“There are local ladies societies at Barnard (Alpha Omicron Pi), Wellesley (Alpha Kappa Gamma), U. of Miss (Sigma Tau), U of Ark (Chi Omega), Wesleyan (Phi Sigma), Dickerson (sic) (Phi Gamma Zeta), Sigma Kappa (Colby) – Wouldn’t it be a good plan for you to look some of them up?” wrote William Raimond Baird on February 28, 1898. He was compiling his Baird’s Manual of American College Fraternities and needed additional information from Grace Lass Sisson, Grand President of Pi Beta Phi. There is a previous post on this blog “My Dear Sisson*” about correspondence previous to this particular note. Baird and Francis Hinckley Sisson were Beta Theta Phi members and a prior correspondence was addressed to Sisson asking him to relay a message to his wife.
In this note, Baird is asking Mrs. Sisson for addition information about her organization. “If necessary can’t you guess at the numbers?” he implored. But that is not what I find most interesting. Three of the local societies he mentioned in his note became national organizations, one became a chapter of Chi Omega, and the other three seem to have disappeared.
Both Chi Omega and Alpha Omicron Pi established their second chapters in 1898 at Jessamine Female Institute and Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (now Tulane University), respectively. Sigma Kappa established its Delta chapter, the first chapter not on the Colby College campus, at Boston University in 1904.
Sigma Tau at the University of Mississippi was absorbed by Chi Omega. It became its Tau Chapter on November 4 1899.
My research into the other three organizations Baird mention has resulted in many dead ends. Wellesley College does not have women’s fraternities, instead there are local literary societies. Alpha Kappa Gamma does not appear to be one of the existing societies.
Baird’s mention of “Dickerson” was likely Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. The Pi Beta Phi Chapter at Dickinson was founded in 1903, but it had been the local Phi Alpha Pi. In 1907, Chi Omega established a chapter at Dickinson. Chi Omega great Mary Love Collins had been a member of Omega Psi, a local organization at Dickinson; she was instrumental in acquiring the Chi Omega charter.
It is my opinion that “Wesleyan” referred to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Wesleyan University had several chapters of men’s fraternities, including Baird’s own, Beta Theta Pi. At the time Baird wrote his note, women were attending the university. In 1906, Alpha Gamma Delta established a chapter there. It had been the local Zeta Epsilon. The chapter closed in 1912 when women were no longer permitted to attend the institution.
I collect Baird’s Manual of American College Fraternities and I can only imagine the effort that went into gathering information, compiling it and keeping it updated. It would be easier to do today courtesy of spreadsheets and computer capabilities, but in 1898 it must have been mind-boggling! I thank Mr. Baird profusely for his dedication. His efforts are much appreciated.
Other posts about the Sissons:
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