Alpha Phi – A Society and Chapter House of Its Own

On September 18, 1872, Martha Foote (Crow) visited her friends Clara Sittser (Williams) and Kate Hogoboom (Gilbert), They were students at Syracuse University.  At that time, there was a men’s fraternity at Syracuse. The Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter was founded in 1871. The three friends were discussing the situation and  Martha asked, “Why can’t we have a society as well as the men?”

After pondering the question and seeing that the vision was indeed possible, they invited all the college women to discuss the possibility. Ten women – the original three plus Jane Higham, Clara Bradley (Burdette), Louise Shepherd (Hancock), Florence Chidester (Lukens), Ida Gilbert (Houghton), Elizabeth Grace (Hubbell), and Rena  Michaels (Atchinson) met and pledged allegiance to the sisterhood. Minutes from the first meeting noted that Michaels was chosen president, plans were made for weekly meetings at which literary exercises would be part of the  program, and a 25¢ tax was levied for the purchase of a secretary’s book.  The first debate was “Resolved – that women have their rights.”

Kate Hogoboom. She was the mother of the first Alpha Phi daughter, Ruth Gilbert (Becker(

Kate Hogoboom (Gilbert). She was the mother of the first Alpha Phi daughter, Ruth Gilbert (Becker), also a member of the Alpha Chapter.

At first, the chapter met in the homes of chapter members. Dr. Chidester, Florence’s father, allowed the use of his Irving Avenue home office on Monday evenings. The first chapter room was on Salina Street, over Sager and Grave’s carpet store. The chapter room remained there for six years until it was moved to a suite of rooms on the fourth floor of the Onondaga County Savings Bank Building.

In 1884, the Alpha Phi chapter gave up the meeting rooms it rented in the bank.  Plans were made to rent a house “where the out-of-town girls could live and where one room could be used for a chapter hall.  The experiment proved a success, and at the end of a year it was suggested that the girls build and own a chapter house.”

Jennie Thornburn (Sanford), an 1887 Alpha Phi initiate, recounted the story of Alpha Phi’s chapter house and she gave credit to Grace Latimer (Merrick), for “making practical by figures, by argument and by enthusiasm the possibility of building and owning a house.  At first we thought it a crazy idea; it was certainly novel – no girls had ever owned a chapter house.”

In May of 1886, a 56’ x 178’ lot at 17 University Place was purchased by the members of Alpha Phi for $1,400, or $25 a front foot. A few Alpha Phi fathers acted as a Board of Trustees. A $2,500 bank mortgage was arranged and another Alpha Phi dad loaned the chapter $2,700.  The father of a chapter member was  a building contractor.  He contributed his services and asked the firms with which he dealt to contribute some materials.

An eyewitness described the start of the building process: 

At 2 P.M. June 22, 1886, on the lot opposite the campus of Syracuse University, which had already been purchased by the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi, were held the exercises attending the laying of the corner stone of the first chapter house owned by the society.  Ida Gilbert DeLamater Houghton, ‘76, one of the founders of the organization, struck the gavel upon the unfinished foundation wall.  Carrie Shevelson Benjamin, ‘81, read a paper, at the conclusion of which a song composed by Lydia Thompson ‘83 was sung.  After a short address by Chancellor Sims (an Alpha Phi father), Dr. W. P. Coddington laid the corner stone in the name of the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi.  In closing all joined in a familiar college song and the interesting ceremonies were completed.  This was the first chapter house built by women and the day was the fourteenth anniversary of the founding of the Alpha Phi society.

The Alpha Phi chapter house on University Avenue in Syracuse. It was the first house built and owned by a women's fraternity. The house was sold in 1902 and the chapter moved to its current home on Walnut Place.

The Alpha Phi chapter house on University Avenue in Syracuse. It was the first house built and owned by a women’s fraternity. The house was sold in 1902 and the chapter moved to its current home on Walnut Place.

The chapter moved into its new home in November, 1186.  The chapter hall was dedicated in January, 1887, and on Washington’s birthday, the chapter opened the house to 300 invited guests.  In order to pay the mortgages, “it was decided to have the members make an annual subscription to a house fund, each girl giving what she thought she could afford.  This was done, the largest amount given being fifty dollars.” In 1896, the chapter house was redecorated at a cost of $600.  By 1902, the debts had been paid.  It was time to move again.”

As the house became too small, the Bacon residence on Walnut Park, the home of an Alpha Phi family, became available and it was purchased.  The old chapter house was sold to the university for dormitory use. Thirty women could live in the new house.” That home on Walnut Place is the home in which Alpha Phi still resides.

The home of Alpha Phi's Alpha Chapter at 308 Walnut Place in Syracuse.

The home of Alpha Phi’s Alpha Chapter at 308 Walnut Place in Syracuse.


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