Thirty years ago, I left three young children, ages four and under, with my husband and travelled to New Orleans for my first Pi Beta Phi convention. I was apprehensive about sharing a room with a complete stranger, but she was and remains delightful and I treasure her friendship all these decades later.
It’s difficult to describe a sorority convention. Old friends greeting one another. The quick spark of new friendships being made. The laughter. The tears. The excitement of so many women in one place.
The shoes! Why a sorority convention is the perfect opportunity to change shoes two or three times a day is an unstudied question. It just is. This morning, my roommate at last summer’s Leadership Institute remarked that she had to bring a carry on with nothing but shoes in it. Her husband did not understand how five days away necessitated a full carry on of shoes. I remarked that she was in contention for the Olivia Smith Moore Award for Shoe Choices at Convention.
Olivia Smith Moore served Pi Beta Phi as an officer for more than three decades. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri. From 1936-46, she served as a Province Vice-President. She then served as Treasurer of the Settlement School Committee until 1951. The Committee was charged with overseeing the work of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. In 1952, she was elected Grand Treasurer and served in that position until 1967. At the 1967 Centennial Convention, she was named Grand Treasurer Emerita. She often began her Grand Treasurer’s convention reports with the phrase, “We took in scads and we spent oodles.” Despite the joking, “Miss Olivia,” as she was known in the fraternity, kept a very careful eye on the organization’s funds. During her years of service, her Neiman Marcus shoe collection became legendary. Pi Beta Phi convention delegates considered it a treat to see the more than three dozen pairs of shoes she usually took to convention lined up on a chest of drawers in her hotel room.
Miss Olivia’s shoe collection is on display at the Ace of Clubs House in Texarkana, Texas. See https://www.arkansas.com/attractions/detail/ace-of-clubs-house/18841.
In the summer of 1867, the founders attended the first convention at Fannie Thomson’s home in Oquawka, Illinois. The organization began on April 28 so the membership during that summer was about 15 or so. The convention was really more of a get together, but matters were decided upon and so it begins our list of conventions. The Mississippi River was visible to the attendees at that first convention and it is visible to those who attend this special convention.
Each summer there are sorority conventions and I encourage further study of the shoe question.