Phi Mu’s Waupaca Convention and Sigma Phi’s Connection to Lincoln

Phi Mu was founded on January 4, 1852 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. Originally known as the Philomathean Society, it and Alpha Delta Pi, also founded at Wesleyan College, are known as the “Macon Magnolias.” Phi Mu  was founded by Mary DuPont (Lines), Mary Myrick (Daniel) and Martha Hardaway (Redding). In 1852, the founding of the Philomathean Society was publicly announced on March 4, which is now Founders’ Day. On August 1, 1904, the group received a charter from the state of Georgia and was established as Phi Mu Fraternity. The second chapter was founded at Hollins College in 1904. Phi Mu joined the National Panhellenic Conference in 1911.

On June 27, 1916, Phi Mu’s Convention was called to order by the National President, Nellie S. Hart. The first session was devoted to the address of welcome by Iota Chapter at Lawrence College. The chapter was founded in 1914. According to an article in the Lawrence College Bulletin, the charter members of the chapter were “Jennie Fuerstenau, Xena Cade, Katherine Ketchpaw, Lucile and Marietta Walsh, Dora Sharp, Blanche, Ruth and Jennie  Pinkerton and Agnes Herbst. The grand chapter members are Mrs. George Banta,* Menasha, and Miss Ruth Wakeman, Neenah. The patronesses of the Iota Chapter of Phi Mu are Mrs. Rufus Bagg, Mrs. Louis Youtz and Mrs. George Whiting from Neenah. After the installation service, which was held in Menasha, the members of the sorority banqueted at Hotel Menasha.”

Phi Mu chapter room at Lawrence College (courtesy Lawrence University Archives)

Phi Mu chapter room at Lawrence College (courtesy Lawrence University Archives)

The 1916 convention took place at Waupaca, about 45 miles from Appleton Wisconsin, the chapter’s home. The first session also included the response by the National President, the presentation of credentials, the reading of recommendations, the appointment of committees, and announcements.

Iota Chapter’s welcome address as given by Iota charter member Xena Cade:

It is my privilege and pleasure to greet the chapters of Phi Mu as represented in Convention, in the name of Iota Chapter. I think we have all felt the warmth of the welcome with which not only Iota has greeted the delegates, but which every Phi Mu here has extended to every other Phi Mu. We have already come to feel the spirit of fraternity, of love, and of whole-hearted cooperation which everyone has brought to Waupaca. lota is glad to welcome the Fraternity if not to her home, at least to her picnic ground. We’re proud of Wisconsin, we’re proud of Waupaca – and we’re proud of our Fraternity, so we take great pleasure in introducing the one to the other. We don’t know what the name Wisconsin has meant to you in the past, but henceforth we want the memory of Wisconsin to be one of your pleasantest thoughts. It is a significant fact that this convention of 1916 is at the home of one of the farthest north chapters; that a Fraternity founded in the south, and limited to the south for so many years, has slowly but surely extended its influence so that today a convention in one of the north central states is a place centrally located. For this development it is fitting that we turn to our national officers and grand council in grateful appreciation and loving recognition of their labors in putting Phi Mu in the front rank of college fraternities for women. But even more must we turn to our active and alumnae members for the work of keeping Phi Mu standards high; it is a truism that a fraternity is judged by its individual members. Wherever a girl wears a Phi Mu pin, whether it be in home circles, in the office or the class room, there she represents her Fraternity. That’s a challenge! We are Phi Mus. Henceforth we’re living not for ourselves but for Phi Mu! And it’s to receive inspiration for that living, as well as to shape our national policies that we, delegates of chapters of Phi Mu, are here in Convention assembled. Again lota welcomes you to Waupaca!

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Here is National President Nellie Hart’s response to the welcome address:

Ten years ago in this glorious month of June was held at Jamestown,
Virginia, the First National Convention of Phi Mu. To some of us, dates are a mere matter of passing notice, but certainly to all of us who are bound together in Phi Mu, these days in June, 1906, should be most significant. They mark the beginning of our real national life, the life, which, in this last decade, has been so full to overflowing with varied interests, so much a change and interchange of ever-widening activity and so strenuous a conflict for the upbuilding of an even brighter future. Were Phi Mu to be taken seriously ill, the most eminent specialist or the least known country doctor would pronounce with one accord that we were suffering from a complete nervous breakdown. The immediate remedy would be rest, recreation and sunshine. That explains to you why you are here, why it is our splendid privilege to be holding our Sixth National Convention in this most wonderful State in the Union – the State where one is sure to find rest, recreation and sunshine. You are sure to find rest, because where sixty or seventy girls are gathered together rest does abound, and then – the lights in the respective ‘Mansions of the Almighty’ go out at twelve. You are sure to find recreation, because companionship with one’s own people always brings that, and then – at these meetings where we shall gather to talk and listen and talk again, you will find the most stimulating recreation. The sunshine is all about us; outside, it flickers through the leaves of the trees and dances lightly on the Chain O’ Lakes, and inside, we have only to glance up and around to find little truant patches of it peeping through the many crevices of this Amusement Hall. Almost it seems as though the little flocks of sunshine wish to scatter their tonic blessing of radiance on our assembly. We are here for work and for play, and, in the days to come, make room for all of both that you can. Let this Convention prove a time of great privilege and a season for the renewal of enthusiasm – not the transient enthusiasm of today and the few tomorrows that we may enjoy together, but a lasting enthusiasm that yon may take home with you to be preserved and cherished as your especial heritage.

Nellie Hart

Nellie S. Hart

* The first Mrs. George Banta, nee Lillian Vawter, was a charter member of the Delta Gamma chapter at Franklin College. She was initiated by her fiance, George Banta, the only man to be an initiated member of Delta Gamma (that story is at http://wp.me/p20I1i-AS). George and Lillie had a son and were married for four years before she died. On June 16, 1886, Banta married Ellen Lee Pleasants from Tidewater, Virginia. I am not sure if Ellen Lee Pleasants Banta was an initiate of Phi Mu. If she was initiated while in college, she could have only been initiated into one chapter, the original Philomathean Society chapter at Wesleyan College. I am not sure if she was perhaps an alumna initiate. If anyone can solve this puzzle, please let me know.

***

The Sigma Phi Society was founded at Union College on March 4, 1827, It is the second of the three fraternities founded at Union College, the Union Triad. Its four founders include brothers Thomas F. and John T. Bowie, T.S. Witherspoon, and Charles T. Cromwell. The first three were southerners. The brothers hailed from Maryland and Witherspoon from Alabama. Cromwell was from Mosquito Cove, New York.**

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Sigma Phi was the first fraternity to expand to another campus. That happened in 1831 when the chapter at nearby Hamilton College was established. 

Henry Reed Rathbone was a member of Sigma Phi at Union College. Rathbone has a distinct place in American history. Rathbone and his fiance Clara Harris accepted a last minute invitation to attend a play at Ford’s Theater with President and Mrs. Lincoln on April 14, 1865. The invitation was issued after General Grant and his wife, the original theater companions, were unable to get to Washington. Rathbone was the first to go after John Wilkes Booth and had his arm severely slashed in the process. The events of that night at Booth’s Theater remained with Rathbone and cast a dark pall over his life.

**As a native New Yorker, I never heard of from Mosquito Cove. Mosquito Cove is how the town’s original name of Musketa Cove came to be known. The town is now Glen Cove, on Long Island’s north shore.

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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