Pi Beta Phi was founded as I.C. Sorosis on April 28, 1867 at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. The second chapter of I.C. Sorosis was founded in December of 1868 at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant Iowa, 58 miles from Monmouth across the Mississippi River. Another women’s organization, P.E.O., was founded at Iowa Wesleyan less than a month later, on January 21, 1869. Legend has it that some of the P.E.O. Founders had been asked to become I.C.s, but they declined because their friends were not included.
According to an account in the Story of P.E.O., “When the P.E.O.s had heard that the I.C.s were going to march into chapel wearing blue calico dresses all made after the same fashion, they met that afternoon and worked like mad making aprons of white calico with a black star. The aprons had a ruffle all around them and were made with a bib, fashioned on the left shoulder with the shining P.E.O. star. The I.C.s, so the P.E.O.s discovered, were to meet in one of the literary halls and the P.E.O.s went along before chapel time and crowded into a little closet-like room used by the janitor very near the chapel door. At the last stroke of the bell, just as the I.C.s started out of the door farther down the hall, the P.E.O.s stepped out in front of them and proudly appeared first in chapel.”
I.C.’s third chapter was at the Mount Pleasant Female Seminary where the second P.E.O. chapter was formed. The antagonism between the chapters became so great that Mr. Belden, the administrator, took each group’s pins, the P.E.O. stars and the I.C. arrows, and put them in a bank vault until the relationship improved. A chart an 1890 Arrow shows that four Pi Beta Phi chapters listed P.E.O. as their main rival.
I.C. Sorosis officially changed its name to Pi Beta Phi, its original Greek motto, at the 1888 Convention. At the 1888 P.E.O. Convention there was discussion about changing P.E.O. to a Greek letter society, and the idea was referred to a committee. P.E.O. had by then become an organization of collegiate and community chapter.
On June 7, 1902, P.E.O.’s chapter at Iowa Wesleyan disbanded. It became the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta, a women’s fraternity founded in 1893 at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois. This was the break between P.E.O.’s beginning as a collegiate organization and its future as a community philanthropic and educational Sisterhood.
The intense rivalry between the two organizations continued for at least 20 years and was greatest in Iowa. By 1900, the rivalry dissipated. Anne Stuart, Nebraska Beta, served as Pi Phi’s Grand Treasurer from 1912-25. Her 1939 obituary noted that she was also a member of P.E.O.
Elizabeth Davenport Garrels, Iowa Alpha, presided over P.E.O.’s 2011 International Chapter. She is a loyal member of both organizations and she has also served as President of the Pi Beta Phi Foundation and as Chairman of the Holt House Committee that oversees Pi Beta Phi’s founding home in Monmouth Illinois. Today, there are many “double sisters”, including Elizabeth and me, who are loyal members of P.E.O. and Pi Beta Phi.
This entry originally appeared on the Pi Beta Phi blog. I have revised it a smidge and I am reprinting it here as a reminder of the four days I spent in Dallas meeting with six Special P.E.O. friends.