When Bettie Locke, the first female enrolled at Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and one of five women in her class, was offered a Phi Gamma Delta badge to wear she could have accepted it. The badge would not have come with membership rights and responsibilities nor would it have signified a dating relationship as later tradition would have it.
Had she said “Yes, how kind, thank you,” would Kappa Alpha Theta members be celebrating 148 years of sisterhood today? Maybe, maybe not.
Sometimes it is just one small action that changes everything.
Instead of the badge, the Phi Gamma Delta chapter gave her a silver cake basket, inscribed with the Greek letters “Phi Gamma Delta.” With encouragement and prodding from her father, a Beta Theta Pi alumnus, and her brother William, a Phi Gamma Delta, Locke made plans to start her own fraternity. She and Alice Allen, another female in the first coeducational Asbury class, studied Greek, parliamentary law and heraldry with an eye towards founding a fraternity for women.
On January 27, 1870, 148 years ago today, Locke stood before a mirror and repeated the words of the Kappa Alpha Theta initiation vow she had written. She then initiated Alice Olive Allen, Bettie Tipton, and Hannah Fitch. Five weeks later, Mary Stevenson, a freshman, joined the group. Badges larger than the current Kappa Alpha Theta badges were painstakingly designed by the founders and made by Fred Newman, a New York jeweler. Contrary to popular belief the badge was not patterned after a kite. The original badge was intended to be “something near enough to the Phi Gamma Delta badge to suit Betty Locke and yet slenderized to give it individually,” according to the 1956 history of the organization. The badges were first worn to chapel services by the members of Kappa Alpha Theta on March 14, 1870.
Years later, an Alpha chapter member, Edna Rising wrote of visiting Olive Allen, in whose home two of the Theta founders lived. Allen related that some male students did not want the females to enter any student activity and daubed mud on chapel seats, hung hoop skirts over the lights, and put silly signs up on campus.
Kappa Alpha Theta’s extension was quick. Locke’s father had a friend who was a trustee at Indiana University in Bloomington. The friend had a daughter, Minnie Hannamon, who was college age. In April, a letter was written to Hannamon, and Locke visited Bloomington in early May. On May 18, 1870, Locke installed Kappa Alpha Theta at Indiana University with the initiation of the three charter members, Hannamon, Lizzie Hunter and Lizzie Harbinson.
The next three chapters were short-lived. In December of 1870, a chapter was established at Cincinnati Wesleyan University, an experiment that only lasted six months. A chapter at Millersburg College, a women’s college in Kentucky lasted from April 13, 1871, through January 22, 1872, and one at Moore’s Hill College in Indiana lasted five years.
Northwestern Christian College, today known as Butler University, became home to the Indiana Delta chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta on February 27, 1874. When Kappa Alpha Theta changed the naming system of chapters, it became the Gamma chapter. Two members of the chapter at Indiana University, assisted in the formation of the chapter. The chapter was inactive from February 25, 1886 through November 3, 1906.
The Epsilon chapter at Wooster College was known as Ohio Alpha when it was chartered on May 12, 1875. The chapter ceased to exist in 1913 when the college administration ordered all the fraternities to close.