedmont High School officially opened its basketball season yesterday, when the Rigmas downed their close rivals, the Kimmers, 26 to 19. The Two teams are boys' clubs in the school.
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Nov 13, 1940:
Sweetland Home Setting for Tea
The Glen Alpine Road home of Mrs. E. J. Sweetland was the settings for a fashion show and bridge tea this afternoon, given by the Kimmer Shieldings, of Piedmont High School.
Assisting the boys' club to entertain were a group of Junior Assistance League girls, who modeled Winter sports outfits for the guests who numbered many score.
Oakland Tribune - Sat - May 22, 1948:
Highlight of the noon hour carnival was the Kapa and Argyle mud and water concessions...
...The Kimmer concession settled to its own muddy and watery grave before the carnival started.
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Feb. 12, 1952:
Friday was "invitations out" and answers in" day for Piedmont High boys clubs... with a goodly group of the hillcity school's eligible young men (they're eligible for club membership when they've hit the L11) receiving bids and joining up with the Rigma, Kapa or Kimmer clans... Junior Assistance League invitation another Friday night even for Highlanders... the girls attending a movie together early in the evening... ending up at Ann Conwell's for initiation... the boys (Rigmas, Kapas and Kimmers - new members and old) providing extra local color via sidewalk heckling 'round 'n' about the Conwell home.
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Jul. 23, 1963:
There was anguish when the frat status was supreme here. One teacher recalls a grieving mother demanding the fraternity be banned because the grieving mother's son wasn't accepted for membership. A few years later the same mother had another son at Piedmont High.
This son made one of the frats, and mama collared every faculty member she could grab to spout great praise for the good old high school fraternity system, God bless it.
Berkeley Daily Gazette - Thu - Nov. 22, 1906
Kimmer Sheilding, 1923
Piedmont High 1925 Yearbook:
An organization was started by a group of Piedmont High School boys in the early part of the year 1923. Kimmer Shielding was chosen as a fitting name for the club, because it was a Scotch name that would coincide with a Scotch theme already a tradition in Piedmont High.
This club has two objects in view: one, to promote good-fellowship, and the other to do something for the benefit of the community.
In the meetings once a week bring the members close together where they may talk over the affairs of the club. There are about 30 active members and about the same number of associate members. It has been the tradition of the club to give a banquet and dance to the retiring officers, every six months. Throughout the year various other forms of entertainment are also included in, such as theatre parties, tug rides, socials and dances. Its thus that the object of good-fellowship is carried out.
Oakland Tribune - Wed - June 10, 1936:
The Kimmer Shielding Club of Piedmont gave a dinner dance at Castlewood last Saturday evening for its members.
Oakland Tribune - Mon - Jan 5, 1942:
A pre-school sport dance was held at the home of Stephen D Bechtel in Oakland on the night of Jan 1. The guests included members of the Kimmer Sheilding Club at Piedmont High School and their guests.
This is one of the outstanding parties for the school set during the Winter vacation.
Oakland Tribune - Fri - May 26, 1950:
...Piedmont's Kimmer Shielding Club's South Sea Island dance... For their dance tomorrow night Kimmer Club members at Piedmont High will take over the WIlliam Letts Oliver Piedmont home and deck it out in South Sea Island style. They'll dump a truckload of sand in the backyard, add a few palm trees (or reasonable facsimile of the same) and call it an island. Inside too, they'll have much in the way of tropical decor.
Rigma Lions, 1930s
The Living and the Dead, Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War
By Paul Hendrickson · 2015
The boy is an Eagle Scout in troop three of the Piedmont Council of the Boy Scouts of America, having earned all of the required merit badges in textiles and pioneering and bird study and civics and so forth in nearly record time. This summer he'll work as a counselor at Camp Wallace Alexander on Spanish Creek up in the Feather River country of the Sierra. This semester, his last in high school, he has been elected president of Rigma, which is a social-service club at Piedmont High, the accent being far more on the first word than the second. Rigma, spelled backward, stands for All Men Grow in Righteousness. Shhh, it's a secret. The boys of Rigma-Roy Jones and Marvin Pomeroy and Charlie Wheeler and Jimmy Helmer and John Erichson and Russ Raine and Bob McNamara and the rest-have lately memorialized themselves in sepia at the Novelty Photography Parlor at 1018 Broadway in Oakland. (Of the ten Rigmas in the shot, only the one in the first row on the far right seems spotless and contained.) Sometimes the Rigma gang will drive initiates up to Mountain View cemetery in Jimmy Helmer's Nash touring car, make them moo like an elk in moonlight while hanging from the top of some ornate monument—this sort of thing. The club president goes along, not exuberantly, but goes along. He was along the night they siphoned gas out of a state-highway steam shovel by the side of the road so they could make it back to town from Clear Lake in Helmer's Nash. He's game, you could say. He's awkward, you could say, at least in social matters, especially with his own sex, and let's face it, in high school the social stuff counts more than books.
At Piedmont High, one of the better college-preparatory schools in northern California, the boy not only leads Rigma but edits the Clan-O-Log yearbook and is a member of Boys' Council and Board of Control. He also goes out with Hallie Booth and Annalee Whitmore, both of whom are lookers. Hallie owns all the teenage male hearts of Piedmont High. He has escorted her to dances at big-band affairs at the Mark Hopkins Hotel across the bay. (This might surprise you, but he's known to be quite light on the dance floor. On the way over to San Francisco on the ferry, the word is he won't take nips at anything but fruit juice while the others are swilling rotgut from silver flasks hidden in their vests.) All these things said, it remains a fact: The boy is self-conscious and a little awkward socially, especially among other males in a peer group.
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Jun. 18, 1963:
"The night before was also a hurry-up," said Doryce, "because we had the Rigma (teen group) dance for Gray, with about 60 young people - and he only told us about it two days before! But it was delightful to have a group of teen-agers who acted so beautifully while having such a good time.
1942 PHS Yearbook picture
Kapa Klan, 1940s?
From Peter Jenny:
You have a letter to Nathan Hunt, a friend of mine, who was in Kappa when I was. His letter is signed by Chris Stevens, Christopher Stevens the ambassador who was killed in the Benghazi attack.