At the Forefront of History
Pi Beta Phi is proud of its heritage as a pioneering organization for women. Throughout the Fraternity's history, Pi Phi has been the first to establish a number of original frameworks and governing institutions. A sample of such accomplishments are listed below.
First organization of college women founded as a national fraternity (1867)
On April 28, 1867, the first national college society of women to be modeled after men’s Greek letter fraternities was founded at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. Its name was I.C. Sorosis. The 12 founders had the vision to form the first secret society for women patterned after men’s groups at a time when only five state universities admitted women. The courageous founders set the stage for a thriving organization continuing to enrich the lives of many other women during their collegiate years and beyond.
One of the seven founding members of the National Panhellenic Conference organizations (1902)
Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women distinguishes itself in the fraternity and sorority world by leading the way as one of the first of seven founding members of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC).
First of the NPC organizations to expand beyond the founding campus (1868)
Emma Brownlee Kilgore described the 1867 Convention held in Oquawka, Illinois as focusing on Pi Beta Phi’s legacy and expansion: “Well-laid plans were made of how we would extend the I.C. reputation of being the first woman’s secret society; how we would enter other colleges; no high schools were to be considered; and we also unanimously decided that no college fraternity among the young men should be better, wiser, or stronger than ours.”
Libbie Brook, after that first convention, enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, with the intention of starting an I.C. chapter. She was successful, and on December 21, 1868, the second chapter of I.C. Sorosis came into being. The next year Nannie Black founded the chapter at the Mt. Pleasant Female Seminary, and in 1870 Kate F. Preston left Mt. Pleasant and founded the chapter in Asbury (now DePauw) University, in Greencastle, Indiana. Then Mary Brook, Libbie’s sister, followed on the mission of expansion, entering Lombard College at Galesburg, Illinois, throwing her influence and energy into establishing Illinois Beta. In 1873, Kansas Alpha came into existence through the labors of Sara Richardson, Illinois Beta. When Kappa Kappa Gamma made its official debut at Monmouth College in October 1870, four chapters of I.C. Sorosis had already been established.
Fannie Whitenack Libbey later said, “Our first secret was our birthplace. It was quite generally believed that we were a chapter from an Eastern College … a secret we kept for 15 years. Then, it was our greatest secret; now, however, that we are Alpha Chapter is our greatest pride.”
Active chapters from 1867 to 1882 were named in rotation, according to the date of their establishment, with the letters of the Greek alphabet. The present system of naming chapters was adopted on October 19, 1886. It was decided that although the chapter at Monmouth had been closed due to anti-fraternity legislation, the name Illinois Alpha would be given to the mother chapter at Monmouth.
First NPC organization to establish an alumnae department (1893)
Past Grand President and D.C. Alpha Emma Harper Turner’s crowning achievement was the establishment of the first women’s fraternity alumnae association. At the 1893 Chicago Convention, Emma resigned as Grand President to become the first president of the alumnae association. It grew and became the backbone of the Fraternity. Alumnae play a crucial and special role in the expansion, development, and continued success of Pi Beta Phi. Today, alumnae club members enjoy regular meetings, lunches, dinners, charity benefits, and reunions to remind them of the wonderful bonds and memories made during their years as a collegiate member.
First NPC organization to establish a philanthropic project (Settlement School vote to establish taken in 1910, school opened in 1912)
Pi Beta Phi is a pioneer among fraternities. The motion to establish a settlement school in the Appalachian Mountains, an educationally deprived area, was made at the 1910 Swarthmore Convention by Emma Harper Turner, a representative of the Washington, D.C Alumnae Club, and propelled the Fraternity to the forefront of the fraternity philanthropic movement. After much deliberation and an on-site visit by Grand President May Lansfield Keller, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was chosen as the spot to establish Pi Beta Phi’s Settlement School. At that time, Gatlinburg was a sleepy little village with nary a hint of the glitz and tourist trade one finds there today. When Pi Beta Phi elected to serve the community, the Great Smoky Mountains had yet to be declared a national park and few, if any, people traveled to Gatlinburg. In addition to providing education for the children in this mountain area through a Settlement School, the Pi Beta Phis also established the Jennie Nicol Health Center, arts and crafts cottage industries, Arrowcraft, summer craft workshops, a junior high and industrial high school.
Pi Phi was solely responsible for all education in Gatlinburg until the 1940s and continued to provide educational and financial assistance until 1967. In 1962, the Fraternity established a Project Committee for the commemoration of Pi Beta Phi’s founding. After much research, the Project Committee recommended at the 1967 Convention that an Arts and Crafts Center be established in Gatlinburg to take the place of the Settlement School which had become Pi Beta Phi Elementary School. The Arts and Crafts Center’s name was changed to the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and became the contemporary legacy of the Settlement School as well as Pi Beta Phi’s new philanthropy. In 1969, Pi Beta Phi officers laid the cornerstone for the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the Turner Complex, named after former Grand President Emma Harper Turner, was officially opened in 1970. The fascinating and extensive story of the Settlement School and renowned Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is covered in its own exhibit. Today, through numerous initiatives and unique partnerships, Pi Phi continues the tradition of supporting children and families in the fields of literacy and education. Pi Beta Phi Elementary is a true testament to the Fraternity’s dedication to education.
For more information on the Settlement School, please see the Settlement School Exhibit.
First to establish Alumnae Advisory Committees (1913)
Pi Phi was the first women’s fraternity to recognize the value of using its alumnae to give guidance and counsel to collegiate chapters. As early as 1908, it was recommended Pi Phi alumnae living near a chapter should have contact with the chapter at least once per month.
On June 21, 1913, Grand Council authorized an amendment to the Constitution and Statutes, providing the formation of Alumnae Advisory Committees (AAC). The amendment included provisions “that for each active chapter there shall be an advisory committee of five from the nearest chartered alumnae club” and that committee shall supervise in the areas of scholarship, house management, general social conditions, the publication of Fraternity news and the Panhellenic situation.
The June 1914 Arrow contained several reports on the concept. The Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, Alumnae Club reported: “Our chapter advisory committee has been interested and conscientious in solving the problems which have come to it. As the work of this committee becomes better defined and organized, it will be of great service to the Fraternity.”
In 1922, Grand Vice President Anna Robinson Nickerson, Massachusetts Alpha, compiled a “Manual for the Use of Alumnae Advisory Committees.” It proved to be of inestimable value. By the mid-1920s, AACs became required to meet with the chapter’s Executive Council to review and approve the list of candidates eligible for initiation. By the 1930s, AACs were also named official counselors in the areas of recruitment and development of New Members. Today, though AAC job titles and duties have evolved over the years, the duties of mentoring and guiding collegiate members remain unchanged.