Alpha Omicron Pi was founded on January 2, 1897 at the home of Helen St. Clair (Mullan). She and three of her Barnard College friends, Stella George Stern (Perry), Jessie Wallace Hughan, and Elizabeth Heywood Wyman had pledged themselves to the organization on December 23, 1896. That first pledging ceremony took place in a small rarely used upstairs room in the old Columbia College Library.
Celebrating a Founders’ Day on the second day of the new year proved to be a challenge for the organization, so Alpha Omicron Pi now celebrates Founders’ Day on December 8, Stella’s birthday through January 2 and beyond.
Florence Lucas Sanville, Wyman’s classmate at Bloomfield High School in New Jersey, became an early member of the Alpha Chapter. Before enrolling at Barnard in 1899, she attended the Ethical Culture School of Felix Adler in New York. She took a two-year course in kindergarten teaching.
One of the first issues of To Dragma noted that she “spent the summer at a philosophical camp in the Adirondacks.” She also served as sponsor for Alpha Omicron Pi’s Omicron Chapter at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville when it as installed on April 14, 1902.
In another issue of To Dragma, there was an announcement that since August, 1903, she had been “studying housing conditions in New York. As the result of a competitive examination, she was appointed one of the Tenement House Inspectors of the New York Tenement House Department.” She served in that capacity for two years.
Sanville relocated to Philadelphia where she served as Secretary of the Consumers’ League of Eastern Pennsylvania. There, along with a colleague, she began a research project, living among and working with the women who toiled in the silk mills of Pennsylvania’s coal mining towns. She used her experiences to write magazine articles which were also published as pamphlets.
In 1916 the Bryn Mawr College alumnae of the Classes of 1889-92, helped fund a study of fire prevention in industrial plants employing women in Pennsylvania. The gift to the State Department of Labor and Industry was unusual as it may have been the first time that college women “contributed a fund to a governmental agency for the purpose of protecting women against fire in industrial plants. The field work in this fire prevention study was performed by Miss Fannie Travis Cochran of the class of 1902, Bryn Mawr, and Miss Florence Lucas Sanville, Barnard College class of 1901. Their work under the direction of Commissioner John Price Jackson of the Department of Labor and Industry and the results of their study which extended through several months is published herewith as prepared by the Bryn Mawr committee.”
Sanville was involved in the suffrage movement and she served on a number of social action committees. According to a bio on the Chester County Historical Society’s website, she “served on the Pennsylvania Child Labor Committee, Women’s Trade Union League of Philadelphia, and Friends’ Social Order and Race Relations. She was also Chairman of the Committee on Labor for the Conservation and Welfare of Workers, secretary of the Pennsylvania Committee on Penal Affairs, and member of the board of the Prison Society of Pennsylvania. She served on the board of directors at Mancy Prison for Women.”
As an unmarried woman, she adopted a daughter, in a time and place when that was not a commonplace occurrence. At the age of 91, she published a memoir, The Opening Door. Sanville died in 1971 at the age of 95.
Last night after deciding that Sanville was an intriguing subject for an #amazingsororitywomen hashtag, I discovered that she was recently profiled in a To Dragma article and I encourage you to read it, too. It’s at http://anyflip.com/qzpj/zrck page 22.
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