One summer, while visiting one of my offspring who was then gainfully employed at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania, I found myself on a road called Amelia Earhart Drive. That got me to thinking. Would I end up in the middle of nowhere, never to be seen again, if I followed it to the end? Turns out theThiel College has a real connection to the famous aviatrix!
Thiel College traces its history to 1866 when five students, three of them women, enrolled in Thiel Hall, an academy located in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania. In 1870, it moved to Greenville and became Thiel College.
Although Amelia Earhart briefly attended Columbia University, she did not graduate from college. In 1932, Thiel College awarded her an honorary Doctor of Science degree. It was “the first of two she would accept,” said Thiel College President Dr. Earl S. Rudisill in 1937. The other honorary degree was from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
In the 1880’s, Earhart’s grandfather, the Reverend David Earhart, helped organize the Pittsburgh Synod which sponsored the college. Earhart’s father, Edwin S. Earhart graduated from Thiel College in 1886.
In 1937, five months after her plane was lost, Thiel College sought to honor her and started a campaign to raise funds. At that time, Dr. Rudisill was quoted in a Pittsburgh newspaper, “Before her last flight, Miss Earhart flew to Cleveland to meet me and expressed a desire…to do something for Thiel College…Apart from her brilliant accomplishments in the science of flight, her devotion to the interest of young womanhood…was a dominant factor of her life.”
There is a road on the Thiel campus named for her and a large photo of her is on display in Thiel’s Langenheim Memorial Library. In 1982, Thiel established an Amelia Earhart Award to honor women of outstanding achievement.
In keeping with the focus of this blog, Thiel College is home to chapters of NPC organizations Alpha Xi Delta, Chi Omega, Zeta Tau Alpha, and Sigma Kappa. The men’s fraternities on campus are Delta Sigma Phi, Kappa Sigma, Phi Theta Phi, and Sigma Phi Epsilon.
An afterthought, by way of the Kappa Alpha Theta Archivist, Noraleen Young. She told me that Theta’s Alpha Chi Chapter at Purdue University had a connection to Amelia Earhart. From the chapter’s history page:
During the 1930’s, Amelia Earhart was a frequent visitor on the Purdue campus. She had been hired to inspire coeds and encourage them to pursue their own careers. The girls loved her and wanted to be like her. So when they saw Amelia putting her elbows on the table during meals, they went to Dorothy Stratton, the Dean of Women at the time, and asked if they could do that too. She replied, ‘When you fly solo across the Atlantic, you can put your elbows on the table!’