#WHM – Harper Lee Embodied Her Panhellenic Creed

Today’s post was written by Christine Barr, a Gamma Phi Beta (Texas State University) who teaches English in Houston, Texas. She is a long time columnist for the Paris Post-Intelligencer. This post appeared in that paper on February 22, 2016 and is on its website at http://bit.ly/1ppBV6W.

Today is also Phi Mu’s Founders’ Day, but an unexpected trip out of town left me without a Phi Mu post. There will be one tomorrow.

At first glance, the passing of Harper Lee might seem a strange place for me to start my annual National Panhellenic Badge Day (March 7) column — but stay with me.

I was teaching my eighth-graders To Kill A Mockingbird when I learned of her death.

On the one hand, she was 89, and by all reports was not in good health, physically or mentally.

On the other, it is hard to lose an artist whose work has meant so much. So, the NPC connection?

Harper Lee was a Chi Omega. She embodied what we hope all sorority members are — caring, compassionate women who use their gifts to better themselves, their communities and their world.

Harper Lee as a college student wearing what might be a Chi Omega badge Photo courtesy of Lyn Harris, Chi Omegas Archivist)

Harper Lee as a college student wearing what is believed to be a Chi Omega badge.  The photo was taken when the image appeared on a television program. The picture taker was Chi Omega’s Archivist, Lyn Harris. 

One reason I am so proud to wear my badge is I know it links me to generations of sorority women who have lived out their creeds.

I remember suffragettes Carrie Chapman Catt, a Pi Beta Phi; Alice Duer Miller, a Kappa Kappa Gamma; Frances Willard, an Alpha Phi; Jessie Wilson Sayre, a Gamma Phi Beta; and Mary Ritter Beard, a Kappa Alpha Theta, who fought for the right of all women to vote.

And Pearl S. Buck, a Kappa Delta, moved people with her writing and philanthropy; Delta Gamma Edith Abbott, who was then the highest ranking woman in the U.S. government, was head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau (1921-1931).

I also remember the first female senator, Sigma Kappa Margaret Chase Smith; photography pioneer and Alpha Omicron Pi Margaret Bourke White; American aviator and one of the first WASP pilots, Mildred Tuttle Axton, Alpha Delta Pi;

Dr. May Agness Hopkins, Zeta Tau Alpha, who was the only woman doctor to serve as a chief of a military zone in World War I; U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1953-1961) and founder of Easter Seals Ivy Baker Priest, a Delta Zeta.

I think of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an Alpha Chi Omega; U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, an Alpha Epsilon Phi;

Trail-blazing astronauts Mary Ellen Weber, Phi Mu, Judith Resnick, Alpha Epsilon Phi, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Sigma Kappa, Jan Davis, Alpha Xi Delta, and Laurel Blair Salton Clark, a Gamma Phi Beta;

Sigma Delta Tau and psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers; historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Delta Delta Delta; Ohio Sen. Patricia Clancy, a Theta Phi Alpha; environmentalist Gwen Frostic, an Alpha Sigma Tau;

Founder of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Lee Ducat, a Delta Phi Epsilon; Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell, a Sigma Sigma Sigma;

Canada’s Minster of Revenue Kerry-Lynne Findlay, an Alpha Gamma Delta; and Dr. S. June Smith, Alpha Sigma Alpha sister and founder of the June Smith Center for Children with Disabilities.

Usually when significant alumnae are being discussed, the conversation centers on the hundreds of sorority women who have become famous in the arts.

Their contributions are valued also, but too often we do not recognize those who serve in less glamorous but still vital roles.

While these women have achieved prominence, there are countless thousands of other sorority women who take the confidence and skills they acquired during their college days and use it, day in and day out, in order to be the living embodiments of their creeds, unknown except to a small community.

They are, however, the best representation of the strength of sisterhood and the power of women united.

I will wear my badge on badge day; but every day, I wear a badge on a ring.

There it sits on my right hand, a constant reminder of the link I share with the four founders of Gamma Phi Beta and the call to live out our creed of love, learning, labor and loyalty every day as I go about my work and relationships.

I hope every sorority woman will join me on March 7 and proudly wear her emblem of sisterhood. We have a goodly heritage, and much yet to do.

I humbly thank all those who have gone before and paved the way for our sororities, and hope the torch will be taken up by our newest members so we may continue to shine for years to come.

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