E. Jean Nelson Penfield and Carrie Chapman Catt, Monmouth Duo BFFs?

One of the great joys I’ve had is meeting Greek-Letter Organization Archivists and Historians. We are kindred spirits. It goes without saying that we love our own organization the most, almost as if it was our child. Yet, I, for one, consider the other GLOs as I would my nieces and nephews. Family we all are.

I was elated when Kylie Towers Smith, Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Archivist/Museum Director, sent me this quote one of her summer interns, Cara Bargiacchi, found in studying Jean Nelson Penfield. It was found in the DePauw University Archives on the back cover of a booklet advertising Penfield’s lectures. Of Penfield, Carrie Chapman Catt said, “Mrs. Penfield is a rare personality, queenly in bearing, handsome in feature, dignified. She unites a well-bred intelligence with a natural eloquence, and a thoroughly trained voice. The combination has produced a woman whom all delight to hear and see. Her manners warm and her words convert.”

E. Jean Nelson (Penfield) as a student

E. Jean Nelson (Penfield) as a student.

Eliza Jean Nelson (Penfield), who was born and raised in Greencastle, Indiana, graduated from DePauw University in 1893. While a student, she became a member of the Iota chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. She attended the 1891 Panhellenic meeting in Boston, a precursor to the 1902 founding of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC).

At DePauw, she had an editorial position on The Bema, the college newspaper. She was “always prominent in the literary social and fraternity life of the college. In May of 1892 while yet a junior she won the interstate oratorical contest which was held at Minneapolis After this triumph, as indeed it may well be called for she is the only lady in the history of the IOA who has been awarded a first prize after graduation,” according to a biographical entry she wrote for the Winning Orations of the Interstate Oratorical Contests with Biographies of the Contestants.

Nelson did post-graduate work in New York City. There she studied vocal music and founded the Musical Aid Guild for “poor students of ability which was afterwards absorbed by the Metropolitan Conservatory of Music.” She also “appeared upon the public lecture platform in advocacy of woman suffrage.”

In December 1897, Nelson married Judge William Warner Penfield and moved to New York City.  She was active in church, social and community activities. She was a member of Sorosis, a New York City women’s club, as well as the College Women’s Equal Suffrage League, Daughters of American Revolution, and the Daughters of 1812.

Penfield served as National President of Kappa Kappa Gamma from 1900-02. In 1904, she served as Kappa Kappa Gamma’s NPC Delegate. She was also in attendance at the organizational meeting of the New York City Alumnae Panhellenic.

Penfield was one of seven women who chartered the Woman’s Suffrage Party of Greater New York. At Carrie Chapman Catt’s request she became the New York City Chairman of the Woman’s Suffrage Party. She served in this position from 1910-12. A 1914 issue of The Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma noted that she was  “completing her law course at New York University, and will soon take her examination for entrance to the bar” In 1916, she began the practice of law.

Carrie Lane (Chapman Catt)  enrolled at Iowa State University in the fall of 1876. She was an active member of  the Iowa Gamma Chapter of Pi Beta Phi which was chartered on May 11, 1877, only 10 years after the fraternity’s founding. She was the first initiate after the chapter’s chartering.  Carrie worked at the college washing dishes for nine cents an hour and in the library for ten cents an hour and she worked her way through college. She graduated from Iowa State in 1880 as valedictorian and the only woman in the class.

She utilized her Pi Beta Phi connections. In 1887, she wrote Pi Beta Phi’s Simpson College chapter offering to speak in Indianola, where Simpson College is located. She attended Pi Beta Phi’s 1890 convention in Galesburg and spoke about “The New Revolution.”

Catt was the President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-04 (and 1915-20, too). At that time, Catt lived in the metro New York area and it is without a doubt that Penfield and Catt’s paths crossed often. Penfield and Catt toured the west working for the ratification of the woman’s suffrage amendment.  Together they helped found the League of Women Voters. 

Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt

For more information on Carrie Chapman Catt, an early member of the Pi Beta Phi chapter at Iowa State University, please visit a post I wrote for the Pi Beta Phi blog.  http://piphiblog.org/2012/01/09/chapter-loyalty-day-celebrated-january-9-in-honor-of-carrie-chapman-catt/ To read about her connection to Chi Omega, read a post by guest blogger, Lyn Harris http://wp.me/p20I1i-mw

E. Jean Nelson Penfield (courtesy of DePauw University Archives)

E. Jean Nelson Penfield (courtesy of DePauw University Archives)

© 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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