Was Abe Lincoln a Fraternity Man? A Question on Presidents’ Day

Was Abraham Lincoln in a fraternity? The answer is no. Lincoln did not attend college. One could be a lawyer in those days, 150+ years ago, by reading the law. That is what Lincoln did. Given that the Civil War was raging and the American fraternity system, still in its infancy, was at a virtual standstill during the war, honorary membership was not offered to him. Perhaps he would have been asked by one of the fraternities after the war’s end, but Lincoln died and that possibility became moot.

Beta Theta Pi claims two men who had direct ties to Lincoln, according to these posts which appeared on Beta’s facebook page:

Schuyler Colfax, DePauw 1854, was an energetic campaigner against slavery and helped found the Republican Party. He was, thus, a dear friend to President Lincoln. Colfax, the eventual vice president to Ulysses S. Grant, was the Speaker of the House during the latter half and end of the Civil War. He was sought after often by the wartime president for counsel, and as a Lincoln biographer noted, “The president rarely took any step affecting the interests of the nation without making his intentions known to and consulting with Mr. Colfax.” In fact...As Speaker of the House, it was Colfax who announced the final tally of the vote on the 13th amendment, thereby abolishing slavery. His voice shaking, ‘On the passage of the Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States (which required a constitutional majority of two-thirds affirmative), the ayes have 119, and the noes 56.’ Colfax and his wife were invited by Lincoln to join him in the presidential box on the fateful evening of his assassination. They couldn’t attend as they were heading to California, to which the president said, ‘How I would rejoice to make that trip, but public duties chain me down here, and I can only envy you its pleasures.’ It was the last time the two ever spoke.

2. Beta Founder and successful attorney John Reily Knox, Miami 1839, was part of the Electoral College when Lincoln ran for president in 1860 and, as such, cast his vote for Lincoln in the quest for his first term in office.

This bust of Abraham Lincoln resides in Morris Library on the Southern Illinois University campus in Carbondale. It is a copy of one sculpted in 1908 by Gutzon Borglum. The original marble bust is in the crypt of the U.S. Capitol.

This bust of Abraham Lincoln in Morris Library on the Southern Illinois University campus in Carbondale. It is a copy of one sculpted in 1908 by Gutzon Borglum. The original marble bust is in the crypt of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo courtesy of Morris Library)


Fraternity men who have served as President of the United States

Thomas Jefferson, Flat Hat Club (F.H.C. Society), College of William and Mary*

Rutherford B. Hayes, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Honorary member

James Garfield, Delta Upsilon, Williams College

Chester Arthur, Psi Upsilon, Union College

Grover Cleveland, Sigma Chi, Honorary member

Benjamin Harrison, Phi Delta Theta, Miami University and Delta Chi, University of Michigan

William McKinley, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Mount Union College

Theodore Roosevelt, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Alpha Delta Phi, Harvard University

William Howard Taft, Psi Upsilon, Yale University

Woodrow Wilson, Phi Kappa Psi, University of Virginia

Calvin Coolidge, Phi Gamma Delta, Amherst College

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alpha Delta Phi, Harvard University**

Harry S Truman, Lambda Chi Alpha and Alpha Delta Gamma, Honorary member

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Tau Epsilon Phi, Honorary member

John F. Kennedy, Phi Kappa Theta, Honorary member

Gerald R. Ford, Delta Kappa Epsilon, University of Michigan

Ronald Reagan, Tau Kappa Epsilon, Eureka College

George H.W. Bush, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Yale University

Bill Clinton, Phi Beta Sigma, Honorary member***

George W. Bush, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Yale University

The list of Vice Presidents who are fraternity men 


National Panhellenic Conference women who have served as First Lady

Lucy B. Hayes, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Ohio Wesleyan College, Honorary member

Grace Goodhue Coolidge, Pi Beta Phi, University of Vermont, charter member 

Lou Henry Hoover, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Stanford University

Barbara Pierce Bush, Pi Beta Phi, Texas A&M, Alumna initiate (post-White House years)

Laura Welch Bush, Kappa Alpha Theta, Southern Methodist University


National Pan-Hellenic Council women who have served as First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Honorary member


* The Flat Hat Club was founded at the College of William and Mary in 1750.  It is believed to be the precursor of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which was established at the same institution in 1776. The modern F.H.C. Society was revived at the College of William and Mary in May, 1972. The Flat Hat is also the name of the college’s student newspaper.

** Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Harvard University, also known as the “Dickey Club.” However, the national organization did not recognize the chapter because of the chapter’s stance on dual membership.

*** Bill Clinton became a member of Phi Beta Sigma in 2009, in his post White House years. He became a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a now co-ed service fraternity while at Georgetown University. It was an all-male fraternity when he joined as a college student.

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Kappa Kappa Gamma and P.E.O.

Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi, the Monmouth Duo. were founded at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. Pi Phi was founded in 1867 and Kappa in 1870. By the late 1870s, their Alpha Chapters were forced off campus due to anti-fraternity sentiment. That both organizations exist today is an amazing story and one I’ve told on many occasions.

Photo by Melisse Campbell, a Kappa Kappa Gamma

On January 21, 1869, P.E.O. was founded at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Libbie Brook, one of the founders of I.C. Sorosis, Pi Beta Phi’s name at its founding, enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan with the express purpose of establishing a second chapter of her women’s fraternity. On December 21, 1868, her plan came to fruition. Legend has it that several of a group of seven friends was asked to join Libbie’s group, but they decided to start a society of their own. Those seven women, Hattie Briggs, Franc Roads, Alice Bird, Alice Coffin, Ella Stewart, Mary Allen, and Suela Pearson, settled on the star for their emblem. 

In the early years, the rivalry was intense between those who wore the arrow and those who wore the star. Chapters of both organizations competed for members at Belden’s Seminary in Mount Pleasant, the Jacksonville Female Seminary in Jacksonville, Illinois, the South Iowa Normal School, and Hastings College.

Those who wore the key of Kappa Kappa Gamma had never been in competition with those who wore the star and therefore there were no memories of any rivalry. In fact, Kappa Kappa Gamma founder Anna (Elizabeth) Willits (Pattee) was a member of P.E.O. Her chapter, Chapter E in Monmouth, was organized on December 6, 1900. Two of the seven charter members of Chapter E had lived in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and two others had heard about P.E.O. from their time living in towns which had chapters. The four met and talked of organizing a P.E.O. chapter.  When the Organizer of P.E.O.’s Supreme Grand Chapter visited the Monmouth women  “there was a terrific electrical storm, rain descended in torrents, the floods came, but this did not dampen the intense interest of these sisters, nor has that interest lessened through the years. Anna Willits Pattee was initiated into P.E.O. sometime after Chapter E’s founding.  She died in 1908 and she was the first member of Chapter E to enter Chapter Eternal. 

Anna Elizabeth Willits (Pattee)

Four years before the founding of P.E.O. Chapter E, Illinois, in Monmouth, this appeared in the November 1896 P.E.O. Record

From the November 1896 P.E.O. Record

When this letter was written, there was only one collegiate chapter of P.E.O. in existence, the chapter at Iowa Wesleyan. In 1902, it became the second chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

It is also interesting to note that Sue Baker, P.E.O.’s current President of International Chapter, is a Kappa Kappa Gamma. And I would be remiss if I did not offer a shout out to my friend Kylie Towers Smith, Kappa’s Archivist, who is a member of the Ohio State Chapter’s board. She will preside at the Convention of Ohio State Chapter during P.E.O.’s Sesquicentennial year. (Extra points if you know that a Delta Zeta founder was the first President of P.E.O.’s Ohio State Chapter – see the link in the header above for additional posts about the P.E.O. Sisterhood,)

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Fraternity and Sorority Members Competing in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

I know of only a handful of fraternity men and women who are competing  in the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Additions (or corrections) to this list are very welcomed as it isn’t always easy to find this information. To see the list of fraternity men who have won Olympic medals at previous Winter Olympic games.

Sophie Caldwell, Tri Delta (Dartmouth) is competing in cross country skiing.

Julia Marino, Alpha Chi Omega (University of Colorado-Boulder) is competing in snowboarding.

Brita Sigourney, Pi Beta Phi (University of California-Davis) will compete as a freestyler women’s halfpipe.  BRONZE MEDAL WINNER!

In addition, there are Commentators, Journalists, etc. who are on the ground in South Korea.

Christine Brennan, Chi Omega (Northwestern University), USA Today Sports Editor

Savannah Guthrie, Pi Beta Phi (University of Arizona and past P.E.O. Scholar Award winner), NBC commentator

Tom Hammond, Kappa Alpha Order (University of Kentucky), commentator

Todd Hays, Pi Kappa Alpha, (University of Tulsa), coach of the Canadian Bobsled team

Dan Hicks, Sigma Phi Epsilon (University of Arizona), commentator

Samantha Johnson, Delta Zeta, a former chapter president, (Ball State University), intern (former Chapter President)

Hoda Kotb, Delta Delta Delta (Virginia Tech), NBC commentator

Lindsay Wyskowski, Delta Phi Epsilon, Media for U.S. Olympic Committee


Competing in the Para-Olympics

Kendall Gretsch, Alpha Omicron Pi (Washington University), Nordic Skiing

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Playing GLO Catch Up

After I published the last post, I remembered some of the things I meant to include, so technically, I am still playing GLO catch up. Thanks for reading along and indulging.

The minute it was posted, I realized that I forgot to acknowledge cartoonist Mort Walker’s death. Lyn Harris, Chi Omega’s Archivist sent me the photo she snapped while touring Kappa Sigma’s HQ recently. Walker originated the Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois comic strips and his fraternity brothers and experiences often made their way into the comic strip. He served as president of the Kappa Sig chapter at the University of Missouri. A bronze statue of Beetle Bailey is on campus.  

Photo taken by Lyn Harris, Chi Omega’s Archivist on a tour of the Kappa Sigma HQ.


Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s basketball coach, is an alumnus of FarmHouse Fraternity. He recently celebrated his 300th career win.


I learned that Carol Coordt, Kappa Delta’s 2nd Alternate NPC Delegate and a reader of his blog has attended every Kappa Delta convention since her first in 1963. She is Kappa Delta’s Sis Mullis or maybe Sis Mullis is Pi Phi’s Carol Coordt. Impressive stats from two impressive women!


The Grammys have come and gone, but this is an interesting tidbit about a Phi Mu alumna.

And yet another interesting tweet about a mother and daughter who share NPC bonds.


Last week at Pi Beta Phi’s College Weekend, I had to smile knowing that the women who were leading the session I sat in on were members of Alpha Chi Omega and Alpha Xi Delta. It’s NPC love at its best. And here is another indication of NPC women spreading the love of our organizations.


Hank Nuwer tweeted that February 4 was the  one year anniversary of Tim Piazza’s death at Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi house. Later this month on February 24, it is will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Chuck Stenzel at the Klan Alpine house at Alfred University. Eileen Stevens turned her grief into making college students aware of the consequences of hazing. If only every new member of every fraternity on every campus had to see the grief and despair of a parent who has lost a child to senseless and dangerous hazing activity then perhaps it would stop. My heart breaks for the parents who are left to pick up the pieces of these unlawful acts.


Over the weekend, I learned that a Pi Phi friend, Julie Geiger (Shannon) Mercer passed away. She was an alumna of the University of Kentucky chapter. We became Pi Phi Directors together in 1993. The world will be a little less bright. Last summer, I drove to Clarksville, Tennessee, for lunch with Julie and two other Pi Phi friends. I am glad I spent six hours in the car. The two hours with Julie and friends was worth every minute. My condolences to her husband Evan and her family and friends.

Julie is on the right in this picture taken in Clarksville in April 2017.

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February Barges In – GLO Style

I blinked and January turned in February. This weekend, sorority women are meeting in Atlanta for the Coalition for Collegiate Women’s Leadership (Former SEPC) meeting. It is the largest conference of female undergraduates in the United States. Ginny Carroll, found of the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation tweeted:

Next week, GLO leaders will meet in Indianapolis for AFLV Central. The Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values  stimulates “the growth and development of fraternity/sorority councils, chapters, and members by promoting leadership, educational, and values based experiences and resources for student leaders, their advisors, and the larger fraternal market.” Joe Biden, former Vice President and Syracuse Law School alumnus, will be speaking on Friday, February 9.

And it’s another weekend for GLO sponsored educational forums for their respective members. It’s hard to leave one of these events without being inspired by the crop of current and emerging leaders of our organizations. It is too bad the media can’t meet some of the young men and women attending these events. All too often we are judged by the ones who show dishonor and contempt for our founding values and not by the many who live our values every day.


Condolences to Sigma Chi on the loss of Significant Sig and Order of Constantine Sig Jon Huntsman, Sr., an initiate of the University of Pennsylvania chapter. He attended Penn on a Zellerbach scholarship.


Belated congratulations to Senator Robert Dole, Kappa Sigma, on receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.

It’s good to see the GLO umbrella organizations taking a stance on this issue. More than 100 years ago, three states were seeking to do the same thing. Read about it here as reported by a Delta Tau Delta member.

Yesterday, Alpha Phi members and their friends and relatives were wearing red to support women’s heart health. File under a day late and a dollar short.





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“Your Chapter Is Not Yours . . . It Is In Your Keeping.”

“People support what they help to create,” and “Your chapter is not yours . . . it is in your keeping,” were two of the gems said by Sarah Ruth “Sis” Mullis, a legend among Pi Phis at the organization’s College Weekend in St. Louis. Her words of wisdom were said during an after-dinner panel discussion between three Grand Presidents. Mary Tatum and current Grand President Paula Shepherd were the other two participants.

I was lucky enough to sit with her during breakfast on Sunday. My daughter, an alumna initiate who is now serving as a chapter advisor, joined us, too. I first met Sis when I was a chapter advisor for the University of Michigan chapter. I found out I was pregnant with said daughter just after that Regional Workshop took place three plus decades ago.

Sis personifies lifelong commitment. She has attended every Pi Phi convention since 1962, shortly after she became a member of the Pi Phi chapter at the University of South Carolina. At that convention, she met Pi Phi legends Amy Burnham Onken and May Lansfield Keller. It was the last convention they attended. She is our link to them. She is a retired pharmacist and throughout her career she served Pi Phi in many capacities. She served her term as Grand President while she was Director of Pharmacy for Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.

While making sure I had correct information about her professional life, I came across a Georgia Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists press release about Sis being awarded the organization’s Service to Society Award for 2012. It read, in part, “The professional accomplishments of this individual are many but it is her personality; her spirit and love of life that resonates with those who have had the fortune to work with her. To know her is to be constantly reminded of the importance of humor in helping us to cope with the many challenges of healthcare and life,” and “She truly cares for people; she inspires us with her outgoing personality; she warms us with her good humor and constant smile; and she leads us by example.” Those two statements are true of her life in Pi Beta Phi and we are blessed to call her one of our own.


Sarah Ruth “Sis” Mullis, a Pi Phi legend (Photo by Erika Michalski)




The mystery of the Art Deco fraternity jewelry has been solved, thanks to my Kappa Alpha Theta archivist friend, Noraleen Young. The bar-pin cost $3.50 in 1932, equivalent to about $60 today.  I also learned that Alpha Delta Pi has one of the items in their collection. 

The tie bar with the Pi Beta Phi crest

A necklace with the Alpha Tau Omega crest.

The 1932 Balfour Blue Book which was printed in black and white.

A close-up of the items

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What If @BettieLocke Had Taken the Phi Gam Badge?

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.

An earlly Kappa Alpha Theta badge (courtesy of Kappa Alpha Theta)

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.

In late 2016, the family of Carole Cones-Bradfield, great granddaughter of Bettie Locke Hamilton, stopped by Theta’s headquarters a tour. Carole recently passed away, and she generously donated many items to the Theta archive that belonged to her great-grandmother. CEO Betsy Corridan is pictured holding Bettie’s famous Theta cake basket. On the left is Dane Hartley, great-grandson of Bettie Locke, a DePauw alumnus, and a Phi Gamma Delta. He was Carole Cones-Bradfield’s cousin. On the right is Landis Bradfield, Carole’s husband.

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.

The four Kappa Alpha Theta Founders


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Help Needed to Solve a Jewelry Mystery

Two tie bar pins, 400 miles apart. One is in the Pi Beta Phi Archives in St. Louis. The other is in Columbus, Ohio in the Delta Gamma’s Frances Lewis Stevenson Archives.

The Delta Gamma tie bar also has a matching necklace.

Little is known about who sold these tie bars and if other designs were available. Was it perhaps a Balfour design? Was it one of the tie-bar convention favors Lloyd G. Balfour provided to the GLOs who were his clients? In a pre-Etsy world, was it something a lone jeweler sold to members in a selected area?

The tie bar with the Pi Beta Phi crest

Another archivist friend sent me this picture of a similar necklace with an Alpha Tau Omega crest on it. She added, “Do you think that these items were marketed as favors for guests at formals? Hence, the women’s crests on the tie bars, and the men’s crest on the necklace.” Maybe that’s it!

A necklace with the Alpha Tau Omega crest.

A friend who is knowledgable about antiques sent this message: 

Fran – these geometrically themed necklaces/tie bars were made during the Art Deco period, circa 1930s. The silver and colored enamel versions were often imported from Czechoslovakia. Jewelers could purchase them in bulk and then customized them by attaching various crests and other organization logos. (These crests very well could have been made by Balfour.)

Another reader sent this note:

I’ve definitely seen these in various jeweler catalogues including Balfour. Stock base, upon which you ordered your choice of coat of arms.

The mystery of the Art Deco fraternity jewelry has been solved, thanks to my Kappa Alpha Theta archivist friend, Noraleen Young. The bar-pin cost $3.50 in 1932, equivalent to about $60 today.  I also learned that Alpha Delta Pi has one of the items in their collection. 

The 1932 Balfour Blue Book which was printed in black and white.

A close-up of the items




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#HearHerHarvard Again; Listen This Time

Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest of the Colonial Colleges which predate the establishment of the United States. It took women 200 years before they were able to be a part of any form of higher eduction in the United States. Instead of educating women with the Harvard men, the institution chose to create a coordinate institution, Radcliffe College, for the women. Radcliffe opened in 1879, and since the 1970s, Harvard has been coeducational.

In 1870, the year young Bettie Locke, one of the first five females enrolled at Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw) in Greencastle, Indiana refused the offer of a Phi Gamma Delta badge and created a fraternity of her own, there were less than 600 institutions of f higher education in the United States. Of that number only 29% were coeducational, 12% were female only and 59% were male only. In 1870, according to Mabel Newcomer, less than one percent of all females 18 through 21 years of age were enrolled in any form of higher education.

For the members of Kappa Alpha Theta, Delta Gamma, and Alpha Phi who are enrolled at Harvard University, it might as well be 1870.* They are currently facing challenges similar to those experienced by the early members of those organizations. The early female college students sought support systems and friends with whom they could share the experience of higher education. While the literary and debating societies may have filled these needs for some of the women, it appeared that others were seeking stronger bonds of sisterhood. Out of this search came women’s fraternities/sororities. 

Today, January 23, sorority women are asked to wear their badges to show support for the NPC women at Harvard. Let’s flood twitterdom with the #HearHerHarvard hashtag to show support for their steadfastness in the face of adversity.

From a previous post entitled Hypocrisy Thy Name is Harvard:

I find it odd that one of the most exclusive of universities is suddenly concerned about being equitable. The class of entering freshmen, the first to be subjected to this edict, had a 5.2% acceptance rate. Of the more than 39,000 applicants, only 2,037 were admitted. And yet, Harvard is denouncing “exclusivity.” I have an idea, Harvard. Take the first 2,000 students who apply, no matter their GPAs, extracurriculars, essays, etc. Just take them as they come in. Or better yet, distribute “golden tickets” a la Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After all, it’s the fair thing to do. I suspect that many of the 37,000 high school seniors who received the “thanks, but no thanks” letter were devastated about that decision. It’s just not fair that some students are accepted to your university and others are not. Open Harvard up to everyone; it’s the equitable thing to do.

*The Eta Theta Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma was suspended indefinitely earlier this year. Collegiate members in good standing were granted alumna status.


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Dillon H. Payne on P.E.O.s 149th Anniversary

On January 21, 1869, seven young women, students at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, founded P.E.O. In the early years, they called it a Society and then, later, a Sisterhood. I’ve written about this before, but it is my contention that the founding of P.E.O. is one of the ripples that came from the founding of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Iowa Wesleyan.

In December 1865, the Alpha Alpha chapter of Beta Theta Pi was chartered on the campus of Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, about 60 miles southeast of Mount Pleasant across the Mississippi River. On June 8, 1868, the Alpha Epsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi was founded at Iowa Wesleyan University. It was the first national fraternity on the Iowa Wesleyan campus

Between the chartering of the two Beta Theta Pi chapters, I.C. Sorosis, an organization for women, was founded by 12 female students on the Monmouth College campus. The organization’s Greek motto was Pi Beta Phi and today that is the name of the organization. The women patterned the organization on the men’s fraternity model and, from the beginning, they were intent on expanding to other institutions.

Libbie Brook, one of the I.C. founders, left 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, the second chapter of I.C. Sorosis was chartered. The women wore their arrow pins to a New Year’s party at Hallowell’s Restaurant given by the Beta Theta Pi men.

In 1869, there were about 75 collegiate level students at Iowa Wesleyan. Legend has it that some, but not all seven, of a group of friends had been asked by Libbie Brook to join the new chapter of I.C. Sorosis. Franc Roads and Hattie Briggs were sitting on the steps of a wooden stile at the southeast entrance to the campus and made the decision to start a society of their own. They gathered five others, Mary Allen, Ella Stewart, Alice Bird, Alice Coffin, and Suela Pearson and P.E.O. came into being 149 years ago today.

P.E.O. Founders from a 1920s Record

Among the charter members of the Beta Theta Pi chapter were Will Pearson, Suela’s brother, and Dillon Hollingsworth Payne, who would go on to graduate as valedictorian. The future husbands of Alice Bird and Mary Allen, Washington Irving Babb and Charles L. Stafford, respectively, also became members of the Beta chapter.

Payne was Ella Stewart’s guest at P.E.O.’s  first social event, the Sidereal Soiree, held at the Brazelton Hotel on December 26, 1870.  As a member of the Class of 1869, he had already graduated. Payne read the law and spent most of his life as a successful lawyer, and he also served as a Trustee of IWU. His first wife, Susan “Suda” Weaver Pearson, was initiated as a P.E.O. in 1870. They married on October 17, 1877 in Atchison, Kansas. She died in 1891, apparently in childbirth, along with the child she was carrying. He died in 1928.

Dillon Payne

Payne also played a role in the extension of P.E.O. when, through his connections in Bloomfield, Iowa, made the introductions to establish Chapter G, then in Troy, Iowa. 

In the 1920s, Payne’s recollections of the seven Founders of P.E.O. were published in issues of the P.E.O. Record. Here is a smattering of how he remembered each woman:

Mary (Allen) had good taste in dress and made smart clothes look better, was graceful, cheerful and popular with the boys. She entertained nicely in her home and stood well in her classes.

Alice Bird: She was a town girl…medium height, black hair thrown back, dark piercing eyes, tailor-made clothes, taking long and bold strides as she passed through the college campus….When any bold or daring adventure was incubating, Allie was there in the midst. She was not a man worshipper, met the boys like brothers and generous in her attention to all. 

Hattie Briggs: The best hearted girl that ever lived. None knew her but to love her. She was modest and retiring.

Alice Coffin: She combined all the qualities of a stunning personality. In the drawing room she would be a queen; in the ball room, the first lady. Her name was always on the list of our Beta banquets. Perhaps the most striking couple in our public festivities was Alice Coffin, and Will Pearson, brother of Sue. They were tall, courtly, handsome and up-to-date dressers. Will had black hair and blue eyes;…Alice was a typical blonde, with elegant grace and costume in the latest style. The law of mutual attraction or human gravitation drew them together and the boys expected Will to select her as his partner….She could lay aside her dignity and become a hilarious romp, which she often did.

Franc Roads: There was dignity and poise in her manner, stocky form, neatly dressed, broad forehead, kindly eyes and shocky head of hair. She took her place in our class as a substantial member…She was rather quiet, not a tomboy. Her face was serious and thoughtful but pleasant and engaging. She took life seriously and not as joyously as might be expected of one with such artistic temperament and talent as she later demonstrated. However we were all too young to be looking for the budding of genius.

Suela Pearson: This star was the planet with a ring (of boys) around it, but not so far off….At sometime she was the sweetheart of each of us, we all looked alike to her….She had talent, could sing, and was a rival of Allie Bird as a reader….She was an attraction, a magnet. She had…more beaus in the list at the same time than all of the other founders….Can you imagine the girls leaving her out of the Original Seven? If they had the Betas would have initiated her…Another thing in her praise was that none of the other girls was ever jealous of her. Her light shown on all, and no one wanted it put under a bushel.

Ella Stewart: She had auburn pompadour hair, florid complexion, dressed neatly and in good style, was bright and lively, could play and sing. She always graced our social affairs and took an active part in all of our amusements….She wore the gold star and sometimes a Beta pin. I have the pin still




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