On Memorial Day, “In Flanders Fields”

The haunting poem, In Flanders Fields, was written by John McCrae, M.D., a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Army during World War I. He was a Zeta Psi from the University of Toronto chapter. Although it was written by a Canadian in response to the death of his friend and former student, the poem is a fitting one to print on Memorial Day, the day for remembering those Americans who have given the ultimate sacrifice and died during their service to the country.

McCrae wrote the poem after the May 2, 1915 death and burial of his friend and former student Lieutenant Alexis Hannum Helmer. McCrae died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918, while commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

A memorial on the John McCrae Memorial Site, Boezinge, Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium.

Last fall, on the weekend of November 11, 2016, the Zeta Psi chapters gathered to honor McCrae’s legacy. They wore a poppy pin and McCrae’s poem. McCrae’s chapter and the Fraternity itself are partners.


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Hats Off to Fraternity Hat Bands!

One of my favorite things to read is “This Day in Deke History.” This entry on fraternity hat bands caught my eye.

An article in The Scroll of Phi Delta Theta (1910-11) reported:

An extensive business in fraternity hat bands is now done by Jacob Reed’s Sons, 1424-1426 Chestnut street, Philadelphia, whose advertisement appears elsewhere in The Scroll. The firm carries in stock thousands of yards of hat band ribbons which display the colors of 20 leading fraternities. The various designs are shown on the insert in this issue of the magazine. It is a rule of the firm not to sell a fraternity hat band without satisfactory evidence that it is to be used by some one entitled to wear it. In many instances entire chapters have joined in ordering enough bands to fit out every man at the beginning of the straw hat season. Many alumni also wear thus the colors of their respective fraternities. The designs are in neat rather than ‘loud’ patterns. Being worn on the hat, the band of fraternity colors forms an easily recognizable emblem of membership, and enables members of different chapters to identify fraternity mates who in many cases would be otherwise unknown to them.

In the last two or three years the demand for the bands has been so great that the firm has appointed reputable haberdashers in a number of college towns to act as agents, first exacting from them an assurance that they would exercise every precaution in selling the goods, so as to avoid a possibility of their being purchased by persons who have no right to wear them. Recently the firm has been offering neckties in the same colorings and designs as the fraternity hat bands.

From a Cornell University Alumni News, 1909. The shop was likely one of the habadashers authorized to sell the hat bands.

A hat band advertisment that appeared in the Scroll of Phi Delta Theta. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell colors in black and white.

If any fraternity archive has a hat band, please let me know. I’d love to add a picture of it to this post.

Added 9:30 a.m. From Lyn Harris, Chi Omega’s Archivist: 1901 Convention hat bands from collection in Founders’ Library at Psi Chapter, University of Arkansas. There were 15 delegates at that convention. It’s amazing this has survived!

Here is a photo of the 1899 Pi Beta Phi Convention. I do not know if those are Pi Phi hatbands, but I can hope!


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5 Myths About Sorority Recruitment

May 24 is two days away. It will mark the 115th anniversary of the founding of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Representatives from seven organizations – Alpha Phi, Delta Delta Delta, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Pi Beta Phi – met in Chicago and discussed rushing (as recruitment was then called) and pledging. The oldest of these seven was founded in 1867 and the youngest in 1888. In those 35 years between 1867 and 1902, when NPC was founded, sorority chapters were sprouting up on campuses all across the country, and where there was one sorority chapter, there tended to be others. They competed for members. The groups on each campus tried to make rules to govern the recruitment of members, but it was sometimes it was a free for all. The creation of NPC helped solve some of these issues.

Invitation to the first NPC meeting from the Elizabeth Gamble collection, Pi Beta Phi Archives.

There are many misconceptions about sororities, but I narrowed it down to five.

Five misconceptions about sorority recruitment:

1. Sororites were founded by socialites, the ones from very rich families. These women were not the ones forming and joining sororities. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, socialites were not typically the women who were attending college. They may have been doing tours of Europe and or spending a year or two in a “finishing school.” They had to know the world of fine arts, and how to plan a superb dinner party, and how to run a household with the help of a full staff, but they did not have to worry about having a career to fall back on. That was not the life they were destined to lead. Their main goal was to “marry well,” at least once, and more, if need be. (To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery by Gail MacColl is an interesting read on this topic.)

2. Only ditzy blondes join the organizations and certainly not ones who consider themselves feminists. One of my favorite stories to tell, one that you will not likely find in her biographies, is that a young Iowa State University student named Carrie Lane became a member of Pi Beta Phi (then known as I.C. Sorosis) at Iowa State University. Her family did not value education for women and she paid her own way through school working for pennies an hour. Some of the funds she earned went to pay her membership dues. She remained a loyal member of Pi Beta Phi for her entire life. The fact that noted suffragist Carrie Lane Chapman Catt was a proud sorority woman is a hard one for many people to reconcile. She is not an anomaly. Search this site for #amazingsororitywomen posts and you discover many interesting women who wore sorority pins.

3. There’s no advanced preparation. What will need to be done depends on what organizations are on the campus. On some campuses, recommendations (“recs”) are a must. And recs are just that, a recommendation which includes information about the Potential New Member’s (PNM) skills, talents, work ethic, etc. A recommendation should be obtained from an alumna of each NPC chapter on the campus. Each sorority has its own form or specification for the letter and the alumna can find that info on the sorority website and/or in the sorority magazine. Here’s where detective skills come in because PNMs needs to identify alumnae from the various groups. Some communities have an Alumnae Panhellenic which will help it be an easier task . If there isn’t one, it then involves identifying teachers, friends, coworkers, church and community members who are alumnae of NPC organizations. Some phone calling and emailing might be necessary to identify and contact the women. The PNM (not the PNM’s mother) will need to provide the alumna with a resume, and follow-up with a thank you note and updates; this task is great preparation for the “real world” and internship/job hunting.

4. Have a heart set on only one or two chapters. This is the quickest way to major disappointment. Each PNM needs to value all her options. This means visiting each and every chapter with an open mind and without preconceived notions. No attention should be paid to idle gossip. The fact is that all 26 NPC groups are essentially the same. The colors, badges, songs, flowers, symbols and such are different, but the core values and beliefs are strikingly similar. A PNM will have basically the same experiences in each of the NPC chapters, so she should embrace the chapters that invite her back. It usually means they see something in the PNM that they will appreciate and value.

5. It’s all fun and games. It is fun and it should be fun, but there is much more to it. Sorority members will be held to a higher standard and more will be expected of them. Being a member of a sorority entails many responsibilities. For one, members are always wearing theirs letters, whether or not they are physically on one’s garments or not. The world at large will think the worst about any news story involving Greek-Letter Organization members. If it’s about something good, there will be ulterior motives assigned to the deed. If it’s bad, it will try to paint every GLO with the same brush. If it is downright false (the UVA Rolling Stone story), it won’t matter. Each member’s actions reflect credit or discredit on her organization. A sorority member can no longer be anonymous for whatever she does will have bearing on the organization she joined. Yes, there will be fun times, and serious ones, and opportunities to grow as a person, but there are obligations to be met, too – those of time, talent, and treasure. 

The graphic by Delta Gamma showing the flowers of each NPC group.

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


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A Happy Founders’ Day to Alpha Delta Pi!

Alpha Delta Pi was founded as the Adelphean Society on May 15, 1851 at Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia. In 1905, the Society changed its name to Alpha Delta Phi and installed its second chapter at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A third chapter was founded at Mary Baldwin Seminary, in Staunton, Virginia, in 1906.

The Delta Chapter at the University of Texas was installed on June 6, 1906. It is the oldest, continuous Alpha Delta Pi chapter. It was the sixth sorority chapter on campus. Alpha Chapter member Jewel Davis (Scarborough) went to the University of Texas as a graduate student with the intention of creating a chapter there. Davis, a Delta Chapter charter member, installed the chapter all by herself. She composed the first whistle and served as National President from 1913-17. Dean Helen Marr Kirby was an Adelphean and proved herself as a valuable friend of the chapter. During 1908-09, the chapter lived in an eight-room house with a professor and his wife as chaperons and the chapter owned most of the furniture in the house. Mabelle Fuller (Sperry), who served three terms as National President from 1921-27, was an early initiate of the chapter. During 1911-12, the non-sorority women were “the cause of considerable disturbance throughout the year, finally petitioning the state legislature to put the Greek letter societies out of school. The move was unsuccessful and was voted down at a special session of the legislature.” (History of Alpha Delta Pi, 1930).

Mabelle Fuller Sperry

Alpha Delta Phi joined the National Panhellenic Conference in 1909. The installation of the Sigma Chapter at the University of Illinois in 1912 came shortly after the installation, on the same campus, of the Illinois Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, a men’s fraternity whose chapters were primarily in the northeast. Alpha Delta Phi, the men’s fraternity, was founded in 1832 at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. The women made their organization aware of this duplication of name and the problems that surfaced because of it. In 1913, the convention body voted to change the name  to Alpha Delta Pi.

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Sorority Women Competing in Miss USA 2017

On Sunday, May 14, 2017, Miss USA 2016, Deshauna Barber, a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., will crown her successor.

Here are the sorority women who are competing as far as I can determine. If there are additions or corrections to this list, please contact me.

Miss Alabama USA, Baylee Smith, Alpha Gamma Delta, Troy State University

Miss Alaska USA, Alyssa London, Chi Omega, Stanford University

Miss Connecticut USA, Olga Litvinenko, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Syracuse University

Miss Delaware USA, Mia Jones, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Miss Florida USA, Linette De Los Santos, Delta Phi Epsilon, Florida International University 

Miss Kentucky USA, Madelynne Myers, Pi Beta Phi, Vanderbilt University

Miss Louisiana USA, Bethany Trahan, Chi Omega, McNeese State University

Miss Maryland USA, Adrianna David, Alpha Chi Omega, University of Alabama

Miss Massachusetts USA, Julia Scaparotti, Alpha Delta Pi, University of Rhode Island

Miss Mississippi USA, Ashley Hamby, Phi Mu, Mississippi State University

Miss North Carolina USA, Katie Cook, Kappa DeltaUniversity of Alabama

Miss South Dakota USA, Tessa Dee, Alpha Phi, University of South Dakota

Miss West Virginia USA, Lauren Roush, Kappa Kappa Gamma, West Virginia University

Miss Wyoming USA, Mikaela Shaw, Chi Omega, University of Wyoming

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

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P.E.O.’s Connection to Abraham Lincoln

Bess Truman is the only First Lady who was a member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. Her husband, President Harry Truman was considered a B.I.L. (brothers-in-law), the name given to the spouses and significant others of P.E.O. members. However, the organization has a connection another American President, Abraham Lincoln.

President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, about four years before P.E.O. was founded at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. However, Mount Pleasant plays an important role in this connection.

Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son, married Mary Eunice Harlan in Mount Pleasant. She was the daughter of James Harlan. Early in his career, Harlan was President of Iowa Wesleyan University from 1853-55. He went on to serve as U.S. Senator and member of President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet. 

Jessie Lincoln

Robert and Mary had three children, Mary “Mamie” (Isham), Abraham “Jack,” and Jessie (Beckwith Johnson Randolph). Mamie and Jessie were initiated into the P.E.O. chapter at Mount Pleasant during visits to the home of their grandparents. Mamie was initiated in 1884 at the age of 15. Jessie was initiated on December 31, 1895.

The children of Robert Todd and Mary Harlan Lincoln, Mary, Abraham Lincoln II, and Jessie.

Visitors to Mount Pleasant can tour the Harlan-Lincoln House at 601 N. Main Street on the north side of campus and take selfies with a larger than life size sculpture of James Harlan that sits on the Iowa Wesleyan campus.

The James Harlan statue on the Iowa Wesleyan campus.

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Fraternity and Sorority Membership Doesn’t End With Graduation

On college campuses all across the country and Canada, young men and women are donning caps and gowns and walking across a stage. They are being presented with a diploma cover. Some of those diploma covers will have actual diplomas in them, but colleges and universities usually wait to make sure all is in order with grades, graduation requirements, and the bursar’s office before handing over the diploma itself.

The fraternity and sorority members among the graduates, who, when they first became members of their respective organizations, could not fathom the journey being over, now realize they are no longer collegiate members. The collegiate part of the journey has come to an end. A few lucky ones have been hired by their organizations as traveling consultants. They’ll spend a year visiting chapters, offering advice, and being ambassadors for the organization they represent.

Dear fraternity and sorority graduates – this is not the end of the membership journey. It is the beginning of your life as an alumna or alumnus. Seize the opportunity to be a part of the alum life of your organization. If there is an alum club/chapter where you’ll be heading, join it. Give to your organization’s foundation. I know you’re probably strapped for cash and don’t have much. Give up ordering few coffees or other beverages and send what you would have spent to your organization’s foundation. Give at least $15 this year, $20 next year. Get in the habit of giving back to the organizations that helped shape you.

Work for your organization. It can be as simple as being on the lookout for potential new members. Speak of the good things your organization does. Keep current – read the magazine, visit the web-site, sign up for its social media accounts. Volunteer to work with a chapter, or put your name in the hat for committee work. Every national/international officer once was in the same place you find yourself today.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy life ahead. And remember when you speak of your membership in a fraternity or sorority, say  “I am an XYZ” not “I was an XYZ.”

The tradition of wearing GLO stoles and cords has caught on in the last few decades. The cords are usually intertwined lengths of cording in the GLO’s colors. Some of the stoles are simple with just the Greek letters. Others have chapter names and the graduate’s name embroidered on it.

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May 3, 1917 in the Lives of Some @SAE1856 During World War I

William C. Levere compiled The History of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the World War. It was published by the George Banta Company in 1928. It was indeed a labor of love for “Billy” Levere, who himself served the county. He and more than 7,000 Sigma Alpha Epsilons answered the call to service. To present a view of how many fraternity men left chapter houses and went to serve their country, I offer a sampling from one fraternity and showcase the men for whom May 3, 1917 had some significance.

E. Wayne Hight (IL Delta – Millikin University, 94 enlistments). In service with 130th Infantry, 33d Division when U. S. entered the war; commissioned 2d lieutenant May 3, 1917; served in France; promoted 1st lieutenant January 17, 1918; promoted captain May 3, 1918. Engagements: The Somme, Saint-Mihiel offensive, Troyon Sector, Meuse-Argonne offensive.

James A. Powers (IA Delta – Drake University, 61 enlistments). Enlisted private May 3, 1917; assigned to Camp Alfred Vail, N. J.; sailed for France December 8, 1917; stationed at Paris; promoted master signal electrician May 1918; served with 1st and 3d Divisions; discharged August 23, 1919. Engagements: Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry. Cited for especially meritorious service.

Adlai Cornwell Holler (MA Gamma, Harvard University, 186 enlistments). Enrolled apprentice seaman U. S. Naval Reserve Force May 3, 1917; detailed to U. S. Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Va.; changed rating to fireman 3d class June 5, 1917; attached to USS New York June 6, 1917; assigned to Medical Corps andrate changed to hospital apprentice 2d class June 24, 1917; sailed for foreign waters December 7, 1917; detailed to patrol duty in the North Sea; detailed as reserve ship for the English fleet on the attack on Zeebrugge and Heligoland, April 24, 1918; served in President Wilson’s convoy; returned to United States December 26, 1918; detailed to Cuba for the winter practice; returned to United States April 15, 1919; attained rank of pharmacist mate 1st class; released from active duty June 14, 1919.

C.T. Garnsey (NH Alpha, Darmouth College, 133 enlistments). Enrolled U. S. Navy as mechanic’s mate, 2d class. May 3, 1917; attended Radio School, Newport, R. I.; rated electrician 1st class June 20, 1917; transferred to Nantucket, Mass., September 1, 1917; returned to Newport, December 11, 1917; rated chief electrician September 1, 1918; discharged December 13, 1918.

Lionel John Gottschalk (NY Alpha, Cornell University, 147 enlistments). Commissioned ensign U. S. Navy April 7, 1917; detailed to training camp, Charleston, S.C, April 9, 1917; appointed officer in charge of Engineering Division, New Orleans Navy Yard, May 3, 1917; ordered as 1st assistant Engineering Officer aboard USS Wheeling patrolling around Azores Islands, June 28, 1917; appointed senior watch officer and member of examining board for engineering personnel November 4, 1917; appointed officer in charge, Arkansas Recruiting District, March 1, 1918; transferred to U. S. Naval Reserve Force June 1, 1918; promoted lieutenant (junior grade); released from active duty August 5, 1919.

Roland H. Spaulding (Delta, Syracuse University, 122 enlistments). Enlisted private and detailed to Camp Syracuse, N. Y., May 3, 1917: assigned to 4th New York Ambulance Company; appointed limited service clerk and transferred to Draft Board No. 3, Onondaga County, N. Y., August 1917: promoted chief clerk December 1917; discharged March 31, 1919. Served as Y.M.C.A. secretary at Syracuse University April 1, 1919 to June 15, 1919.

Joseph Dallas Fox (PA Zeta, Bucknell University, 80 enlistments). Enrolled U.S. Naval Reserve Force May 3, 1917; stationed at Wisahickon Barracks, N. J.; detailed to communication office at Section Base, Cape May, N. J., March 12, 1918; promoted yeoman 3d class, August 1, 1918; transferred to Bucknell University Naval Unit October 2, 191S; released from active duty May 3, 1921. Gardner, Arthur Funk. Bucknell University Unit, Students’ Army Training Corps.

Theodore H. Ross (PA Phi – Carnegie Institute of Technology, 64 enlistments). Enrolled U. S. Naval Reserve Force May 3, 1917; detailed to Seaman’s Barracks, Philadelphia, Pa.; transferred to Wissahickon Barracks, Cape May, N. J., August 1917; commissioned ensign October 3, 1917; detailed to U. S. Naval Home, Philadelphia, Pa., May 1918; to USS Charleston, North Atlantic Fleet, June 1918; to Distributing Barracks, Philadelphia, Pa., January 1919; released from active duty April 4, 1919. Engagements: Several U-Boat engagements while escorting convoys.

Robert H. Wettach (PA Chi-Omicron, Univerity of Pittsburgh, 95 enlistments). Enrolled U. S. Naval Aviation Service May 3, 1917; detailed to Ground School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., January 1918; to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., April 1918; commissioned ensign; sailed for France; assigned to submarine patrol work with bases at Paulliac, Moutchic, and He Tudy, France, August 1918; released from active duty January 1919.

Robert Newell Oakley (TN Eta – Southwestern Baptist University, 84 enlistments). Enrolled apprentice seaman, U. S. Naval Reserve Force May 3, 1917; detailed to San Francisco, Calif., May 5, 1917; rated electrician 3d class (Radio) August 1, 1917; transferred to Harvard Radio School, Cambridge, Mass., September 1, 1917; rated electrician 2d class (Radio), December 12, 1917; ordered to New York, N. Y., February 5, 1918; to New London, Conn., March 2, 1918; to USS San Francisco, May 13, 1918; sailed in European waters May to December 1918; returned to United States January 2, 1919; to Portsmouth, N. H., January 22, 1919; discharged electrician 1st class (Radio), July 18, 1919.

William W. Meek (TN Kappa, University of Tennessee, 111 enlistments). Graduate 1913 of U. S. Naval Academy; commissioned lieutenant, U.S. Navy, June, 1917; promoted lieutenant-commander, U. S. Navy, November 5 1918. Saw service on board destroyer Conyngham in anti-submarine campaign based on Queenstown, Ireland, from May 3, 1917 to June 1, 1918. Continued in service, lieutenant-commander on board destroyer Tracy as executive officer.

John W. Craddock, Jr. (VA Sigma, Washington and Lee University enlistments). Entered 1st Officers’ Training Camp, Fort Myer, Va., May 3, 1917; commissioned captain and assigned to 317th Infantry, Camp Lee, Va., August 15, 1917; to 155th Depot Brigade, March 1, 1918; promoted major August 24, 1918; transferred to 154th Depot Brigade, Camp Meade, Md., September 25, 1918; discharged December 5, 1918.

Charles M. Burgess (WI Alpha, University of Wisconsin, 101 enlistments) Enlisted private April 15, 1917; detailed to Officers’ Training Camp, Fort Sheridan, 111., May 3, 1917; commissioned 1st lieutenant 336th Field Artillery and transferred to Camp Pike, Ark., November 29, 1917; to Fort Sill, Okla., April 9, 1918; to Camp Dix, N. J., July 1, 1918; sailed for France August 27, 1918; detailed to Bordeaux, September 6, 1918; transferred to Camp de Souge, October 1, 1918; appointed commanding officer of Auto Section, Field Artillery Motor Training Center, on General Staff A.E.F., October 14, 1918; transferred to Lc Blanc, December 1918; to Gondrecourt, Meuse, December 29, 1918; to St. Joire, March 5, 1919; returned to United States April 23,1919; discharged at Camp Meade, Md., April 27, 1919.

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Sometimes You Can Go Home Again and a Happy Founders’ Day Phi Gamma Delta

I spent Friday and Saturday in Monmouth, Illinois, where Pi Beta Phi was founded on April 28, 1867. I was able to stand in the very room where the organization came to life 150 years ago and I shared that significance with the chapter and alumnae, and even a few family members of alumnae who tagged along.

A goodly number of Illinois Alpha Chapter alumnae returned for the 150th celebration. It was heartwarming to see so many conversations pick up where they left off decades ago. That is one of the hallmarks of almost every fraternity and sorority alumni/ae anniversary celebration. Lyn Harris, Chi Omega’s Archivist, spent the weekend celebrating a 50th anniversary with the South Dakota State University Chi Omegas. I have no doubt that the conversations between the Chi Omega alumnae were almost identical to the ones I overheard between the Pi Phi alumnae.

Sharing the bonds of a fraternal experience transcend time and place. I can remember attending the Centennial of Pi Phi’s Kansas Beta Chapter at Kansas State. The older alumnae had lived in a different house than the one the current one which was built in the 1960s. That didn’t matter a bit. There were so many common bonds that the place itself wasn’t the primary focus.

It is my fervent contention that the 26 National Panhellenic Conference organizations, when stripped of all the externals – the colors, badges, songs, mascots, etc. – are essentially the same. They are all built upon friendship, a common bond connecting each sister to one another. Being an exemplary member of the chapter, advancing the college community, and contributing positively to the world at large are values embedded in each of the organizations. Becoming a member is a privilege and not a right. Therefore, members are expected to live up to the values of the organization and to do their part to make sure the organization flourishes.

Being at Holt House, where it all began 150 years ago, when the organization I joined on a whim was founded, is a thrill I will remember my whole life long. When the arrow was first pinned on me, I had no clue what was in store. I am grateful to be a member of Pi Beta Phi and I will attest that the more one gives to an organization, the more one gets back.

Some of the members of the Illinois Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi in front of Holt House on April 28, 2017. The window on the top left is in the bedroom where Pi Beta Phi was founded in 1867.


Today is also the date upon which Phi Gamma Delta was founded in 1848. The Immortal Six – John Templeton McCarty, Samuel Beatty Wilson, James Elliott, Daniel Webster Crofts, Ellis Bailey Gregg and Naaman Fletcher – were students at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, when they founded the fraternity. The Beta Chapter was established the same year at Washington College in Washington, Pennsylvania. The chapters became one when the colleges merged to form Washington and Jefferson College in 1865.

In the summer of 1920, a Phi Gamma Delta  alumnus from Amherst College  won the Vice Presidential spot on the Republican ticket. At the time of the nomination, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge was at Amherst attending his 25thcollege reunion and the 99th anniversary of the college. A reception at the chapter house was arranged with his wife Grace Goodhue Coolidge, a Pi Beta Phi member, helping the chapter quickly plan the event. More than 1,500 people attended the hastily planned reception.

Calvin Coolidge became President after the death of Warren G. Harding on August 23, 1923. The Coolidges were planning  to attend Phi Gamma Delta’s 75th anniversary celebration in Pittsburgh in September 1923, but were unable to attend. Later, a founders badge was presented to the President. On that occasion, President Coolidge said, “I am very glad to have this badge. My wife wears mine most of the time.”

On November 17, 1924, the Coolidges’ oldest son, John, became a member of his father’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter at Amherst. On the following Founders’ Day, May 1, 1925, FIJI Sires and Sons was organized.  Its purpose is to “impress upon all fathers and sons, who are members of the fraternity, and in time upon their sons, a realization of the noble trinity of principles of the fraternity, with the hope that they may outrun the fervor of youth.”

The Coolidge family - Calvin, Jr., Calvin, Grace, and John shortly before Calvin, Jr.'s death. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Coolidge family – Calvin, Jr., Calvin, Grace, and John shortly before Calvin, Jr.’s death. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


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On Theta Phi Alpha’s Founders’ Day

Theta Phi Alpha celebrates Founders’ Day on April 30, the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena.* St. Catherine is the patroness of the organization and her motto, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring, ” is Theta Phi Alpha’s motto as well.

Theta Phi Alpha was founded on August 30, 1912, at the University of Michigan.  In 1909, Father Edward D. Kelly, a Catholic priest and the pastor of the university’s student chapel organized Omega Upsilon. He believed that the Catholic women at the university should have the opportunity to belong to an organization  that “resembled the Catholic homes from which they came.” At that time, Catholics were not always welcome in the other fraternal organizations on campus.

After Father Kelly left campus and became the Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, Omega Upsilon was struggling.  There were no alumnae to guide the organization. Bishop Kelly’s vision that the Catholic women at Michigan should have a place to call their own was still alive even though he was not on campus. He enlisted the assistance of Amelia McSweeney, a 1898 University of Michigan alumna. Together with seven Omega Upsilon alumnae, plans were made to establish a new organization, Theta Phi Alpha.

Theta Phi Alpha’s ten founders are Amelia McSweeney, Mildred M. Connely, May C. Ryan, Selma Gilday, Camilla Ryan Sutherland, Helen Ryan Quinlan, Katrina Caughey Ward, Dorothy Caughey Phalan, Otilia Leuchtweis O’Hara, and Eva Stroh Bauer.  Seven of them were Omega Upsilon alumnae and two were undergraduate members of Omega Upsilon.

Theta Phi Alpha remained a local organization until 1919 when the Beta Chapter was formed at the University of Illinois. In addition, chapters at Ohio State University, Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati were chartered that year.

In 1921, Pi Lambda Sigma was founded as a Catholic sorority at Boston University. On June 28, 1952, Pi Lambda Sigma merged with Theta Phi Alpha. Its members at Boston University and the University of Cincinnati became members of the Theta Phi Alpha chapters on the two campuses. The chapter at Creighton University became the Chi Chapter of Theta Phi Alpha in the fall of 1952 and the Quincy College chapter became the Psi Chapter of Theta Phi Alpha in 1954.

Today, just as other organizations have accepted Catholic women, Theta Phi Alpha is open to women of all religions.

Since 1937, Theta Phi Alpha has honored a non-member with the Siena Medal. A round gold medal with the organization’s coat of arms, it is inscribed in Greek with the motto. The Siena Medal was established to recognize a woman of integrity and principled leadership, as well as grace and social change.


* Saint Catherine was canonized in 1461. From 1597 until 1628, the feast of Saint Catherine of Sienna was celebrated on April 29, the date she died. In 1628, due to a conflict with the feast of Saint Peter of Verona, hers was moved to April 30. In 1969, it was changed back to April 29.

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