“When the 17th of April rolls around again the Alpha Xi Delta idea will be eleven years old,” reads an account in the first issue of Alpha Xi Delta of the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority. “The seed planted so carefully by ten brave girls has borne good fruit, and those who have taken their places have been imbued with the motives of the original ten.” Today is the 123rd anniversary of the founding of Alpha Xi Delta.
Alpha Xi Delta was founded at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois on April 17, 1893. Its founders are Cora Bollinger Block, Alice Bartlett Bruner, Bertha Cook Evans, Harriett Luella McCollum, Lucy W. Gilmer, Lewie Strong Taylor, Almira Lowry Cheney, Frances Elisabeth Cheney, Eliza Drake Curtis Everton, and Julia Maude Foster. At age 15, Alice Barlett Bruner was the youngest of Alpha Xi Delta’s founders; Eliza Curtis Everton, a 25-year-old widow, was the oldest founder.
This account of the founding, titled “A Retrospect. Alpha Xi Delta 1893-1903.” appeared in the first volume of Alpha Xi Delta of the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority published in February 1904 (It later took on the name The Quill of Alpha Xi Delta and the organization chose to call itself a women’s fraternity):
Ten years ago it required no small amount of courage to put a sorority in the field of endeavor where Alpha Xi Delta first saw the light. Let us then look over the situation, in brief it was this: two fraternities and one sorority were in operation at Lombard College, Galesburg, Illinois; the sorority was affiliated exclusively with one of the fraternities; the result to the other fraternity is easy of imagination—it was without an organized ally and suffered thereby. It is not an unusual thing to find some of the smaller schools with but one sorority, neither is it always a bad thing, but in the case of Lombard ten years ago the spirit was such as to make us qualify the statement and say simply that the atmosphere was not a happy one. This difficulty originated in the false standard that had in some way been set up. The choosing of new members amounted not so much to a consideration of scholarship and character as to the trivalities of wealth or social attainments. In consequence a class of young women was formed having the opposite attributes and the time seemed ripe for the organization of a local society. This project had the greatest encouragment of the fraternity referred to above, the Delta Theta chapter of Sigma Nu. This fraternity helped the movement on and in the spring of ’93 the air was fairly vibrant with the plans of the budding sorosis.
It reads in the history of the first year of the sorority: ‘The spring of 1893 was a season of mysteries in Lombard. There were strange whisperings and dark councils. There were hurryings to and fro among ten gentle maidens and breathless plannings and hairbreadth escapes from detection.’
Can we not see it all as pictured in these vivid words of our dear sister Frances Cheney? And how we all would like to have been there would we not? Like an old war-horse, scenting the battle from afar, I sympathize with those dear girls and only wish mine had been the honor to be numbered with the ‘council of ten.’
Girls of a type strong, earnest, and enthusiastic were the chosen friends for this work, and it was work, too, because there was no pattern to go by, and the girls had to use their own intuition, coupled with some help from Sigma Nu, to get into a semblance of form and order the ideas and ideals for which they wished to work. Among those of the Sigma Nu who gave help aand encouragement one calls to mind the names of James Alvin Clark, C.W.E. Gossow, Jasper Everton, Ben Downs, Robert Higgins and Joseph Crum. (The first three named are now ministers of the Universalist Church, the last a physician and another a lawyer.)
Alpha Xi Delta did not lack for friends among the “Barbs” or non-fraternity faction of Lombard, for the need of another society for the young women was generally recognized, and it may be well to mention here as an encouraging friend at that time one Richard or “Dick” Brown—now a lawyer in Iowa—a strong “Barb” leader, but who was broad and far-seeing enough to recognize the good another sorority would do.
In her endeavors, Alpha Xi Delta has been singularly blessed with staunch supporters and right good friends among the faculty of Lombard and among the students of no matter what frat politics, and the question arises—what have we done to merit it? and what can we do to bind closer to us our present and past friends and attract and retain those of the future?
These are questions for the individual Alpha girl to ponder in her own heart and the answer will be read in the success of the coming years. No sorority is better than the individuals who compose it; no matter how high may be its ideals, the chapters compose the sorority and the individual members the chapters, and it rests with each and every one of us to make or mar this work we have undertaken.
That our ten charter members worked long and well with the spirit of Caesar’s words, ‘Avt viam miveniam avt faciam’ inspiring them we know and one fine morning, April seventeenth, eighteen hundred ninety-three, the thunderbolt, so to speak, descended and the ten girls walked, none too seriously into chapel wearing on their breasts for the first time our beloved quill and the light and dark blue, ’emblem of undying truth.’ May it be for their followers, as it was for them, a fitting emblem, for indeed they were true blue, those girls; and I think we are all glad that they chose the blue to wave over them as they entered the battle-ground of sorority life. We now have a third color, the gold, added when Alpha Xi Delta became national, and this was necessary as another sorority has the blue also. This, too, is very appropriate for the girls who have worn the blue have proved pure gold.
The cordial reception of the brother fraternity compensated for coldness of the other contingent, and Alpha Xi Delta was fairly launched. Many of the girls can remember the cordial letter of welcome from Sigma Nu that was handed in on the occasion of the first official ‘frat’ meeting. We are dignified now and say ‘sorority’ but to many of us the best name for Alpha Xi Delta will be the pet name of the ‘frat.’
We ought all to realize the bravery of our founders, for it was surely no easy task when those ten young girls took the decisive step, and again I say, all honor and glory be theirs.
Lombard College was founded in 1853 by the Universalist Church and it was coeducational from its beginning. Originally called the Illinois Liberal Institute, its name was changed in 1855, after a fire damaged much of the college. Businessman and farmer Benjamin Lombard gave the college a large gift to build a new building and the institution was named in his honor. Among its students was Carl Sandburg.
In 1902, Iowa Wesleyan College’s Chapter S of the P.E.O. Sisterhood became the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. With this move, Alpha Xi Delta became a national organization, rather than just a local on the Lombard campus, and the P.E.O. Sisterhood became an organization of community adult women. (See http://wp.me/p20I1i-1EP and http://wp.me/p20I1i-9L)
The 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression hit Lombard College extremely hard and the college closed its doors. The last class graduated in 1930. Knox College invited the Lombard students to transfer to Knox, with the same tuition cost as Lombard, and without loss of academic standing. Knox also incorporated the Lombard alumni into the Knox Alumni Association.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. 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/