“The Eighteenth National Panhellenic Congress representing 150,000 Sorority Women in session at Parker House, Boston, Mass.; sends greetings and best wishes to you as the first Sorority Woman to grace the White House,” is the text of the telegram that Dr. May Agness Hopkins, Zeta Tau Alpha, Secretary of the NPC, sent to Grace Goodhue Coolidge, Pi Beta Phi, in October of 1923.
The National Panhellenic Conference began in 1902; due to an identity crisis, it was, for a time, known as the National Panhellenic Congress. The authorizing of the telegram was the first motion of the 1923 meeting.
Grace Goodhue Coolidge, a charter member of the Vermont Beta chapter of Pi Beta Phi at the University of Vermont, was the first wife of the President initiated in a women’s fraternity while in college. Her husband became an initiated member of Phi Gamma Delta while a student at Amherst College. Together they were the first couple initiated into Greek-letter societies while they attended college.
Mrs. Coolidge was not the first First Lady to be a member of a National Panhellenic Conference organization. That honor goes to Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes. On December 1, 1880, she accepted the invitation of the Rho Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Ohio Wesleyan College to become an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Mrs. Coolidge’s successor, Lou Henry Hoover, was also a Kappa Kappa Gamma; she was initiated as a student at Stanford University.
Laura Welch Bush is a Kappa Alpha Theta, having been initiated while a student at Southern Methodist University. In 2001, the Public Relations Committee of the National Panhellenic Conference, in keeping with the spirit of the 1923 telegram to Grace Coolidge, sent a telegram to welcome Mrs. Bush as First Lady. Her husband, George W. Bush, is a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon, having been initiated as an undergrad at Yale. Together they are the second couple initiated into Greek letter organizations while college students.
In her post-White House years, Barbara Pierce Bush, who had attended Smith College, became an alumna initiate of Pi Beta Phi. Her chapter of initiation is Texas Eta at Texas A&M University. Her husband, George Herbert Walker Bush, is also a member of the Yale University Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a National Pan-Hellenic Council sorority. Her membership in the organization grew out of an incident involving another honorary member, the famed contralto Marian Anderson who was the first African-American woman to sing with the Metropolitan Opera and perform at the White House.