Sisterhood for the Sisterless

Little Woman and the Friends Who Became Like Family

Grace Leuenberger / 11.2.21

It was the frequent, group sing-alongs that surprised me most. And the hair. So. Much. Hair.

Having grown up with three brothers and zero sisters, living in a dormitory hall of 50+ girls during my freshman year of college was a bit of a culture shock. It was a loud and lively environment, and I’d never been asked so many questions about my preferences, personality, or period. For the first few months,  I resisted this “sisterhood” with all my might. I bristled at the small talk my peers tried to make with me in the communal bathroom, skipped the social events I was invited to, and I certainly did not join in any of the group sing-alongs. For months, I lived in a state of self-imposed loneliness, not even letting my roommates know that I was so unhappy that I was considering transferring. It was not good for (wo)man to be alone, and it certainly was not good for me, either. 

By my spring semester, I knew something had to change. Without proximity to my parents and siblings, I concluded that it was necessary to seek “family” elsewhere. Maybe I could try this whole sister thing, I thought. But where to find them? Should I attempt to befriend the girls from my hall? Should I join a sorority? Should I try that thing everyone on campus seemed to be talking about and work on being more “intentional?” All those options were possibilities but admittedly felt exhausting in a year where I was already trying hard in every other aspect of life.

Things began to change in March, just as the earth began to thaw and give way to spring. I had signed up to help on the publicity team for our college’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, figuring that it would keep me busy enough to forget how lonely I was. One evening, I was sitting in the back hallway of the performing arts building cutting out pictures and labels for the call board when I was approached by a nun, who I’d later find out was also a prostitute. Well, at least she was playing one in the production. The actress asked me if I needed help, and I said yes. We sat there on the cold linoleum floor, trimming paper and making small talk until her scene. Her last name was Brothers, an amusing fact in retrospect given that she and the women she introduced me to would become like sisters to me in the years to come.

The women I became friends with that March were fierce and funny, creative and courageous. We all had different majors, upbringings, and dreams for what life would look like after college. Some wanted to be moms while others wanted to move across the world alone. Some wore rings on their left hands while others joked about being spinsters.

We were diverse in personality and life plans, but all bonded over our shared love of the 1994 adaption of Little Women. We loved watching the movie together and sharing which character we thought each other was. “Oh Laura is such a Jo.” “Jules is definitely an Amy.” Taylor was Marmee, Bird was Meg, and none of us can ever remember who we decided was Beth. Personally, I felt like Theodore Laurence, or Laurie — the orphaned neighbor who lived next to the the March sisters.

Laurie, like freshman year Grace, was a bit of a loner, too. One afternoon, the March sisters resolve to do something about Laurie’s loneliness. One of them (Jo) tosses a snowball at his window, which ends up leading to a conversation in which Laurie says: 

“Why, you see I often hear you calling to one another, and when I’m alone up here, I can’t help looking over at your house, you always seem to be having such good times. I beg your pardon for being so rude, but sometimes you forget to put down the curtain at the window where the flowers are. And when the lamps are lighted, it’s like looking at a picture to see the fire, and you all around the table with your mother. Her face is right opposite, and it looks so sweet behind the flowers, I can’t help watching it. I haven’t got any mother, you know.” And Laurie poked the fire to hide a little twitching of the lips that he could not control. […] The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jo’s warm heart.

Though Laurie is entirely unfamiliar with the traditions and tropes of sisterhood, the March sisters take him in as one of their own. Like Laurie, I learned that sisterhood, though spirited, was not all about braiding each other’s hair while singing songs in unison. Oftentimes, it was about sitting around the table with each other. And at precisely 6:15 pm on weeknights in my college years, my friends and I would do just that. We called it “Family Dinner,” a daily occurrence when our little group would commandeer a corner of the cafeteria and eat together while reporting the news of the day. Family Dinner was a place where we were literally fed, but it was also a place where a girl with the same solitary, hungry look in her eyes as Laurie was met with warmth, companionship, and sisterhood. 


In the years to come, we’ve found ourselves seated around tables again, just not at 6:15 pm in our dormitory cafeteria. We’ve gathered to celebrate the weddings of the women who wore rings on their left hands, and other times, we’ve gathered when things got hard. No matter the circumstance of our post-grad gatherings, Little Women almost makes its way into the conversation. It might just be a movie, but to us, Little Women feels like something more. When I re-watch Little Women, or listen to its soundtrack, or talk about it with one of my friends, my mind is flooded with memories and filled with gratitude. 

In one of his essays, Wendell Berry writes that “A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members — among them the need to need one another.” When I first found my Little Women, I needed a proper community. I needed a distraction from the grind of homework and relief from my loneliness. But more than that, I needed to learn what it actually meant to be a part of and work for a proper community — in my case, a community of women: a sisterhood.

While I became neighbors with 1200+ women during my freshman year of college, I became family to a band of sisters. The bonds of love that exceed mere friendliness only consists in patience and understanding, gentleness and kindness, confession and absolution. Sisterhood was about more than a shared space — it was also about sharing in and sharing of needs. Years later, this work continues. A proper community takes physical presence, financial investment, emotional attentiveness, and spiritual discernment. But there is a joy in this work of human love, too. And perhaps most of all, there is gratitude for what we had in those years when we called ourselves little women, but really were just little girls. 

Like Laurie, God helped me stumble into the right room at the right time, finding my way to a group of chaotic, creative, loud, and loving sisters. My sisterhood has expanded beyond the group of women I met in college, now encompassing friends from Charlotte to Colorado Springs, Nashville to Northern Virginia, Ann Arbor to Omaha. Though I tried (and still do try) to depict myself as the independent type who was fine on their own, God knew I had a longing to belong. God saw the solitary, hungry look in my eyes during the lonely beginning of my freshman year and it went straight to his warm heart. 

I was born into a family with three older brothers, but adulthood has shown me what a gift it is to be part of the larger family of God — with brothers and sisters. The joy of human love often arrives in unexpected ways, be it in a snowball tossed at the window, in a kind gesture from a girl dressed as a nun, in a conversation at a dorm dining hall table at 6:15 on Wednesday. 

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