Amy Burnham Onken was a visitor to the 1917 National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) meeting. At that meeting, few could have imagined the influence she would have on her own organization, Pi Beta Phi, and on the NPC world itself.
In 1928, she served her first term as Pi Beta Phi’s NPC delegate, a position she held until 1953. From 1945-47, she served as NPC Chairman. Several important changes were made during her term as Chairman.
The 30th NPC meeting was held at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on November 10-14, 1947. L. Pearle Green, Kappa Alpha Theta, served as Secretary and Edith Reese Crabtree, Kappa Kappa Gamma, was Treasurer. The acceptance of 11 organizations, including six from the Association of Education Sororities (AES), was the most important of the decisions made at the meeting. The Association of Education Sororities was founded in 1915 as the Association of Pedagogical Sororities. In 1946, it was comprised of six national organizations, Sigma Sigma Sigma, Delta Sigma Epsilon, Pi Kappa Sigma, Alpha Sigma Alpha, Alpha Sigma Tau, and Theta Sigma Upsilon. Its members had chapters at normal schools. In the 1940s, many of these teacher training institutions were evolving into more comprehensive institutions. The AES and NPC merger was meant to strengthen the entire women’s fraternity system by dissolving unnecessary lines of demarcation. The former AES organizations had two years before they would be faced with competition from the NPC groups.
The other groups admitted to associate membership in NPC, by a unanimous vote, were Alpha Epsilon Phi, Phi Sigma Sigma, Delta Phi Epsilon, Sigma Delta Tau and Theta Phi Alpha. A report of the conference noted that full membership was “contingent in each case, upon the elimination by June 1, 1948, of all chapters on campuses not meeting NPC requirements and of all dual membership involving NPC fraternities.” NPC also voted that, “Not until January 1, 1949, shall any overtures leading to future chapters to be made by or given consideration by any member group of NPC, active or associate, on campuses now occupied by the present AES groups.”
It was also at this meeting that the unambitious agreement regarding dual membership was enacted. Women could be members of only one NPC organization.
Amy Burnham Onken was born in Chapin, Illinois on September 24, 1885, and she lived her life there. In the fall of 1904 she enrolled at Northwestern University and became a member of the Illinois Epsilon Chapter of Pi Beta Phi. She became Grand Secretary in 1912 and spent 8 years in that role. She then became Grand President and remained in that position for 31 years. She installed 38 chapters. She died in October 1963.
All rights reserved. Some of the information about the Association of Education Sororities appears in my master’s thesis.