Ninety-three years ago today, First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge was getting ready for an important event. She may have been travelling to Boston or perhaps she was already there, visiting with friends. On the next day, December 12, 1924, she received an honorary degree from Boston University. President Lemuel H. Murlin gave these remarks:
Grace Goodhue Coolidge, student, university graduate, teacher; daughter, wife, mother; in every station exemplifying the finer qualities of mind and heart we most admire in women; your own works praise you; you have gained the confidence, admiration and love of the American people. Upon the recommendation of the university council I have been authorized by the Board of Trustees of Boston University to admit you to the degree of Doctor of Laws.
As the purple velvet doctoral hood was placed on her shoulders, the audience burst into applause. “Her smile of thanks was her only acknowledgement of the honor but it was broad enough to carry appreciation to all,” according to the Associated Press report.
The conferring of the degree took place in the Old South Church in front of 1,100 guests. Among them were some of Mrs. Coolidge’s “Round Robins,” a group of Pi Beta Phi friends who wrote a round robin letter. They began the round robin letter in 1915 after the group traveled to the Pi Beta Phi convention in Berkeley, California and the round robin lasted their entire lives. The round robin was really a series of letters, each written by a participant; the packet of letters was sent from one to another and when it arrived, the recipient would take out her letter and replace it with a new one. All but two of the “Round Robins” were members of the Massachusetts Alpha Chapter at Boston University. The two, Mrs. Coolidge included, were members of the Vermont Beta Chapter at the University of Vermont.
Mrs. Coolidge’s round robin letter from the White House shortly after the presentation was addressed to “Dear Birdies:”
You have to sit and pay attention to me now that I am a full-fledged alumna of your own university. Having felt like a rank outsider when the invitation came from Mr. Murlin to be present at the induction into office of the first Dean of Women and to receive at his hands an honorary degree. But, I want to tell you that I got all wobbly when he announced the magnitude of the degree as I stood before him there in the New Old South Meeting house. And I have not yet recovered. It never occurred to me that I should rise to the heights of Ll.D. I had not given any consideration to the particular degree that would be bestowed upon me but in thinking it over afterwards I decided I very likely expected a new one to be created to fit my case and it seemed to me that D.D. would have been a good one, standing not for Doctor of Divinity, oh no, but for Doctor of Domesticity! The fleeting glimpse of about half our little band was very tantalizing at the tea which followed the induction ceremonies but you who were there will never know how good you looked to me as you gathered on the balcony. My life now seems made of tantalizing glimpses. It is terrible to have to spread out so thin.
President Murlin’s tenure at Boston University ended shortly after he conferred Mrs. Coolidge’s degree. He was a DePauw University alumnus, Class of 1891, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi and Phi Beta Kappa. Ermina May “Mina” Fallass, Ph.D., was a member of the Alpha Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta. A 1882 graduate of Albion College, she earned a Master’s degree at the University of Michigan in 1886. Two years later, she earned a Ph.D. at DePauw University. She, too, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and she studied in Berlin and Paris. She became Dean of Women and a French and English Literature Professor at Cornell College in Iowa. On October 12, 1893, she married Lemuel Herbert Murlin, President of Baker University. From 1911-24, he served as Boston University’s President.
In September of 1924, he was elected President of DePauw University, the first graduate of the University to become President. President Murlin began his duties in February 1925, at the age of 63. One of his many accomplishments at DePauw was lifting a long-standing ban on social dancing. February 13, 1926 was the first ever-all school dance. Dr. Murlin served as a chaperone at the dance. Among his other accomplishments in the three years he was at the helm of the school was the revamping of the athletic situation and the introduction of housemothers into fraternity houses. The former effort brought all athletic activities and physical education classes under the authority of a university department and the latter effort was an attempt to curtail rowdy behavior. He also established a Freshman Week as an orientation for new students. President Murlin resigned in 1928 and he died in 1935. His wife served as First Lady of the three institutions, Baker University, Boston University and DePauw University.