Michigan Alpha image

Michigan Alpha

Hillsdale College

Founding date: 5/21/1887

Installing Officer:
Jennie Colegrove, Illinois Beta

Philanthropic Event:
Mr. Hillsdale

Installation of Michigan Alpha

In the spring of 1887 the presidents of Alpha Kappa Phi and Germanae Sodales, brother and sister literary societies, were James E. Davidson and Minta Morgan, respectively. When James heard from Minta that a second women’s fraternity was being contemplated at Hillsdale, he suggested petitioning I.C. Sorosis. As early as September 1881,  the college had been on the I.C.'s radar as a place of possible extension, so the petition was granted at once by the Grand Officers.

On May 21, 1887, Minta Morgan, May Copeland, Anna Burgoyne, Josephine Graham, Belle Armstrong, Carrie Charles and Myra Browne gathered at the Adams house, 73 West Street South, the home of Minta’s grandfather, Strickland Adams and the Michigan Alpha Chapter was installed by Jennie Colegrove, Illinois Beta. The event was kept secret, so that word would not reach the faculty of their plans because there was some anti-fraternity sentiment on campus. Jessie C. Sheldon was initiated two weeks later.

The chapter made its existence known when classes resumed in the fall of 1887. Although six the seven charter members had been expected to return, Myra Brown and Belle Armstrong unexpectedly withdrew from school. The new chapter had to quickly recruit new members to remain viable, and bids offered to Adah Browne (cousin of Josephine Graham), Mame Kerr and Grace P. Higbee were quickly accepted. The first reference to “the ladies of Pi Beta Phi” appeared in the student newspaper in December, 1887.

Living at Michigan Alpha

From chartering until 1898, the College did not provide either residential housing or meeting rooms for the women’s fraternities. Members of Michigan Alpha tried renting houses near the College to serve as chapter houses. Only one of these has been identified, the “Olney House” — today known as “Dow House.” From 1898–1911, the College permitted women’s fraternities to use a double suite in East Hall dormitory as a chapter room. In 1898, the College finally assigned each women’s fraternity a suite in East Hall, the women’s dormitory. Alumna Kate King Bostwick (initiated 1892) donated a “mission-style cabinet” to the chapter to help furnish the suite; it is still in use in the chapter archives. At the same time, she donated an upright piano that remained in the various chapter houses for about 100 years. Beginning in 1913, the College became more receptive to the women having residential facilities and the chapter leased a series of houses, often from owners related to past chapter members, near the college.

In 1922, President William Spencer Gear decided that the women’s fraternities needed their own residential facilities,  and two houses were purchased for this purpose. Pi Beta Phi was given a long-term lease to the house at 234 N. Manning Street; it was first occupied in the fall of 1923, and charter member May Copeland Reynolds Drybread was the first house mother. 

The current house opened in 1970; alumna Roberta Simpson Ansbaugh led the fundraising that made the new facility possible. In the 1980s, it was remodeled to add the front staircase, breakfast nook and kitchen addition. There are 19 bedrooms, 37 women living in the house, and 42 on the meal plan here. Eating meals together really bonds sisters together!

Panhellenic Groups on Campus

Pi Beta Phi, Chi Omega, and Kappa Kappa Gamma

Philanthropic Service

Mr. Hillsdale is a male beauty pageant in which the whole campus participates.

Notable Alumnae

  • Elizabeth Clarke Helmick, Historian and Chairman and vital force behind the establishment of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School

  • Leah Stock Helmick, teacher at Settlement School, 1914
  • MaryAlice Chaffee Gerund, Director of the Settlement School, 1933-1934

Carolyn Helman Lichtenberg Crest Award Winners from Michigan Alpha

  • Michelle Morrow O’Brien (2015)
  • Rebecca Schmidt Abel (2014)