The second organized meeting of Panhellenic women took place July 19- 20, 1893, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This gathering at the World’s Fair was one of the items discussed at the prior meeting that took place in Boston in 1891 at Kappa Kappa Gamma’s invitation.
A “Congress of Fraternities” during the Fair was not only discussed when the seven women’s fraternities met in Boston, but the idea was also mentioned in both men’s and women’s fraternity magazines. During the 1890s, fraternity magazine exchanges were the primary manner in which information was shared between the organizations.
According to The History of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, “the prospectus of the liberal arts department of the fair, issued in 1891, said that a provision would be made for a fraternity display. Dr. S.H. Peabody, who was head of this department, having formerly been Regent of the University of Illinois, expressed an earnest desire to have a full exhibit by the fraternities.” In early January, 1892, representatives from 23 fraternities met in Chicago to discuss the proposed congress and exhibit. They recommended that all Greek-letter societies make exhibits to display at the Fair.
A subsequent meeting took place on July 7, 1892. The group adopted a constitution, elected officers, appointed committees and applied for space in an exhibit hall. Another meeting does not seem to have taken place until April 1, 1893. At that time, six men’s fraternities were represented and a decision was made that the exhibit was not feasible. The authorities were too late in allotting exhibit space and asked for $2,500 for expenses. According to the Phi Delta Theta’s report, it was “impossible to raise $2,500 for such purpose, and therefore the whole plan for an exhibit was abandoned and the allotted space surrendered.”
Although things did not go according to the original plan, the Congress met starting on July 19, 1893 in the Memorial Art Institute, at the foot of Adams Street. About 300 fraternity members attended the morning session. Among the papers read were several by Phi Delta Theta members. These included talks on the histories of fraternities, fraternity catalogues and fraternity finances. In the afternoon, there was a meeting of fraternity magazine editors. J.E. Brown, Editor of Phi Delta Theta’s Scroll, read a paper on “The ethics of loyalty in relation to fraternity journalism.” Phi Delta Theta’s reporter noted that more Phi Delts took part in the morning and afternoon sessions than any other fraternity.
At 5 p.m., the women’s fraternities gave a reception at the New York State Building. The building was crowded with fraternity men and women proudly wearing their badges. The Scroll reported that the “chief competition in yells and songs was between Phi Delta Theta, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Beta Theta Pi, who had more men present than any of the other fraternities. ‘Phi Delta Theta All Revere’, ‘Hail Phi Delta Theta’ and ‘Phi Delta Theta for Aye’ were lustily sung by the more than 50 Phis present. Brother Swope led in singing and yelling: we doubt if he is over his consequent hoarseness, yet. The various fraternity clans got together and marched around in lock-step lines, and such strains as ‘Phi-Phi-Phi-Kei-A’ and “Dee-Dee, Dee-Kay-E!’ marked the accompaniment. Finally a Pan-Hellenic circle was formed and the joint singing was begun by Brother Swope starting, ‘There’s a hole at the bottom of the sea,’ the famous song of our Bloomington convention. After the college songs, the crowd went to the music pavilion on the lakefront, where the band played college airs.” A banquet was served at 7:30 p.m. in the New York State Building and dancing followed.
The morning session of July 20 was devoted to women’s fraternities. Ellen Martin Henrotin welcomed the crowd to the room at the Art Institute. Although it does not appear she was a fraternity woman, she was very active in the women’s club movement. There were addresses by representatives from Kappa Kappa Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, Delta Gamma, Delta Delta Delta, Alpha Phi, and Pi Beta Phi. Among the topics presented were the origin and development of the fraternity system, fraternity journalism, chapter houses, limitations in fraternity membership, fraternity extension, and fraternity women in the world. Gertrude Boughton Blackwelder, an 1875 graduate of the University of Kansas and a charter member of the Kansas Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi, read a paper on the “Ethical influences of fraternities.” It was later published in several fraternity magazines.
A social meeting of the women’s fraternity officers was held in the afternoon, and a Panhellenic reception was held in the New York State Building in the evening.
Several organizations held their conventions in Chicago that summer and others arranged for a hospitality room for their membership. Phi Delta Theta had a corner room on the third floor of a building at the southwest corner of Jackson and Franklin Streets; 420 Phi Delts signed the guest book. Kappa Alpha Theta, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta and Delta Delta Delta had a fraternity booth in the Organization room of the Women’s Building. The booth provided a resting place for fraternity women and a there was a guest book for members to sign.
It would be almost nine years before the women’s fraternities called another meeting. They would gather again in Chicago, at the request of Alpha Phi (see http://wp.me/p20I1i-d7). And the third time would be the charm! The National Panhellenic Conference would come into its own and begin the process of interfraternal cooperation among the women’s organizations. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at those early meetings!
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