Jessie Wallace Hughan, Pacifist, Social Activist, and Alpha Omicron Pi Founder on AOPi’s 118th Birthday

Alpha Omicron Pi was founded on January 2, 1897 at the home of Helen St. Clair (Mullan). She and three of her Barnard College friends, Stella George Stern (Perry), Jessie Wallace Hughan, and Elizabeth Heywood Wyman had pledged themselves to the organization on December 23, 1896. That first pledging ceremony took place in a small rarely used upstairs room in the old Columbia College Library.

Celebrating a Founders’ Day on the second day of the new year proved to be a challenge for the organization, so Alpha Omicron Pi now celebrates Founders’ Day on December 8, Stella’s birthday.

It might come as a surprise to many that one of Alpha Omicron Pi’s founders Jessie Wallace Hughan, Ph.D., a lifelong educator, was a committed pacifist and social activist. In 1911, her dissertation was published as a book The Present Status of Socialism in America. It was later published with a revised title, America Socialism of the Present Day.

In the book’s introduction, John Spargo wrote, “Her warm sympathy so finely tempered by her critical spirit, enabling her to see both the noble and the ignoble in just perspective, makes her a trustworthy guide through the labyrinthian paths which confront the serious student of American Socialism as it is to-day. She gives a bird’s-eye view of the movement, sketches the political organization, noting its weak points as well as its strong ones; problems in theory and tactics are discussed with candor and discrimination, and the position of the leading spokesmen of the movement stated in their own words or impartial condensations of them. Thus the student who wants to understand the issues involved in the constant and often bitter conflict that is being waged between the so-called ‘Opportunist Socialist,’ on the one hand, and the so-called ‘Revolutionary Socialist,’ upon the other hand, is now provided with a convenient conspectus of the entire field of controversy.” The book is available online through the Hathi Trust.

In addition to being a founder of Alpha Omicron Pi, she was honored with membership in Phi Beta Kappa. In 1923, she was a founder and the first Secretary of the War Resister’s League. As a member of the Socialist party, she ran many times for office in the state of New York. All her efforts to be elected were unsuccessful.

Alpha Omicron Pi  honors its four founders with named awards. The award named for Hughan recognizes the collegiate chapter deemed the most outstanding for the the two years between conventions.

Jessie Hughan at about the time Alpha Omicron Pi was founded.

Jessie Wallace Hughan, Ph.D. at about the time Alpha Omicron Pi was founded.

© Fran Becque,, 2014. All Rights Reserved. Follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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