On Its Founding Day, Alpha Xi Delta and Its Connection to the P.E.O. Sisterhood

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 (Gossow), 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, a 25-year-old widow, was the oldest founder.


Cora Bollinger Block


P.E.O. was founded as a collegiate organization at Iowa Wesleyan University on January 21, 1869. Between 1869 and 1902, the P.E.O. members who had been initiated while enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan University stayed active in the college chapter even though they were no longer enrolled in the college. Many remained in or near Mount Pleasant. Others formed chapters in towns and communities where they  moved after graduation. The early P.E.O. chapters that had been formed at nearby schools did not survive and P.E.O.’s growth was in community chapters. The chapter at Iowa Wesleyan University was finding it difficult to operate on a college campus with the rules put forth by the community chapters.

The P.E.O. Chapter at Iowa Wesleyan University had been known as Original Chapter A. It later took on the name A-J to distinguish itself from the Mount Pleasant chapter. It ultimately became known as Chapter S. After the turn of the century, the governing body of P.E.O. made the decision to withdraw the charter of Chapter S. The college co-eds wished to remain a collegiate organization and discussed becoming a chapter of a Greek-letter organization.

The Alpha Xi Delta Chapter at Lombard, having made the decision to become a national organization, and the collegiate members of P.E.O., having decided to become a chapter of a Greek-letter organization, discussed the decisions that needed to be made on both sides if there was to be a resolution to these wishes. Anna Gillis-Kimble, a member of the Alpha Xi Delta Chapter at Lombard College, hailed from Mount Pleasant. Her influence helped the Iowa Wesleyan women make the decision to become the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

On June 9, 1902, the Alpha Xi Delta members entered the Lombard College Chapel wearing their tri-colored ribbons for the first time. The ribbons heralded the fact that they were now a national organization. After chapel, the installing officers made their way to Mount Pleasant.

The installation of Alpha Xi Delta’s second chapter took place at the home of Ellen Ball. Cora Bollinger-Block presided at the installation. Helping her were Ella Boston-Leib*, Alice Barlett-Bruner, Jennie Marriot-Buchanan, Virginia Henney Franklin, Anna Gillis-Kimble, and Edna Epperson-Brinkham.

The Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta, 1904

The chapter roll quickly grew. By 1905, when the Beta Chapter hosted the Third National Convention, there were nine chapters. In addition to the chapters at Lombard and Iowa Wesleyan, chapters had been chartered at Mount Union College,  Bethany College, University of South Dakota, Wittenberg University, Syracuse University, University of Wisconsin and West Virginia University.

In 1913, Iowa Wesleyan University authorities allowed the chapter to initiate the P.E.O. alumnae as Alpha Xi Deltas. Afterwards, the Mount Pleasant Alumnae Club of Alpha Xi Delta was formed.

The only P.E.O. founder to be continuously involved with P.E.O. was Alice Bird Babb. Her daughter Alice Babb (Ewing) was a member of the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta as well as a member of P.E.O. Her daughter’s membership in Alpha Xi Delta may have had a bearing on P.E.O. Founder Alice Bird Babb becoming a member of Alpha Xi Delta. She was initiated into Alpha Xi Delta in 1924, when she was 74 years old. She died in 1926.

This quill is on display at Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

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. 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.

* Ella Boston Leib also served as Alpha Xi Delta’s Grand President, National Panhellenic Conference delegate, and Chairman of  NPC as well as the President of Illinois State Chapter of P.E.O. For more information about this, please take a look at this post http://wp.me/p20I1i-Gz .

© 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/


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