Notable Figures throughout Pi Phi History
Amy Burnham Onken, Illinois Epsilon
It was through the leadership of Illinois Epsilon Amy Burnham Onken that the Fraternity gained not only strength, but its outstanding reputation in the fraternity and sorority community.
In 1904, Amy entered Northwestern University and became a member of the Illinois Epsilon Chapter. She was extremely popular, serving as class historian for four years in addition to a myriad of other activities. Her course work was in English and she received a bachelor's degree in 1908.
In 1912, Amy became a member of Pi Beta Phi’s Grand Council. Eight years later, at the age of 36, she was elected Grand President. She held that office for 31 years. During her tenure, Pi Phi grew from 65 chapters to 97 chapters, and from 13,000 members to 56,000 members. She installed 38 chapters, 36 of those as Grand President. She pinned the arrow over the hearts of more than 1,500 initiates. Amy knew many of the founders and reinstalled the Illinois Alpha Chapter at Monmouth College in 1928.
From 1928 to 1953, Amy served as Pi Phi’s NPC Delegate. She served as NPC Chairman from 1945 to 1947 and oversaw the merger of the Association of Education Sororities into NPC during that time. In 1934, Amy received an honorary degree from Monmouth College. Founder Margaret Campbell, a Monmouth resident, placed the hood upon Amy’s shoulders. This was at the request of Monmouth College’s President, James Grier, son of Founder Ada Bruen Grier.
Amy was outstanding in parliamentary law, phrasing motions concisely with all necessary points within one motion. Her wonderful memory for names and faces, her quiet dignity and her friendliness and interest made her one of Pi Phi’s truly great women. Her light blond hair had turned white while she was in her early 30s. She wore her hair in a French roll, with never a hair out of place; few remember her any other way. It always amused her when a collegian would confuse her with the founders.
At the 1952 Houston Convention, the title of Honorary Grand President was conferred upon Amy. She attended her last convention in 1962 and passed away a year later. One of Pi Phi’s highest individual collegiate awards, the Amy Burnham Onken Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Campus and Community Leadership, was established in her honor. The award recognizes the contribution of a senior who has best lived up to the ideals of Pi Beta Phi. It was first presented in 1935.
Carolyn Helman Lichtenberg, Ohio Alpha
Ohio Alpha Carolyn Helman Lichtenberg was an ardent Pi Phi alumna and served as Grand President from 1985 to 1991. Many affectionately knew Carolyn, including her family, as “CHL.”
Carolyn attended Ohio University, where she received a bachelor's degree in education. After college, Carolyn was an alumnae club leader and became Alumnae Province President. She was elected to Grand Secretary in 1983 and then Grand President in 1985.
As Grand President, Carolyn was an innovative leader guiding the Fraternity forward with the establishment of Pi Beta Phi Foundation in 1990. Thanks to Carolyn's vision, critical programs like leadership development and academic scholarships receive ongoing support through the Foundation. She was the first Grand President to have a professional strategic planner work with Grand Council to ensure the viability and sustainability of the Fraternity. Those efforts are the cornerstone of today’s Fraternity infrastructure.
Carolyn was also instrumental in the development of the Fraternity’s past national service project, Links to Literacy. The program marked the first time Pi Beta Phi’s literacy work, which began in 1912 at the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg, extended to a national focus. The program’s aims continue today through Pi Beta Phi’s philanthropic effort, Read > Lead > Achieve®.One of the most beloved parts of Pi Beta Phi’s biennial convention is the Chapter Banner Parade, a tradition that would not be in existence without Carolyn’s creativity and organization. It took years of planning, alongside Kentucky Beta Karen Emberton, to ensure the chapters designed and prepared their banners. Those banners are proudly carried across the convention stage today.
The Fraternity created the Carolyn Helman Lichtenberg Crest Award upon her retirement from Grand Council. The award is given to distinguished alumnae who exhibit excellence and outstanding leadership in their career or volunteer service to their communities.
In 2011, Carolyn served as Chairman for the committee that planned a celebration honoring the Fraternity’s 100-year commitment to literacy service. The celebration included the dedication of a plaza in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, featuring a life-size bronze sculpture of Pi Beta Phi Settlement School’s first Pi Phi teacher, Della “Miss Dell” Gillette Morgan, Illinois Zeta, handing a book to one of her students. Carolyn found the sculptor and worked with the artist to make sure the statue was perfect. The celebration was her last major project. She passed away in 2014.
Carrie Lane Chapman Catt, Iowa Gamma
Iowa Gamma Carrie Lane Chapman Catt played a pivotal role in helping women earn the right to vote.
She enrolled at Iowa State University in 1876 and joined the newly formed chapter of I.C. Sorosis. After college, she used her Pi Phi connections to promote the woman’s suffrage movement. She spoke about “The New Revolution” at the 1890 Galesburg Convention. She gave a lecture at Swarthmore College in 1901 entitled, “The Procession of Justice,” which was attended by members of the Pennsylvania Alpha Chapter.
Carrie worked with leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She served as the President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900–1904 and then again from 1915–1920. Her brilliant organization and oratory skills were credited with helping pass the 19th Amendment in 1920. Later, she helped found the League of Women Voters.
Many honors and degrees were conferred upon Carrie. She was the first NPC member to receive Chi Omega’s National Achievement Award, a gold medal presented to a woman of notable accomplishment. Her likeness has been on two postage stamps, one in the U.S. in 1948 and another in Turkey.
Carrie was always loyal to Pi Beta Phi, especially her Iowa Gamma Chapter. After a chapter house fire, she gave them financial aid to rebuild. At the 1924 Eastern Conference, when the portrait of First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge, Vermont Beta, was presented to the nation, Carrie was the keynote speaker at the banquet. At the 1946 Swampscott Convention, the convention body voted to establish Chapter Loyalty Day as January 9, in honor of Carrie’s birthday.
Carrie passed away in 1947. One of her mottoes was: “Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture in life.” This quote symbolizes all her efforts to make this a better world for women.
Elizabeth Clarke Helmick, Michigan Alpha
Michigan Alpha Elizabeth Clarke Helmick served as Fraternity Historian and wrote “The History of Pi Beta Phi,” which was published in 1915. She also played a significant role in the success of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg.
In 1889, Elizabeth married Eli A. Helmick who would become a Major General in the U.S. Army. Elizabeth followed her husband as he was stationed in various locales. He was sent to army posts in Washington and Idaho, then known as the western frontier, to guard American Indian reservations. Then from 1894 to 1896, the couple was stationed in Hillsdale, Michigan.
While her husband was detailed by the War Department for duty as a military instructor at Hillsdale College, Elizabeth was asked to be a patroness of the Michigan Alpha Chapter. The young wife and mother became a favorite of the chapter. She was initiated by the chapter in 1896.
The family left Michigan later that year, but Elizabeth continued to be involved in the Fraternity as she followed her husband’s career. From Michigan, the family moved to Oklahoma and then, in 1900, to Cuba. Elizabeth was among the first American women to go out with the American army of occupation after the Spanish-American War. The family then went on a 56-day voyage to Paraguay. At the time, Elizabeth was the only woman allowed to accompany any expedition upon active service. In 1902, Elizabeth went with her husband to the Philippines and then on to Alaska in 1906.
She was a member of the Washington, D.C., Alumnae Club when the idea for the Settlement School was proposed at the 1910 Swarthmore Convention. Later, as a member of the Chicago Alumnae Club, Elizabeth became concerned about the direction the idea was taking. The Chicago Alumnae Club was asked to take over the project and Elizabeth became Chairman of the Settlement School Committee.
She devoted herself to seeing that the school was a success. Elizabeth hired the first Pi Phi teacher, Illinois Zeta Della “Miss Dell” Gillette Morgan. She gave the Gatlinburg men the infamous ultimatum, saying if they did not come up with their portion of the funds to purchase land for the school, Pi Phi would leave and find another community. While the Teacher’s Cottage was being built, she spent weeks in Gatlinburg overseeing every aspect of the project. She visited with, and wrote hundreds of letters to, alumnae clubs and chapters, which helped the Settlement School become a respected and valued Fraternity project.
Elizabeth remained devoted to the Fraternity after her retirement from the Settlement School Committee in 1917. After her husband’s retirement from the Army, the couple moved to Hawaii. She was a loyal member of the Honolulu Alumnae Club until her death in 1951.
Emma Harper Turner, Indiana Alpha and D.C. Alpha
Few Pi Phis have such a lengthy list of contributions to the Fraternity as Emma Harper Turner, Indiana Alpha and D.C. Alpha. Her service was completed with a fierce devotion to ensuring women played an important role in society. Though she joined the Indiana Alpha Chapter at Franklin College, Emma later also became a member of the D.C. Alpha Chapter at The George Washington University.
While a student at Franklin College, Emma was first a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. After a series of misunderstandings, Kappa withdrew the charter from its chapter at Franklin. NPC had not yet been established at that time and there was no prohibiting against belonging to more than one NPC group.
Emma then sought a charter to establish an I.C. Sorosis chapter. She was initiated as a member of that chapter in 1888 and served as the chapter's delegate to the 1888 Ottumwa Convention. Her leadership was apparent; after only two days, the delegates elected her Grand Vice President. Two years later, at the 1890 Galesburg Convention, Emma was elected Grand President.
At the time, there were approximately 20 chapters in six adjacent states. Between 1888 and 1893, eight more chapters were installed. One of these was the D.C. Alpha Chapter at The George Washington University. Emma was the prime force behind the chapter’s establishment and also one of its charter members.
She always kept in close touch with D.C. Alpha Chapter members and is well remembered for an incident taking place at one of the chapter's Initiation Ceremonies. The collegians had put a sign on the front door: “Keep out!” Emma arrived and read the sign, but then knocked on the door until it was finally opened. Then she said: “I am Emma Harper Turner, and I am coming in!”
Emma attended the historic meeting in 1891 in Boston where representatives from seven different women's organizations met together in-person for the very first time. She was appointed Secretary of that group's first standing committee.
Her crowning achievement was establishing the first women’s fraternity alumnae association. At the 1893 Chicago Convention, Emma resigned as Grand President to become the first President of the Pi Beta Phi alumnae association. It grew and became the backbone of the Fraternity.
At the 1910 Swarthmore Convention, Emma, as a Washington, D.C., Alumnae Club representative, presented a plan for an altruistic project she felt Pi Phi needed. The plan was to establish a Settlement School in the Appalachian Mountains in honor of the founders and Pi Beta Phi’s founding. A committee was appointed to outline and develop the project. Emma, Pennsylvania Alpha Anna Pettit Broomell and Grand President May Lansfield Keller, Maryland Alpha, made many trips to Tennessee to find a location. Gatlinburg was later chosen. The establishment of the school marked the formal beginning of Pi Beta Phi's more than 100-year commitment to literacy service.
At the 1924 Eastern Conference, Emma gave the opening address, welcoming more than 1,200 Pi Phis. During the conference, the women walked up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where Pi Phi members and mothers were invited to tea with First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge, Vermont Beta. The lovely portrait of the First Lady, paid for by the Fraternity, was presented to the White House that afternoon.
After being an honorary guest at the 1931 Asbury Park Convention, Emma retired and moved to Glendale, California, to be near her sister, a stage and film actress. Emma was active in that city’s alumnae club for several years. In 1934, she broke her hip, contracted pneumonia and passed away just shy of 80 years old.
Pi Beta Phi Foundation’s Emma Harper Turner Fund is a fitting memorial for this trailblazing leader. The Emma Harper Turner Fund program grants financial assistance on a confidential basis to alumnae and collegians in dire financial need, including those members residing in Presidentially-declared (or the Canadian equivalent) disaster areas. Today, the program grants more than $50,000 annually in support of sisters in need.
Evelyn Peters Kyle, Illinois Alpha
As Pi Beta Phi’s Poet Laureate, Illinois Alpha Evelyn Peters Kyle conveyed her pride and joy for the sisterhood through her poems. Her words and actions continue to inspire generations of Pi Phis.
After graduating from Monmouth College in 1932, Evelyn served Pi Beta Phi in numerous roles. These included Alumnae Province President, Director of Programs, Grand Vice President Alumnae and Grand Vice President Philanthropy. She also served as President of the Pasadena, California, Alumnae Club and Chairman of Pi Beta Phi Foundation’s Emma Harper Turner Fund Committee.
She was named Pi Beta Phi’s Poet Laureate at the 1993 Orlando Convention. In addition to her poems, Evelyn wrote the Founders and Notable Pi Phis sections of the Fraternity Heritage Manual alongside Fraternity Archivist and Historian Fran Desimone Becque, New York Alpha.
Evelyn and her husband, Stan, were loyal Pi Beta Phi Foundation donors and longtime members of the Foundation’s Marianne Reid Wild Society. When Evelyn passed away in 2009, the bulk of her estate was gifted to the Foundation. In her honor, the Foundation created the Evelyn Peters Kyle Society to recognize donors who support the Foundation with gifts totaling $1,000 or more each fiscal year. Like Evelyn, members of the Evelyn Peters Kyle Society have a deep commitment to the future of Pi Beta Phi.
In addition to her Pi Phi service, Evelyn held many volunteer roles in her hometown of Pasadena, including: President of the Council of Women’s Clubs, an organization composed of 76 women’s groups in the area; member of the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra Woman’s Committee; President of the Pasadena Women’s League, which named her woman of the year in 1958; and a member of the Pasadena Library Board. She was also a member of P.E.O., a Philanthropic Education Organization. Evelyn passed away in 2009.
Each year, one outstanding alumna is awarded the Evelyn Peters Kyle Angel Award for Club Service. The award honors an alumna who has performed duties that often go unrecognized but enhance the success of an alumnae club.
Grace Goodhue Coolidge, Vermont Beta
First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge, Vermont Beta was one of Pi Beta Phi’s most loyal members. When she became First Lady, plans were set in motion to honor her through a portrait, which hangs in the White House today.
In 1898, Grace entered the University of Vermont and became a charter member of the Vermont Beta Chapter. The chapter often met in the Coolidge family home. She was the chapter’s delegate to the 1901 Syracuse Convention. There she met Anna Robinson Nickerson, the representative from the Massachusetts Alpha Chapter at Boston University. A lifelong friendship was formed.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1902, she began working as a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts. Calvin Coolidge, also a Vermonter, had graduated in 1895 from Amherst College where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta. He set up a law practice in nearby Northampton. Grace met Calvin in a most unorthodox way. Calvin had very unruly hair, so he always wore a hat when he shaved. One day when Grace was in the garden of the Clarke School, she glanced up at the house next door and saw in a window Calvin shaving. He heard her laugh and made plans to meet her. They were married on October 4, 1905. They had two sons: John, born in 1906, and Calvin Jr., born in 1908.
After becoming mayor of Northampton, Calvin was elected State Senator, Lieutenant Governor and then Governor. In 1920, he was elected Vice President of the United States and the family moved to the New Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. Upon President Harding’s death, Calvin succeeded to the presidency on August 3, 1923. He was elected to a full term in 1924 by the largest Republican plurality up to that point.
In April 1924, as part of the Fraternity’s Eastern Conference, Pi Beta Phi presented a portrait of Grace to the White House, painted by Howard Chandler Christy. More than 1,200 Pi Phis, from every state, attended the presentation of the portrait. Pi Phi members had contributed $3,000 to have it painted. Based on the Nation’s colors, Grace’s dress is red with her Pi Phi arrow over her heart. Her white collie, Rob Roy, is at her side against a background of the White House and a brilliant blue sky. Copies of the portrait were sold to Pi Phis for $2 each, and $3 each if they were signed by Grace. The proceeds benefited the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School's library.
Grace’s years in the White House, however, were not entirely happy ones. In 1924, Calvin Jr. died at the age of 16 from blood poisoning, due to a blister on his foot that was raised while playing tennis at the White House while not wearing socks.
Grace remained active in Pi Phi her entire life, from her college days to her time in the White House to retirement. She was the first President of the Western Massachusetts Alumnae Club. In 1912, she was elected as Alpha Province Vice President, covering the area from Florida to Toronto. She became the Province President in 1915, though she later resigned to help her husband campaign.
Also in 1915, she attended the San Francisco Convention and was a passenger on the first cross-country Pi Phi convention train. It was on this train ride that several of her Pi Phi friends formed the Robins, sending round robin letters around the group. Two Robins became prominent in Pi Phi — Anna Robinson Nickerson, a Grand Vice President, and Sarah Pomeroy Rugg, The Arrow Editor, both Massachusetts Alphas.
After leaving the White House, the family returned to Northampton where Calvin died in 1933. Grace remained active at the Clarke School for the Deaf, serving as a Trustee and President of the Board. Grace died in 1957 at the age of 78. She is buried beside her husband and two sons in the little cemetery at Plymouth Notch, Vermont.
First Lady of the Land
An Arrow correspondent described the presentation of the portrait of First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge to the White House.
"The guests assembled in the historic East Room, forming a semi-circle about the panel on the west wall, where hung the curtains, in wine red velvet, with cords of silver blue, which covered the portrait. The presentation party was assembled in the Green Room. Promptly at 4:30, a section of the Marine Band began to play, announcing the opening of the simple ceremony. The presentation group came first from the Green Room, taking their places on the inner side of the circle, facing the portrait. On either side of the portrait stood the two collegiate girls who were to draw the curtains.
Through the double doorway appeared the Army, Naval and Marine Aides to the President. With the Senior Aides as escort, came Grace Coolidge, First Lady of the Land. She wore a soft grey georgette crepe afternoon dress trimmed with crystal, and, as jewels, a diamond eagle on her shoulder, a chain with a crystal pendant, a gold bracelet, her wedding ring and the diamond studded arrow, which had been presented the day before by a group of personal friends in Pi Beta Phi. With arms at her side, she stood very still through the entire ceremony, except for a constant play of understanding appreciation, which lighted her expressive face.
The representatives drew the silver blue cords, the heavy wine-red curtains parted and the portrait was revealed. Then, 'to express a little of what was in their hearts,' the Pi Beta Phi Anthem was sung, with Mrs. Coolidge joining in. After the portrait was presented, the group moved to the Blue Room. A single line was formed and the guests were presented by name to the First Lady. To each she gave a smile, an individual word of greeting and a warm handshake.
The lower floors of the White House were open, so that the attendees had an opportunity to see the staterooms. At the conclusion of the reception, the group headed to the gardens, where a panoramic photo was taken. As the First Lady left the grounds after the picture, she spoke to the nearby Pi Phis, 'This is the loveliest thing I have seen here. I should like to keep you here always, to make beautiful the White House lawn.'”
Jean Wirths Scott, Pennsylvania Beta
Revered and admired by all who knew her, Grand President Emerita Jean Wirths Scott, Pennsylvania Beta, was a distinguished member of Pi Beta Phi whose transformative leadership can still be seen today. As a legend in the greater fraternity and sorority community as well as within Pi Phi, Jean’s leadership, foresight and passion for teamwork created a strong foundation for all 26 National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organizations.
Jean joined Pi Beta Phi at Bucknell University in 1953 and would go on to serve as Chapter President, the first of many leadership roles she would hold within and beyond Pi Phi. Known by many as the well-respected, bold JWS, Jean had a passion for communicating and was instrumental in the Fraternity’s growth. Jean had a presence that made it apparent someone special, a big thinker, was in the room.
Jean first served Pi Phi at the international level as Grand Vice President Philanthropies, having begun her Fraternity work as a club president before moving to the office of Alumnae Province President. During her term as Grand President, Jean found the Fraternity faced with unprecedented issues: coed fraternities, injury and alcohol liability, drug abuse and hazing. She oversaw the development of alcohol and drug awareness programs and took a firm stand against hazing practices.
Jean’s accomplishments can be credited to her open lines of communication and her support for success across the Panhellenic community. Her calm demeanor and positive attitude helped build a strong, unified fraternal system. From 1995 to 1997, as NPC Chairman, Jean led the 26 member groups with enthusiasm and a vision for the future. Under her leadership, the relationship between NPC and NIC was immeasurably strengthened through frequent meetings of the executive boards of the two conferences. Through her work, Jean continued her mission to abolish hazing, forged industry relationships to lead the development of values-based anti-drug programming, and supported the implementation of substance-free housing at colleges and universities through participation in an NPC/NIC Joint Commission.
In an extension of her loyalty and service to the Fraternity, Jean served Pi Beta Phi Foundation in many roles, including the Board of Trustees President from 2005-2007. Jean's focus on ensuring the future of our sisterhood was evident in her leadership of the first endowment building campaign the Foundation conducted for Pi Phi. Because of Jean’s visionary leadership, the Fraternity began awarding the Jean Wirths Scott Leadership Award for Outstanding Change Leadership in 1987, recognizing a member who has implemented changes and improvements in the chapter or the local Collegiate Panhellenic Council.
Jean felt leading and serving the Fraternity and NPC was a way to give back to others. To her, team efforts were successful because of friendships, unity and the beliefs shared by NPC sisters and the broader fraternity and sorority community. Jean once said, “Volunteering and serving with so many dedicated and committed team members has been the highlight of my life.” Jean's deep care for the fraternity and sorority community and the individuals involved made her an exemplary leader. She was a true friend — touching lives through her years of servant leadership and enriching all she knew and worked with. Jean is an icon within Pi Beta Phi and the greater fraternal community.
Marianne Reid Wild, Kansas Alpha
Kansas Alpha Marianne Reid Wild was a dedicated Pi Phi leader. She led the way by becoming the first alumna to make a significant bequest to Pi Beta Phi Foundation.
Marianne joined Kansas Alpha in 1924. Her Pi Phi service began in 1931 with the role of Province Vice President. She served next as Assistant Grand Vice President for 12 years and then as Grand Vice President. In 1952, she became Grand President. During her six years in that role, she installed seven chapters. She served as Pi Beta Phi's NPC Delegate and in 1966 was named Grand President Emerita.
Marianne died just as the Fraternity gathered for the 1991 St. Louis Convention. A Pi Phi for 67 years, tradition played a large part in her life. Marianne always carefully considered what had been done in the past before suggesting changes for the future. She honored the many past customs that had provided continuity.
Marianne extended her love for Pi Phi by leaving a large portion of her estate to Pi Beta Phi Foundation. She was the first Pi Phi to give a gift of its size, and it enabled Marianne to establish a permanent legacy that lives on in perpetuity and impacts many generations of Pi Phis beyond those she lived to see.
Today, many Pi Beta Phi members and friends also choose to make planned gifts that transcend their lifetime and allow the Foundation to ensure the future of the sisterhood. These forward-thinking donors are known collectively as members of the Marianne Reid Wild Society. Each November, the Foundation celebrates Marianne Reid Wild Society Month. The celebration honors the legacy of Marianne and those members and friends who have followed in her footsteps and made the ultimate gift to Pi Beta Phi.
Marilyn Simpson Ford, Nebraska Beta
For more than 20 years, Nebraska Beta Marilyn Simpson Ford presented the heart and soul of Pi Beta Phi in The Arrow. As Editor, Marilyn oversaw several milestones of the magazine, including introducing color in 1974 and celebrating The Arrow’s centennial in 1985.
Marilyn attended MacMurray College for Women, the University of Nebraska and Northwestern University. But her heart was with the University of Nebraska where she was a proud member of the Nebraska Beta Chapter. Marilyn was a radio producer and newspaper editor and writer. She also was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
During Marilyn’s 21 years as Arrow Editor, she chaired several committees and then served as Chairman of the National Panhellenic Editors Conference (now National Panhellenic Communicators Conference) from 1981 to 1983. Throughout the years, she also chaired numerous committees and served on the Board of Directors for the College Fraternity Editors Association (CFEA), now the Fraternity Communications Association (FCA).
At the 1989 NPC Annual Meeting, Pi Beta Phi presented an award in Marilyn’s name to CFEA/FCA to honor service to that organization. The Marilyn Simpson Ford Distinguished Service Award is given at the FCA Annual Conference to individual members of that Association who have worked diligently to advance the Association’s vision and purpose. Marilyn was the first honoree, with the presentation made by Pi Beta Phi Grand President Carolyn Helman Lichtenberg, Ohio Alpha, and the CFEA/FCA President Kris Brand Riske, Gamma Phi Beta.
Marilyn was also instrumental in the Atlanta Alumnae Club and the Georgia Alpha Chapter House Corporation (CHC), including serving as CHC President when the chapter house was built. Even in her retirement, Marilyn devoted her time and love to Pi Beta Phi, serving as Fraternity Historian from 1993 to 2003. She passed away in 2012.
May Lansfield Keller, Maryland Alpha
Maryland Alpha May Lansfield Keller was a pioneer, scholar, teacher, college administrator, linguist, writer and traveler.
In 1897, May became the very first initiate of the Maryland Alpha Chapter. She was also the first Chapter President as well as her class President. For two terms after her graduation, May did graduate work at The University of Chicago. Her dream was to study in Europe; she finally persuaded her father to let her go to Heidelberg, Germany.
May was one of the first women to enroll at Heidelberg University. Her knowledge of English literature, German, philosophy, Anglo-Saxon and the classics impressed her professors. She also studied at the University of Berlin. She did her thesis research at the British Museum archives. Her thesis topic, one of two from which she could choose, was “The Etymological Treatment of Anglo-Saxon Weapon Names.” In 1904, May received her doctorate magna cum laude.
In 1908, May was elected Grand President. During her 10 years in office, she installed 21 chapters. Among them was Ontario Alpha, the Fraternity’s first Canadian chapter. The Pi Phi Symphony, recognition pin and official Pi Phi Grace were inaugurated during her presidency. The Settlement School was her greatest achievement, and it was her proudest moment when the new school building was dedicated in 1913.
In 1914, May became Dean of Westhampton College, a new women’s school that was to be part of the University of Richmond. She was resolute that Westhampton College should be a true college and not another finishing school. Eighty-eight young women were in the first class. May ran the school for 32 years and became known affectionately as the “Iron Dean.”
May traveled extensively throughout her life. Her many adventures included surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Norway. At the age of 71, she rode a donkey to a volcano in Guatemala and at the age of 75, she rode a camel through the Egyptian desert.
Many honors were bestowed upon May both before and after her retirement. She was named Professor Emerita and lived out her life at the “Deanery,” the campus residence that she loved. Her last public appearance was in 1964 at Westhampton College’s golden anniversary, a few weeks before her death. She sat in cap and gown to watch a pageant showing the 50-year history of the college in which she had been a vital and guiding force.
In May’s memory, Pi Beta Phi Foundation established the May Lansfield Keller Award for Philanthropic Leadership in 2011. This award is presented biennially to a Pi Beta Phi member who has displayed outstanding philanthropic leadership in her community and who has significantly advanced the Foundation’s mission of ensuring the future of the sisterhood.
Olivia Smith Moore, Missouri Alpha
Tempered with a delightful sense of humor, Missouri Alpha Olivia Smith Moore was a wonderful friend, a tower of strength and devotion and a truly great Pi Phi.
In college, Olivia was very active in her chapter. While serving as Chapter President, she had the great joy of pledging and initiating her younger sister. As an alumna, she continued to be active in Pi Beta Phi. She served as a Province Vice President from 1936 to 1946. From 1946 until 1951, she served as Treasurer of the Settlement School Committee. In 1952, she was elected Grand Treasurer and served in that office until 1967. At the 1967 Centennial Convention, she was named Grand Treasurer Emerita.
Apt to begin her Grand Treasurer’s report at conventions with the words, “We took in scads and we spent oodles,” Olivia kept a very careful eye on the Fraternity’s money. She closely watched the Fraternity’s investments and was proud that there was enough money in 1961 to manage a national workshop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for all Chapter Presidents and later enough to finance an extra convention to celebrate the Fraternity’s Centennial.
Olivia often said the Fraternity and its ideals filled a spiritual need in her life, and her greatest happiness outside her family was her contact with her Pi Phi friends. She attended many chapter installations, always choosing to stand at the left of the Grand President during the Initiation Ceremony. The sight of her, standing perfectly straight the whole time, kept many a volunteer on her feet; for who could admit to fatigue when Olivia continued in her place?
Olivia’s love of shoes became legendary in the Fraternity. At conventions, Pi Phi collegians considered it a great treat to be invited to Olivia’s room to see the shoes she “needed” for the week — usually about 40 pairs — lined up on the top of a chest of drawers. A salesman in the shoe department of Neiman Marcus encouraged “Miss Olivia’s” love of shoes. He never failed to send her one or two pairs of shoes each month — subject to her approval. She never regretted her association with the store.
Later, the Silver Slipper Award, given to an outstanding chapter Vice President of Finance, was presented in Olivia's honor. The sterling silver award was a replica of one of her shoes. Sadly, the award became too fragile for the constant necessary shipping and was retired. It now lives in the archives at Pi Beta Phi Headquarters. Today’s Sliver Slipper Award winners receive a silver, shoe-shaped charm. Olivia passed away in 1985.