Jennie Nicol, M.D., Pi Beta Phi Founder, #amazingsororitywomen

I hear there is a big Pi Beta Phi celebration in the works – #PiPhi150. The receptionist at Pi Phi’s Headquarters is a Monmouth College alumna and the last time I was there, she shared with me a recent Monmouth College magazine. In it was an article written by the magazine’s editor, Jeff Rankin. He is also the college historian. I thank him for allowing me to share this article.

Global Health Pioneer

By Jeff Rankin, Editor and Historian

When the first collegiate fraternity for women was founded at Monmouth College in 1867, women were not even admitted to many American colleges, so the 12 female founders of the organization can truly be considered trailblazers.

It’s interesting to note that this year’s launch of the Monmouth College Global Public Health Triad coincides with the 150th anniversary of Pi Beta Phi’s founding. One of those founders would go on to further defy gender stereotypes of the 19th century, becoming not only a medical doctor, but also one who practiced her craft globally. Jennie Nicol, Class of 1868, would certainly have embraced Monmouth College’s new Global Public Health Triad, had it been offered a century and a half ago.

The second of four children, Jennie was born Rachel Jane Nicol in 1845 in Edgington, Ill., to Presbyterian parents who had emigrated from Ohio. She was brought up on a farm near Little York. Her older brother, Drennan, drowned in the Mississippi, while her youngest brother, David, died in the Civil War. Of her three brothers, only William would survive, becoming a successful farmer in Warren County.

In 1861, when she was only 16, Jennie’s father died. On Aug. 20, 1864, her brother David was among eight members of Company C, Illinois 83rd infantry who were killed by Confederate guerillas while they were patrolling near Fort Donelson in Tennessee. That fall, Jennie enrolled at Monmouth College with her childhood friend, Emma Brownlee, who grew up on a farm two miles down the road. Jennie enrolled in the Scientific Program and excelled in her studies. Perhaps growing up with three brothers made her yearn for a sister, and that she found in Emma Brownlee, who would become a lifelong friend and confidant. Perhaps it was the desire for sisterhood that led both Jennie and Emma to become founding members of I.C. Sorosis during their junior year.

After graduating from Monmouth, Jennie returned to the family farm, while Emma married Dr. J.C. Kilgore, a Civil War veteran who had been confined for three months in Confederate prisons at Vicksburg and Jackson, Miss. Although Jennie remained at home, it is clear that her ambitions were to enter the field of medicine. When Emma’s father died of cholera in August 1873, the Brownlee home was considered a pesthouse and no one would come to comfort the family—no one except Jennie Nicol. Then Emma was stricken with the disease and when no one but her husband thought she could live, Jennie helped Dr. Kilgore nurse her back to health.

It may have been during this time that Dr. Kilgore encouraged Jennie to enter medical school, lending her some of his textbooks. The first women were admitted to medical schools in 1850, but even by the 1870s it was extremely rare for women to study medicine. Dr. Kilgore convinced Jennie to enroll at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. In fact, he and Jennie both encouraged Emma to enroll with her, but she eventually decided against it.

Emma would later recall how dedicated Jennie was to her profession. “She loved it,” Emma said. “She loved work. She was very thorough in district school and in college. She wanted to know—no guess work. She despised a sham—had little use for a poor student. No woman ever entered the profession with a nobler purpose. In that day you know it was not popular for a woman to enter professional life. She was determined to be the equal of her brothers in the profession. She used to say, ‘I think we should have women physicians and I have an ambition to show the men what a woman can do.’”

According to Emma, when Jennie left for Philadelphia, she wore her I.C. arrow pin. “She was very proud of her arrow and was a faithful member,” Emma recalled. “I think it meant much to her—she had no real sister…Laughingly she said, ‘I wonder if they will know in the East what I.C. means.’”

In its early days, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania faced serious opposition from the male medical establishment. Women were said to be too feeble-minded to succeed in the demanding arena of academic medicine and too delicate to endure the physical requirements of clinical practice. One of the most serious barriers to the success of the college was the lack of clinical experience available to its students and interns because area hospitals would not allow women to attend lectures or to treat patients. These prejudices surface in the following letter, written to Emma three weeks after her arrival in Philadelphia:

Dear Emma:

I am highly pleased with the Medical College so far as matters have come within the range of my comprehension. Some of the professors make themselves quite intelligible and others have given five or six lectures, without using a single word by means of which we could gain the slightest clue to enable us to guess what they were talking about and all this after being told the subject of the lectures. The professor in Physiology, after the quiz on yesterday, complimented the class on the amount of information acquired, saying we might consider ourselves fortunate, if in all this time we had been able to grasp a single idea, also adding that ideas were very scarce—a statement which I was not slow to believe. But after manifesting to their seeming satisfaction their ability to handle the isms and ologies of the day they (the professors) are gliding down to a plane in which such befogged beings as myself can now and then catch a familiar word. The most absurd of all things is the coming away here to attend a Woman’s Medical College and then attend clinics with five or six tallow-brained, dough-faced specimens of the genus homo, from Jefferson Medical College. I fail to see in what way fifty or a hundred would be worse than five. I have taken such a fancy to surgery that you need not be surprised to hear of my making that branch of the profession a speciality.

Two weeks later, Jennie wrote:

Dear Emma:

My boarding place is just three doors from the college. I have at present two roommates, one a lady from Chicago, the other from Indiana. The present arrangement is not a permanent one. I expect to have a room alone after the close of the Centennial. The house accommodates 21 boarders. This is my third place and I am talking of changing again, but have not fully decided that I will. Where I am we must go 2½ miles to the Pennsylvania Hospital one day in the week, also 1½ miles to church.

I have not been very busy yet. I have concluded to spend the winter on Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology; I have not begun dissecting, as the material on hand did not present a very attractive appearance; I am waiting for cool weather, and until some unfortunate victim sees his way clear to devote his mortal remains to the advancement of science. R.J. Nicol

After graduating from the medical college, Jennie spent a year interning in Boston at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, the first hospital in the nation to offer obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics within a single facility. The hospital was established in 1863 with a three-fold purpose: “To provide for women medical aid of competent physicians of their own sex; to assist educated women in the practice and study of medicine; and to train nurses for the care of the sick.”

In May 1879 Jennie wrote to Emma:

The New England Hospital is delightfully located in Boston Highlands, on an eminence from which the city and its numerous suburbs can be viewed. I have seen very little of the city yet. Have been out twice since I came, which I do not consider a great cross as I did not come on a visit. The hospital is not connected with any medical school nor is it a charity hospital (except a few endowed beds which may be occupied by free patients) hence the class of people with which we work is quite different from that ordinarily met in hospital work. I am to spend my first four months in the surgical wards and have already become deeply interested in my patients. Each Dr. is expected to visit the patients under her care before breakfast, dinner, and supper, also again in the forenoon with the chief of the hospital. After supper each one reports to the chief physician the condition of her patients. Each puts up her own medicines also. Tuesdays and Fridays are set apart for surgical operations.

In December, Jennie wrote to Emma:

You ask how I like my profession. My reply is, the more I know of the principles upon which its practice is founded, the deeper becomes my interest in, and the greater my admiration for it. My great lamentation is that I did not begin the study ten years sooner than I did. I am and have been since Nov. 1st in the Dispensary connected with the New England Hospital. We have clinics every forenoon, and while away our afternoons and alas too many of our nights visiting patients at their homes. It is especially interesting to be called up at 1 or 2 in the night, when the horse cars are not running, and find a walk of from one to three miles before you, with the inspiration of a pouring rain or a terrific snowstorm to spur you on, but then every rose has its thorn, we are told, but know ’tis false.

With love to yourself and kind regards to inquiring friends, I am, your friend, R.J. Nicol.

Jennie’s lifelong yearning for adventure continued following her internship, as she boarded a ship and traveled to Germany and Holland before ending up at the University of Zurich, where she would continue her medical studies. She wrote to Emma in December of 1880:

Am I attending the university? Yes, I am attending two lectures daily and the remainder of the time I am devoting to clinics and the hospital; I am also having practical work in the pathological laboratory, three hours every Friday. With earnest desire for your welfare, I am, sincerely yours, R.J. Nicol.

Three months after writing that letter, Jennie lay stricken with pneumonia in the Zurich hospital. Although she was able to shake off this disease, she eventually contracted meningitis. When a nurse bent over her and asked if she knew that she could not get well, for the first time her face showed emotion, her chin trembled and the tears came. With Jennie in her last illness in the Zurich hospital was a fellow student, also an American, Dr. Ellen F. Powers. Dr. Powers made her body ready for burial and return to Little York, where late in April 1881, Jennie was laid to rest. As her cousin Matthew Jamison would later write, “In due course her remains went by rail to the seaboard, then across the solemn main homeward bound, and by rail once more, a long journey, to the lonely churchyard on the hill, on Cedar Creek.”

Jennie Nicol, M.D.

What was it about Jennie that made her so ambitious and successful in an era when women were expected to be wives and mothers? According to Jamison, “Rachel’s was a reserved, kindly, well-poised personality, manifesting a certain mental solidity and strength of character.”

But she also had strong feminine traits, according to Emma Brownlee, who wrote, “To strangers she was cold, dignified, almost exacting, but that was not her real character. She was kind and loving and very helpful to others and went about doing good.”

Although her body lay in a lonely grave in a remote churchyard, Jennie’s spirit continued healing patients into the 20th century. In 1922, Pi Beta Phi established a public health clinic on the campus of its settlement school in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The clinic was dubbed the Jennie Nicol Memorial Health Center and served the health care needs of Gatlinburg residents, as well as neighboring communities, for the next 43 years.

Jennie Nicol Memorial Hospital (Health Center), Pi Beta Phi Settlement School. Gatlinburg, TN, circa 1922

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On Tri Sigma’s Founding Day, the Convention of 1909

When the Sixth Annual Convention of Sigma Sigma Sigma was held in September of 1909, the Hotel Patten in Chattanooga was only about a year old. The site of the convention was dedicated in 1908. 

Tri Sigma, which was founded on April 20, 1898, at the State Female Normal School in Farmville, Virginia (now Longwood University), was but 11 years old. A report in The Triangle noted, “It was a great pity that every Sigma Sigma Sigma could not have
been present, for it was the most enthusiastic and inspiring and successful convention ever held. The people of Chattanooga displayed much friendly interest towards the convention.” The Chattanooga Times said, “Chattanooga had a real genuine girls’ sorority in its midst, the first of its kind ever held in our city.”

Delegates from six chapters were in attendance, along with the presiding officers and several alumnae. On Monday, September 6, “a very informal reception was held, at which all the girls became known to one another.” It was followed by the first business session.

The formal opening of convention took place on Tuesday morning, at nine-thirty, with a welcoming address given by Bess Brower, the organization’s second National President. Her talk was “one of great inspiration and much well-chosen advice to the convention.”
She asserted that after a woman becomes a member, it was “the bounden duty of each member to stand by her; to try to make her happy as a Sigma Sigma Sigma, and to try to make her become a true Sigma Sigma Sigma.”

Bess Brower (Willis)

After the talk, the delegate had an informal discussion on  “The Purpose.” The delegates came up with the following statements:

Alpha—Our purpose should be to make of ourselves that which we wished to become in joining an order we did not help to build, and that the order helps those who help themselves.

Gamma—The purpose to the individual is to add honor to the whole, and to uphold its standards.

Delta—The purpose is to promote ideal friendships between college girls, and the convention should advance methods by which this can best be obtained.

Epsilon—The purpose of a chapter in college is that it may be a source of help in trouble as a family is at home; in which sympathy may bring together girls of social, intellectual and moral equality, and prove its worth to be of such value that every one in college will respect it as an order.

Alpha Delta—Having studied the advance of many sororities, the purpose is to impress all with the necessity of following upright methods; to band together and fight for clean methods through better or worse.

Sigma Phi—The purpose is to find the best girls in each college and to stand by them.

After these points were made, the National President affirmed that the “unselfish purpose was the only real way in which to improve your college, to develop your own characters, and that that which really counted in a sorority was that which added to your characters some undeveloped goodness.” National Secretary Emma Moffett made “a strong plea in that as much as we put into our sorority life the more we gain from it; that we should try to make of it what we would be an example of, and, above all, to try to live above small disagreements.” Anna Mae Kanouse spoke about individuality, “inasmuch as the most good could be obtained by following our own teachings rather than trying to outstrip other sororities in college, in college politics, in great numbers, etc.; that such rivalry should not exist between sororities as sororities, but between individuals as college mates.” The discussion was followed by the “singing our oldest and most familiar sorority songs.”

Thursday’s activities included a trip to Lookout Mountain, and an automobile ride around Missionary Ridge.  A banquet later that evening in the hotel’s Red Room closed the convention. “After the chant and our yell had been lustily given the convention of 1909 came to an end, but a more enthusiastic, more hopeful was never held.” A delegate reported they had been “treated like queens by the Hotel Patten management, and we are not anxious to say good-bye to the hostelry.”

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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 .

© Fran Becque,, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest


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Happy Founders’ Day, Triangle and FarmHouse Fraternities!

Acacia, FarmHouse and Triangle Fraternities are the only members of the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) that do not use Greek-letters. The latter two celebrate Founders’ Day on the same day. What’s also interesting to note is that both were formed for students in certain majors. In FarmHouse’s case it was agriculture. For Triangle it was engineering. Both organizations have since expanded membership eligibility criteria.

FarmHouse was founded on April 15, 1905 at the University of Missouri. D. Howard Doane, one of the seven founders, conceived the idea for the fraternity. The other founders are Melvin E. Sherwin, Robert F. Howard, Claude B. Hutchinson, Henry H. Krusekopf, Earl W. Rusk, and Henry P. Rusk. The young men were attending a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Bible study in the spring of 1905. They discussed organizing a club and renting a house so that they could live together. It was Doane who envisioned a “farmers club,” and developed a plan. A second chapter was formed at the University of Nebraska in 1911 and a third chapter was chartered at the University of Illinois in 1914.

At the 1978 Conclave, the fraternity revised its membership criteria to include students whose subjects of study “can be applied toward a degree in agriculture or related fields, or he has a rural background, or he shares an agricultural interest; or he demonstrates qualities of character, scholarship and professional excellence to which FarmHouse men aspire.”

The Illinois Chapter of FarmHouse was the fraternity’s third chapter. It was founded in 1914.

Triangle Fraternity was founded at the University of Illinois in the fall of 1906.  It celebrates Founders’ Day on April 15, the date in 1907 on which the Incorporation papers were granted by the state of Illinois. Sixteen civil engineering students conceived the idea to foster fellowship while in college and later as working professionals. Triangle’s founders are Edwin B. Adams, Wilbur G. Burroughs, Stanley G. Cutler, Ruby O. Harder, Theron R. Howser, Robert Emmett Keough, Thomas E. Lowry, Milton H. McCoy, Meryl S. Morgan, Ernest B. Nettleton, Raymond C. Pierce, Franklin N. Ropp, Arthur Schwerin, Charles M. Slaymaker, Charles E. Waterhouse, and Emil A. Weber.

Triangle became a national organization when similar groups at Purdue University and Ohio State were installed as Triangle Fraternity chapters in 1909 and 1911, respectively. At first, membership was limited exclusively to civil engineering students. In 1920, architecture and all engineering majors were added by a national referendum. In 1961, science students in chemistry, mathematics, and physics became eligible for membership. In 1981, computer science was added to the list.

Triangle Fraternity’s headquarters is in Plainfield, Indiana. It was originally built in 1912 as the town’s Carnegie Library. In 1968, when a new library was constructed, this old library was turned into a private home. In 1991, Triangle purchased the property and turned it into its Headquarters. It’s a headquarters I’d love to visit.

Triangle Fraternity Headquarters, Plainfield, Indiana.

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Speeding Through April in Iowa and Kansas

I’ve been AWOL. It’s the 12th of April and there has only been one post for Chi Omega’s Founders’ Day. There are several other NPC Founders’ Days coming along and I hope to commemorate those as well.

Where have I been and what have I been doing? I’ve been working on projects and visiting family, with limited internet access. Here are some highlights of the last two weeks.

Libbie, Pi Phi’s Ring Ching Roadshow car, visited the P.E.O. Executive Office in Des Moines, Iowa.

When I knew my friend Daphney Bitanga and Libbie the Pi Phi car would be in Iowa the same time as I was going to be there, we made plans to meet in front of the P.E.O. Executive Office in Des Moines. The early years of Pi Phi and P.E.O. are intertwined so it was fitting that Libbie the car visit the organization that was founded after the real Libbie, Libbie Brook (Gaddis) organized Pi Phi’s second chapter at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant in December 1868. A month later, on January 21, 1869, seven Iowa Wesleyan students founded P.E.O.

My trip included a short stay in Lawrence, Kansas. One of the first places I wanted to visit was Weaver’s ( It’s been in business since 1857. As I climbed the stairs to the second and third floors, I could envision the founders of the Pi Phi (1873), Kappa Alpha Theta (1881), and Kappa Kappa Gamma (1883) chapters climbing those same stairs, two centuries ago. Honestly, it was a throwback to another era, with salespeople greeting me as I walked through the floors, asking if I needed help. If you are ever in Lawrence, be sure to visit Weaver’s.

The plaque outside Weavers store in Lawrence, Kansas.

I also found Fraser Hall on the University of Kansas campus. It is named for John Fraser who served as the Chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1867-74. He has a place in Pi Phi history for he gave a name to the organization’s oldest tradition. At an 1873 social gathering to honor Sara Richardson for her role in the founding of the chapter at Kansas, he dubbed the event a “Cookie Shine.” The name delighted the women and it has become a beloved part of Pi Phi events. Nearly every Pi Phi who was initiated has taken part in a Cookie Shine. 

At Fraser Hall, I came upon this bench. It commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Kansas Alpha chapter of Pi Beta Phi.

The bench commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pi Beta Phi chapter at the University of Kansas. 

As I was leaving Fraser Hall, I saw the Chi Omega Fountain. Here is the description from the University of Kansas website:

The fountain was authorized in October 1952 as a memorial to alumnae on the 50th anniversary of the founding of Lambda chapter at KU. Students, alumni and friends donated about $5,000 to the construction fund; the balance of the $11,800 cost was contributed by KU Endowment’s Elizabeth M. Watkins Fund.

James L. Bass, then a student of professor and sculptor Elden C. Tefft, won a competition to design plaques embodying aspects of the Eleusinian myth that were to surround the octagonal tank: an owl; the figure of Hades; a pomegranate; Persephone and Hades; wheat; Demeter and Persephone; carnations; and a gift plaque.

The Indiana limestone fountain is based on one at a manor in Northumberland, England; the pool is 12 feet in diameter, and three spigots spill water into a bowl mounted on the 7-foot shaft above the octagonal tank. It was fabricated by Erkins Studios of New York and dedicated April 23, 1955.

The Chi Omega Fountain in front of the Chi Omega chapter house.

In touring one of the neighborhoods, I saw a great big Omega and then a Chi, followed by an Alpha. As my mind was trying to determine which organization started with Omega Chi, I realized that I was looking at the letters from the backside. Once we passed the sign, I realized that it was the Alpha Chi Omega house. And I laughed and laughed at myself.

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On Chi Omega’s Founders’ Day, Another #amazingsororitywoman

Chi Omega was founded on April 5, 1895 at the University of Arkansas. Ina May Boles, Jean Vincenheller, Jobelle Holcombe, and Alice Simonds, with guidance from Fayetteville dentist, Dr. Charles Richardson, a Kappa Sigma, created the organization. Dr. Richardson was known as “Sis Doc” to generations of Psi Chapter members (the founding chapter at Arkansas is known as the Psi Chapter) and he is counted as a founder. He crafted Chi Omega’s first badge out of dental gold. I think it’s a safe bet to say that Chi Omega is the only National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organization to have its first badge crafted out of dental gold.

Original Chi Omega badge crafted in dental gold by “Doc Sis.”

Within the past few weeks, I posted an article from O, The Oprah Magazine. It was about the March 26, 1987 tragedy that happened to the women of the Chi Omega University of Mississippi chapter as they were participating in a chapter philanthropy. As I was compiling that post, my mind went to two other Chi Omega tragedies. One took place at Florida State University while I was living in the Pi Phi chapter house at Syracuse. The other took place in Amherst, Massachusetts when we were living there. 

The Florida State murders involved serial killer Ted Bundy and the tragedy received national press. Granted that was before we were a society with news available 24/7. I remember my chapter sisters reading the newspaper and watching the six o’clock news to get information about the murders. After all, we were living in a chapter house much like the one at Florida State. We were carefree college students and we did not want to think about the tragedies that happened to others. Signs about keeping the house locked at all times began appearing on the doors and bathroom mirrors. 

January 15, 1978, is a divider page in the memories of the Chi Omegas who were members of the Florida State chapter at that time. It was in the early morning hours that Bundy, a cunning and deeply troubled serial killer, entered the chapter house. Without anyone hearing anything out of the ordinary, he killed two women, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, and nearly killed two others who were left with serious injuries. 

In the aftermath, during the month when Bundy was on the loose, and while the chapter was grieving and trying to support the women who were nearly murdered, Diane McCain’s plan for her life changed. She would spend the rest of her life being an advocate for victim’s rights. She had not entered FSU with that goal. She comes from a long-line of Pi Phis, but she felt at home with the Chi Omegas. That decision shaped and defined her life. The friends she made and the situations she experience could not have been imagined when she signed her bid card. 

When the case came to trial, Bundy acted as his own attorney and he took great delight in intimidating the witnesses. McCain refused to play his game and was steadfast in her resolve to see justice done. She is truly an #amazingsororitywoman. Please read the Tallahassee Woman article about her. It starts on page 29.


I would be remiss if I did not mention Sharon Galligan, the University of Massa­chusetts Chi Omega who was murdered when we lived in Amherst. She was a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in Spanish. She went to the local mall on December 18, 1989, just before the stores closed. She was stabbed a dozen times as she returned to her car and her body was stuffed into the car so that her legs were visible near the headrest. It took the better part of the next day for someone to realize that there was something horribly wrong. No one was ever brought to trial for the murder. Four years after the murder, the prime suspect took his own life in a motel as police were closing in on him. He admitted to the murder early on to his then wife, and he confessed in his suicide note. I was a young mother then and I can still remember how absolutely awful I felt for her parents and sorority sisters. I recall that she had a frozen yogurt in the car that she had bought for one of her sorority sisters and it was still there frozen in the car. Had we been a cell phone society back then she might still be alive. Likely no one out of the New England area even heard of her murder. But I am sure that for all the Chi Omegas who were in the chapter at that time, Sharon Galligan’s murder is a divider page in their memories.

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Knitting for the Navy League During World War I

For Women’s History Month 2017, I’ve tried to highlight the service of sorority women during World War I. For the women who could not go abroad, there were things to do here at home, as this picture illustrates. The headline to the article is “Knitting for the Navy League.”

The accompanying article stated:

An organization, one of many which are knitting for the Navy league, Des Moines division, is the one composed of past presidents of Chapter Q, P.E.O.  As the name implies the members have all served the chapter as president….It is the intention of the organization to meet once each month for a knitting and a picnic luncheon, the next meeting to be at the home of Mrs. Bertha D. Smith. Many of the members are expert knitters and some have already completed the three articles asked by the Navy league – the sleeveless sweater, the wristlet and the muffler. Mrs. Walter McHenry, who knitted when a girl, has completed the three articles and acts as an instructor to the beginners.

Mrs. Walter McHenry was Louisa Carolina Cummins McHenry, better known as Lou C. McHenry. She served as Iowa State Chapter President of P.E.O.  from 1913-14.  Her son, Captain Harrison Cummins McHenry, of Company B 168th US Infantry, was killed on March 5,  1918, in France. He was Iowa’s first commissioned officer to die in the war. The city of Des Moines named a park in his memory.

Courtesy of Des Moines Parks Department


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When My Worlds Collide

When I learned that my friend Daphney, the driver of Pi Phi’s Ring Ching Roadshow car would be in Iowa at the same time I would be there, too, I asked if we could quickly meet and have a photo op in front of the P.E.O. Executive Office. After all, Pi Phi and P.E.O. beginnings are intertwined.

Daphney and Libbie had started the trip to Iowa by way of Monmouth, Illinois. In Monmouth, she met with the Illinois Alpha chapter, Pi Phi’s founding chapter. When Pi Phi was founded in April 1867, no one knew it as Pi Beta Phi. Those Greek letters were the organization’s secret motto; the name at that time was I.C. Sorosis.

About a year and a half before I.C.’s founding, in  December 1865, the Alpha Alpha chapter of Beta Theta Pi was chartered on the campus of Monmouth College. On June 8, 1868, the Epsilon Epsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi  was founded at Iowa Wesleyan University. It was the first national fraternity on the Iowa Wesleyan campus.

From the beginning, the I.C.s were intent on expanding to other institutions. And so it was that thought which compelled Libbie Brook, one of the I.C. Sorosis founders, to leave Monmouth College for the 1868-69 school year. Perhaps encouraged by the Beta Theta Pi men she knew at Monmouth, she enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan University. There on December 21, 1868, at a party given by the Beta Theta Pi men of IWU, the second chapter of I.C. Sorosis made its debut.

Some of the Mount Pleasant women, slightly annoyed at the upstart from across the river who came to IWU and gathered a number of women to form an I.C. chapter, decided to form a society of their own. Franc Roads Elliott, in recollecting the founding of P.E.O., was often less than cordial in her description of Libbie Brook’s action, but I usually read those accounts and chuckle a bit. For in that disdain of what happened that fall of 1868, seven young women founded a sisterhood that has helped women reach for the stars for nearly 150 years. P.E.O. was founded exactly a month after the I.C. chapter at Iowa Wesleyan. The P.E.O. Sisterhood will turn 150 on January 21, 1869. Some women, me included, are a part of both Pi Beta Phi and P.E.O. And for that, I feel very lucky and blessed.

I also discovered a fun fact about Franc Roads Elliott’s daughter Stella that, in a small way, connected her to Monmouth College. The October 1889 Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma told of the marriage of Stella Elliott to “James Canfield, of Columbus, Ohio. The wedding took place in the east where Stella has been with her mother spending the summer, and was a very quiet affair. ” Stella was a member the University of Nebraska chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Coincidentally, James Albert Canfield’s sister Dorothy was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Ohio State University. Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s war work was the subject of an earlier March 2017 post on this blog. Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded in 1870 at Monmouth College.

Stella Elliott and James A. Canfield are buried in the same cemetery as Dorothy Canfield Fisher and her husband John. The cemetary is in Arlington, Vermont.

© Fran Becque,, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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R. Louise Fitch, Delta Delta Delta, #amazingfraternitywomen, #WHM2017

Many thanks to Beth Applebaum, Tri Delta’s Fraternity Archives Manager, for graciously allowing me to post her Trident article about R. Louise Fitch. I have been a long-time admirer of “Our Louise,” as she was called by the Tri Deltas of her time.

R. Louise Fitch once described herself as being “above medium height, so thin that she had to stand twice in any one spot to cast a show.” But she failed to mention her warm, magnetic brown eyes, her remarkable memory of names and faces, her insight into chapter problems and her ability to help chapter members few those problems objectively. Her contributions Tri Delta’s growth and development were legion, but perhaps less well known are her many contributions outside Tri Delta, including her remarkable war service during World War I.

She was born Rachel Louise Fitch, only daughter of Elmer Eli and Rachel Helgesen Fitch on September 27, 1878 in Galva, Illinois. Her father was superintendent of the Galva schools for eight years before resigning to serve as editor of the Galva News, which he purchased in 1883. Her mother was a teacher and advocate for education improvements. R. Louise graduated from Galva High School and went on to attend Knox College where she was initiated into Tri Delta’s Epsilon chapter in 1899.

She attended the fifth national convention in Boston in 1902, where she urged the adoption of a visiting delegate program in which a chapter officer would make the rounds visiting each chapter. This program later evolved into what is currently the Chapter Development Consultant (CDC) Program. As visiting delegate, she was the first fraternity officer to make a complete round of chapter visits. Many chapters were at first intimidated by her arrival, often spending the preceding weeks in a flurry of cleaning and organizing in anticipation of her visit. After she arrived, her shrewd eyes saw far more than the chapter realized and she developed a warm relationship with each one she visited, even those she had to discipline. She left the chapters showered with hugs and kisses, and along with her notes, a magazine of two and a box of chocolates under her arm, gifts to “Our Louise.”

It was during her first visit to the Boston chapter, she met Founder Ida Shaw Martin and together with Amy Olgen Parmalee, Northwestern and Bessie Leach Priddy, Adrian, caught the vision Ida Shaw Martin had for Tri Delta’s future. Together this “Great Triumvirate” worked for many years to make that dream a reality. Martin also entrusted Louise with her original handwritten copies of the rituals, constitution and designs for the different insignia.

R. Louise had spent eighteen months as editor and business manager of her father’s paper, the Galva News. This experience came in handy when she became editor of the Trident in 1910. She spent five more years as editor, focusing on greater chapter communications. She also acted as co-editor of our first history, A Detailed Record of Delta Delta Delta, 1888-1907 with Bessie Leach Priddy, and was responsible for many of the photos.

Louise was elected national president in 1915. But with the World War I looming, she felt the need to make a significant contribution to the war effort. As a result, she was accepted to work with the YWCA and was sent to France. She conducted an in-depth study of that part that French women played in the war effort. Her work took her all over France, interviewing women in factories and farms all across the country. While there she wrote her book, Madame France, which was published and distributed by the YMCA. The book tells of the remarkable women she met in her travels across France and their significant efforts to support their country.

R. Louise Fitch

It was during this period that she also wrote a series of letters in diary form which were duplicated and mailed out to all initiated Tri Delta members. She used this to raise money for several projects benefitting education of women in France after the war.

Louise continued her philanthropic efforts throughout the rest of her life and was particularly known for her interest in women’s education. She served as temporary house director of the Theta Delta chapter at Oregon. She was appointed Dean of Women at Whitman College, and later served as Dean of Women at Cornell. While at Cornell, she became involved with the planning, building and furnishing of the quadrangle dormitories. Her home was often the gathering place for freshman girls that R. Louise came to know personally.

During her time at Oregon, she became acquainted with Lila Belle Acheson, Oregon and DeWitt Wallace, who later became editors of Reader’s Digest. After her retirement from Cornell, she traveled under their sponsorship, studying facilities for recreation and counseling of the elderly. She became quite involved in the issues of elder care and gave presentation across the country on the subject. For her many achievements, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from her alma mater, Knox College.

She spent the last years of her life in Tacoma, Washington, where she continued to be active in many local clubs and organizations. In 1952, R. Louise Fitch and Amy Parmelee attended the Tri Delta Convention at Sun Valley as special guests, since the event marked the fiftieth anniversary since they had attended their first convention together in 1902.

Over the next few years, R. Louise’s health began to deteriorate. She moved to a Tacoma nursing home where she died on March 12, 1958. She was buried in her hometown of Galva, Illinois with mourners present from Tri Delta and from Knox College.

R. Louise Fitch remains an inspiration to many Tri Deltas dedicated to service to our Fraternity, but her passion for education, women’s history and the elderly should not be forgotten.

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Happy 100th Sigma Delta Tau!

Happy 100th Sigma Delta Tau. One hundred years ago, on March 25, 1917, seven female Cornell University students founded Sigma Delta Tau. Their organization was originally called Sigma Delta Phi, but when they discovered the name belonged to another Greek-letter organization they changed the “Phi” to “Tau.”

Sigma Delta Tau’s founders are Dora Bloom (Turteltaub), Inez Dane Ross, Amy Apfel (Tishman), Regene Freund (Cohane), Marian Gerber (Greenberg), Lenore Blanche Rubinow, and Grace Srenco (Grossman).

There was also a male involved in the beginnings of Sigma Delta Tau. Bloom asked Nathan Caleb House  to write the ritual. “Brother Nat”  is the only man to honored with the organization’s gold membership pin. As the story is told on the Sigma Delta Tau web-site, “After leaving Cornell University, Brother Nat was ‘lost.’ In a chance look through the New York City phone book, Nat was ‘found’ and brought as a surprise to the 1958 National Convention. From that time until his death, Brother Nat attended almost every Biennial Convention and maintained correspondence and visits with many alumnae and collegiate chapters.”

Sigma Delta Tau Founders and Ritualist, Regene Freund is on the bottom row, second from left.

Regene Freund, a founder, was the organization’s first National President. Her term began in 1918. Two years later, she graduated and moved to Detroit. As a female lawyer, she had a difficult time landing a job because of her gender. She served as National President until 1922. She then spent the next 35 years as the sorority’s National Counselor.

In 1924, she married another lawyer, Louis Starfield Cohane and they practiced formed their own law firm. In 1924, in the first year of their marriage, the Cohanes were the first married couple to try a case before the United States Supreme Court.

Regene was active in Detroit’s Jewish community and served as President of the National Council of Jewish Women in 1933. She was named  one of Detroit’s “Women of Achievement.” In 1991, Sigma Delta Tau honored her with the establishment of the Regene Freund Cohane Outstanding President Award. She died in 1992 at the age of 92.

© Fran Becque,, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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