“Are you telling me that Carrie Chapman Catt was a member of a sorority?” I was asked with some incredulity. It wasn’t meant as a polite question. I wanted to say that technically Catt was a member of a women’s fraternity, but my better judgment told me not to make that correction.
Yes, Carrie Chapman Catt, the suffragist who devoted her life to getting women the right to vote, was one of the first initiates of the Pi Beta Phi chapter at Iowa State University. She served as the chapter’s secretary. She used her Pi Phi membership as a way of networking for the cause. She spoke at Pi Phi’s 1890 convention. Her topic was suffrage. In a photo taken after graduation, during the years when she was teaching in Mason City, Iowa, she proudly wore her arrow.
Here are nine other women whose membership in a National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organization is just as much a surprise to many people.
Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958), Kappa Alpha Theta, DePauw University. Ritter was a suffragist and a noted historian.
Laurel Salton Clark, M.D. (1961-2003), Gamma Phi Beta, Wisconsin-Madison. Clark was an Astronaut on the Space Shuttle Columbia and she died in its ill-fated reentry into Earth’s orbit.
Ada Comstock Notestein (1876-1973), Delta Gamma, University of Minnesota. Notestein served as Dean of Women at Smith College from 1921-23. Since 1975, Smith College’s Ada Comstock Scholars Program has helped hundreds of non-traditional age women to complete a Bachelor of Arts. In addition, she served as President of the American Association of University Women from 1921-23 and President of Radcliffe College from 1923-43.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alpha Epsilon Phi, Cornell University (Phi Beta Kappa, too!). In 1993, Ginsburg was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the second woman and first sorority woman to serve in that capacity.
Betsey Johnson, Alpha Xi Delta, Syracuse University (another Phi Beta Kappa). Johnson is a fashion icon who has been designing clothes since the 1960s. Her clothes are whimsical and creative. She is known for doing a cartwheel to end her fashion shows (no doubt a throwback to her days as a Syracuse cheerleader).
Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942), Kappa Kappa Gamma, Barnard College (Phi Beta Kappa, too!). Miller was an ardent suffragist. In the years when women were trying to gain the right to vote, she wrote a column, Are Women People? devoted to the cause of equal suffrage. In 1915, she penned:“Mother, what is a feminist?” “A feminist, my daughter, Is any woman now who cares to think about her own affairs As men don’t think she oughter.”
Condoleezza Rice, Ph.D., Alpha Chi Omega, University of Denver (yet another Phi Beta Kappa!). Rice, the 66th United States Secretary of State, is an American political scientist and diplomat.
Pat Summitt, Chi Omega, University of Tennessee-Martin. Summitt was coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team from 1974-2012 during which she coached the team to eight NCAA national championships. She is the only coach in NCAA history with at least 1,000 victories. She played on the first Olympic women’s basketball team and has a silver medal to prove it. She also coached the 1984 gold medal team.
Frances Willard (1839-98), Alpha Phi, Syracuse University (Honorary). Willard was an American education and suffragist. She served as Alpha Phi’s National President in 1887 and was instrumental in the formation of Alpha Phi’s second chapter at Northwestern University.
Visit my Pinterest page with information on more than 200 fraternity and sorority women http://www.pinterest.com/glohistory/notable-sorority-women/
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All Rights Reserved.