When I learned that my friend Daphney, the driver of Pi Phi’s Ring Ching Roadshow car would be in Iowa at the same time I would be there, too, I asked if we could quickly meet and have a photo op in front of the P.E.O. Executive Office. After all, Pi Phi and P.E.O. beginnings are intertwined.
Daphney and Libbie had started the trip to Iowa by way of Monmouth, Illinois. In Monmouth, she met with the Illinois Alpha chapter, Pi Phi’s founding chapter. When Pi Phi was founded in April 1867, no one knew it as Pi Beta Phi. Those Greek letters were the organization’s secret motto; the name at that time was I.C. Sorosis.
About a year and a half before I.C.’s founding, in December 1865, the Alpha Alpha chapter of Beta Theta Pi was chartered on the campus of Monmouth College. On June 8, 1868, the Epsilon Epsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi was founded at Iowa Wesleyan University. It was the first national fraternity on the Iowa Wesleyan campus.
From the beginning, the I.C.s were intent on expanding to other institutions. And so it was that thought which compelled Libbie Brook, one of the I.C. Sorosis founders, to leave Monmouth College for the 1868-69 school year. Perhaps encouraged by the Beta Theta Pi men she knew at Monmouth, she enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan University. There on December 21, 1868, at a party given by the Beta Theta Pi men of IWU, the second chapter of I.C. Sorosis made its debut.
Some of the Mount Pleasant women, slightly annoyed at the upstart from across the river who came to IWU and gathered a number of women to form an I.C. chapter, decided to form a society of their own. Franc Roads Elliott, in recollecting the founding of P.E.O., was often less than cordial in her description of Libbie Brook’s action, but I usually read those accounts and chuckle a bit. For in that disdain of what happened that fall of 1868, seven young women founded a sisterhood that has helped women reach for the stars for nearly 150 years. P.E.O. was founded exactly a month after the I.C. chapter at Iowa Wesleyan. The P.E.O. Sisterhood will turn 150 on January 21, 1869. Some women, me included, are a part of both Pi Beta Phi and P.E.O. And for that, I feel very lucky and blessed.
I also discovered a fun fact about Franc Roads Elliott’s daughter Stella that, in a small way, connected her to Monmouth College. The October 1889 Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma told of the marriage of Stella Elliott to “James Canfield, of Columbus, Ohio. The wedding took place in the east where Stella has been with her mother spending the summer, and was a very quiet affair. ” Stella was a member the University of Nebraska chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Coincidentally, James Albert Canfield’s sister Dorothy was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Ohio State University. Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s war work was the subject of an earlier March 2017 post on this blog. Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded in 1870 at Monmouth College.
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