I’m in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. I just toured the Memory Room in Old Main at Iowa Wesleyan University. I’ve been there before, but it is always a treat to tour the campus where P.E.O. was founded on January 21, 1869. A month earlier, on December 21, 1868, Iowa Alpha of Pi Beta Phi was founded at Iowa Wesleyan. Libbie Brook (Gaddis) left Monmouth College and enrolled at IWU so that she could start a new chapter of her women’s fraternity.
Pi Beta Phi was founded as I.C. Sorosis on April 28, 1867. It was founded at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. Three years later, Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded at Monmouth. Imagine my surprise at seeing the name of my Kappa friend, Kylie Towers Smith, in the guest book at the Memory Room. Had I visited a week earlier, I could have toured it with Kylie. I suspect if we toured it together, there would be much laughter involved in the tour.
After Libbie Brook organized the second chapter of her fraternity, several of the women who declined an invitation to join because not all of their circle was included in the invitation, were at Hollowell’s Restaurant. It is said that they talked about how Libbie Brook had done what she had set out to do. The women’s response to that information would be monumental.
Although the beginnings of Pi Beta Phi and P.E.O. are connected by Libbie Brooks and Iowa Wesleyan, there is another connection that is more intimate. June 9, 1902, is a defining date for two organizations, Alpha Xi Delta and the P.E.O. Sisterhood. P.E.O. was founded as a collegiate organization at Iowa Wesleyan College on January 21, 1869. Alpha Xi Delta was founded on April 17, 1893 at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois. Iowa Wesleyan is about 60 miles from Galesburg with the Mississippi River separating the two.
In the years between 1869 and 1902, the P.E.O. members who had been initiated while students at Iowa Wesleyan stayed active in the college chapter even though they were no longer college students. Many remained in or near Mount Pleasant. Others formed chapters in towns where the members moved after leaving the college. The early P.E.O. chapters that had been founded at nearby schools did not survive and P.E.O.’s growth was in community chapters. The chapter at Iowa Wesleyan was finding it difficult to operate on a college campus with the rules put forth by the community chapters. After the turn of the century, the governing body of P.E.O. made the decision to withdraw the charter of the Iowa Wesleyan chapter. The students 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, was from Mount Pleasant. Her influence helped the Iowa Wesleyan women make the decision to become the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.
On that Monday in 1902, for the first time, the Alpha Xi Delta members entered the Lombard College Chapel wearing tri-colored ribbons. The ribbons signified that they were now a national organization. After chapel, the Alpha Xi Delta installing officers made their way from Galesburg 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. With the installation of the chapter, it also signified the day that P.E.O. became a community organization.
In 1913, Iowa Wesleyan College 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 was a member of the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. In June 1924, Alice Bird Babb became an alumna initiate of Alpha Xi Delta.
Gillis-Kimble was the first Alpha Xi Delta delegate to attend the Inter-Sorority Conference (now known as the National Panhellenic Conference) in 1904. She served as the first Editor of The Alpha Xi Delta of the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority (now The Quill). Her role in making Alpha Xi Delta a national organization was only one of her contributions to her beloved sorority.
* 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 http://wp.me/p20I1i-Gz .
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