How the P.E.O.s at Iowa Wesleyan Became Alpha Xi Deltas

How exactly did those P.E.O.s at Iowa Wesleyan College become the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta? How was that connection made? It was such a defining moment in the history of both organizations.

P.E.O. was founded as a collegiate organization at Iowa Wesleyan College on January 21, 1869. Alpha Xi Delta was founded on April 17, 1893 at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois.

Over the years between 1869 and 1902, the P.E.O. members who had been initiated while enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan College stayed active in the college chapter even though they were no longer enrolled in the college. Many remained in or near Mount Pleasant. Others formed chapters in towns and communities where they  moved after graduation. The early P.E.O. chapters that had been formed at nearby schools did not survive and P.E.O.’s growth was in community chapters. The chapter at Iowa Wesleyan College was finding it difficult to operate on a college campus with the rules put forth by the community chapters.

The P.E.O. Chapter at Iowa Wesleyan College had been known as Original Chapter A. It later took on the name A-J to distinguish itself from the Mount Pleasant chapter. It ultimately became known as Chapter S. After the turn of the century, the governing body of P.E.O. made the decision to withdraw the charter of Chapter S. The college co-eds wished to remain a collegiate organization and discussed becoming a chapter of a Greek-letter organization.

The Alpha Xi Delta Chapter at Lombard, having made the decision to become a national organization, and the collegiate members of P.E.O., having decided to become a chapter of a Greek-letter organization, discussed the decisions that needed to be made on both sides if there was to be a resolution to these wishes.

Anna Gillis-Kimble, a member of the Alpha Xi Delta Chapter at Lombard College, hailed from Mount Pleasant. Her influence helped the Iowa Wesleyan women make the decision to become the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

On June 9, 1902, the Alpha Xi Delta members entered the Lombard College Chapel wearing their tri-colored ribbons for the first time. The ribbons heralded the fact that they were now a national organization. After chapel, the installing officers made their way to Mount Pleasant.

The installation of Alpha Xi Delta’s second chapter took place at the home of Ellen Ball. Cora Bollinger-Block presided at the installation. Helping her were Ella Boston-Leib*, Alice Barlett-Bruner, Jennie Marriot-Buchanan, Virginia Henney Franklin, Anna Gillis-Kimble, and Edna Epperson-Brinkham.

The Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta, 1904

The chapter roll quickly grew. By 1905, when the Beta Chapter hosted the Third National Convention, there were nine chapters. In addition to the chapters at Lombard and Iowa Wesleyan, chapters had been chartered at Mount Union College,  Bethany College, University of South Dakota, Wittenberg University, Syracuse University, University of Wisconsin and West Virginia University.

In 1913, Iowa Wesleyan College authorities allowed the chapter to initiate the P.E.O. alumnae as Alpha Xi Deltas. Afterwards, the Mount Pleasant Alumnae Club of Alpha Xi Delta was formed.

The only P.E.O. founder to be continuously involved with P.E.O. was Alice Bird Babb. Her daughter Alice Babb was a member of the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

The 1923 Alpha Xi Delta history describes one of Beta Chapter’s special traditions, “Each commencement morning the member of Beta Chapter arise with the sun and go down the ‘K’ line to an old stone quarry. Here a great fire is built, the coffee pot put on, weanies roasted, eggs fried, and an outdoor breakfast prepared. After the breakfast is eaten, the girls gather round the embers of their dying fire and sing the songs of their fraternity until it is time for the seniors to return to the university and receive the degrees which transform them from college into alumnae members.”

Anna Gillis-Kimble was the first Alpha Xi Delta delegate to attend the Inter-Sorority Conference (now known as the National Panhellenic Conference) in 1904. She served as the first Editor of The Alpha Xi Delta of the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority (now The Quill). Years later, she said, “Perhaps the dearest memory of all is in conjunction with our first journal…to have that first tiny Convention say, ‘We will have a national journal, and you and you and you may lay your heads together and produce it for us.’  That was thrilling and never to be forgotten.” Her role in making Alpha Xi Delta a national organization was only one of her contributions to her beloved sorority.

* Ella Boston Leib also served as Alpha Xi Delta’s Grand President, National Panhellenic Conference delegate, and Chairman of  NPC as well as the President of Illinois State Chapter of P.E.O. For more information about this, please take a look at this post http://wp.me/p20I1i-Gz .

 © Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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