One writer explores the storied history of the Greek life tradition.
In recent weeks, Greek houses across campus have been gathering amongst themselves for a classic Dartmouth tradition: wedding tails. The basic premise? A sorority and fraternity pair up, and one person from each house acts as a bride and groom, respectively. The two houses then host a faux wedding for their chosen couple, complete with an unofficial officiator, vows, bridesmaids and groomsmen.
Nearly every house has their own spin on the ceremony, but where does this tradition come from? Believe it or not, the practice was inspired by a real wedding — one between Gwyn Prentice ’96 and Andy Atterbury ’96. The pair got married during their sophomore summer, according to Prentice’s former roommate, Margie Block Stineman ’96.
“Obviously it was a little bit shocking, but … we embraced it and decided to support them and make it as memorable as possible,” Stineman said.
While in college, Prentice was a member of Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority, along with Stineman. Atterbury was a member of Beta Alpha Omega. Stineman said that the couple got married on Chase Field, and the ceremony consisted of approximately 20 members of KDE, 20 members of Beta and a justice of the peace to officiate the ceremony. Afterward, there was a reception held at KDE to celebrate the wedding.
“It was pretty simple and obviously never dreamed that it would become a tradition of our house,” Stineman said.
According to Stineman, the couple is still married to this day.
It took several years for wedding tails to become a Greek life tradition, even within houses involved in the original wedding: Stineman said that she did not recall any additional celebrations during her junior or senior year after the initial wedding.
There is little record of when the first reenactment of the wedding began, but in present day, KDE and Gamma Delta Chi have a history of recreating the wedding ceremony, in addition to other Greek houses. Although the original wedding was between members of KDE and Beta, now KDE reenacts the tradition with GDX. According to Ross Parrish ’24, the GDX groom at this year’s wedding tails, Atterbury was also a football player, and at the time Atterbury was in college, many football players were affiliated with Beta, but after Beta was derecognized by the College in 1996, GDX evolved to house more football players.
The tradition has also spread to other Greek houses. This summer, in addition to KDE and GDX’s ceremony, several other Greek organizations have hosted wedding tails of some variety — Alpha Phi and Beta; Alpha Xi Delta and Phi Delta Alpha and Chi Delta and Alpha Chi Alpha are among them.
For KDE and GDX, the event is a week-long tradition, according to KDE member Renesa Khanna ’24. However, for the majority of houses that host their own wedding tails, the events are more constrained to a single day’s ceremony.
On Monday, Khanna said that KDE hosts a competition to determine who will act as the bride, the maid of honor, the five bridesmaids and other wedding positions. On Tuesday, Khanna said that KDE holds a bachelorette party, and on Wednesday, the sorority has joint meetings with GDX — during which, all of the positions were announced. The next day, the sorority holds a “rehearsal dinner,” which Khanna said took the form of a barbecue with GDX, and then the wedding ceremony takes place on Saturday.
“[The ceremony] started at 2p.m. and it was just the time for everyone to be together,” Khanna said. “I was fake dressed up, laughing, excited. We all walked to the Green together and then everyone set up and it was this big, fake ceremony in front of Baker-Berry.”
Unlike the original wedding, wedding tails does not take itself too seriously; Khanna noted how part of the ceremony included a “priest” — another student — cracking jokes to amuse the audience.
“The priest was super funny. She’s [made] a lot of jokes and everyone was just laughing at how absurd this was,” Khanna said.
Khanna appreciated how the history behind the tradition gave the event more significance.
“It was really cool to see that this is something that so many KDEs and GDXs have done before,” Khanna said.
This year, KDE and GDX’s wedding tails coincided with the alumni reunion for the Class of 1996, and Stineman was able to witness the tradition derived from her friend’s real wedding over 25 years after it occurred. She noted that wedding tails have deviated so much from the original wedding.
“It’s sort of, at this point, separate [from Prentice and Atterbury’s wedding] because their wedding was real and it lasted — they’ve created this incredible life and it’s beautiful,” Stineman said. “Part of it’s a little weird that there’s a fraternity, sorority tradition made out of our friend’s wedding, but at the same time, it was so joyous and fun and neat to see it, and it’s something that just happened very organically. I’m glad that they have so much fun doing it.”
Parrish noted that the event served as a bonding activity for the participating houses. He said that he enjoyed that “everyone was involved in some way,” and he said that turnout for the wedding ceremony was higher than for most other events, like regular tails.
“I met a bunch of new people through it, or even people that I knew but wasn’t very familiar with, I got closer to. I guess [I liked] the way it brought people together,” Parrish said.
For Khanna, she said she appreciated how her experience with wedding tails strengthened her sense of community.
“These are the traditions that make Dartmouth: It’s so stupid, it’s so absurd, but you feel like you’re a part of something,” Khanna said.