Kappa Alpha Theta at Hanover College, 1882-1889

Jenna Auber

Founded by Bettie Locke, Alice Allen, Hannah Fitch, and Bettie Tipton at Indiana Asbury College in 1870, Kappa Alpha Theta was built upon the principles of attaining the highest scholarship and influencing the campus, community, and world for good. (1) The founders hoped that the support within the organization would encourage women to continue pursuing higher education despite the adversity brought upon them by those against coeducational schooling. Gradually, the founders granted charters to interested groups of women at other colleges, including Hanover College.

Shortly after Hanover College began admitting women, the national members of Kappa Alpha Theta, along with women at Hanover, determined that their campus merited a charter. Hanover College gained this charter on January 2, 1882. The arrival of Nu Chapter on Hanover's campus allowed women students to foster relationships with other women who could support them in their academic endeavors. This focus on academic achievement in the early years of Nu Chapter placed these women in the nineteenth-century college "outsider culture." This outsider culture was characterized by students who cared deeply about their schoolwork, but not about the college experience in general. Especially in the early years of coeducation, women tended to participate in the outsider culture due to the apprehension with which male students and faculty members regarded them. However, after 1882, a gradual shift took place in the way in which Nu Chapter interacted with the rest of the College. As its members became more secure in their place as women students, members of Nu Chapter increasingly contributed to the "participant culture" of Hanover College until Nu Chapter's disestablishment in 1899. Participant culture of the nineteenth century was defined less by academic proficiency than by peer interaction and relationship building. More social than that of the outsiders, participant culture was often associated with fraternities. Nu Chapter's letters published in the early volumes of the Kappa Alpha Theta Journal show a gradual shift from the outsider culture to the participant culture between 1882 and 1899. This change from one culture to another on Hanover's campus represents the shifting attitude toward women on college campuses in the late nineteenth century.

In general, Kappa Alpha Theta saw their members as the most suitable among their colleagues to assure women's place on campus, as opposed to women on campus who did not belong to the fraternity. (2) They "strove to prove themselves the intellectual equals of men while at the same time continuing to fulfill the tenets of 'true' and 'noble womanhood'" and remaining within the Victorian notions of the 'feminine ideal.'" (3) A noble woman was an "ideal woman," or one who embodied the idea of what a woman should be at the time: a sophisticated woman of society who was educated in the art of entertaining, rather than academically. Along with continuing to fulfill this idea of "noble womanhood," the women of Kappa Alpha Theta strove to prove themselves as intellectuals capable of academic achievement. They did this by redefining for themselves "the feminine ideal, broadening it to include intellectual capacity along with more socially accepted traits of morality and social grace." (4) The idea of scholarship was implemented into the constitution by Kappa Alpha Theta's founders: "the object of this society shall be to advance the interests of its members, to afford an opportunity for improvement in composition and debate and elocution, to cultivate those social qualities which become a woman, and to provide for its members associated bound by a common interest." (5) These objectives allowed for independence in academia, since the college woman could pursue the subjects of interest to her rather than focusing solely on the subjects that would allow her to be the "ideal woman." In studying debate, elocution, and the subjects of interest to her, the early Kappa Alpha Theta members thus redefined their feminine ideal to include intellectual curiosity.

Due to this priority upon intellectual curiosity, the early Theta sisters looked for scholarship above all else when selecting a new woman to pledge. Unlike today, the recruitment process consisted solely of looking at a potential sister's academic performance, be it her grades or faculty recommendations. (6) When active members decided to extend a bid to another woman, they saw no need to meet her beforehand if the potential member had achieved success in her academics. Other factors contributed to this decision, of course, but academics remained the most important factor. Chapter meetings, in turn, became the ideal place for Theta's focus on academic achievement. Members presented their speeches and performances for critique by their sisters in these meetings, using the time to perfect their schoolwork. (7) The importance stressed upon this academic performance in both potential members and full members is emblematic of the outsider culture. Not as concerned with the social aspect of attending Hanover College, the women strove for academic excellence in an attempt to prove themselves as worthy students.

Faced with opposition to their presence on campus as women and as fraternity members, the five charter members of Nu Chapter fought for acceptance. During the 1881-1882 school year, Hanover College had just sixty-four students. Of these, twelve were women. (8) Seven of these women would join Kappa Alpha Theta, making up fifty-eight percent of the women on campus. (9) The author of an article in the 1899 volume of The Crowe (the Hanover College yearbook) conceded that "the welcome to the young ladies as students was not very cordial, and their attempt at organizing a fraternity was not heartily encouraged by those in authority." (10) Despite the opposition, however, the early Thetas fought back through their commitment to scholarship--further embracing the outsider culture and distancing themselves from the common community. Today, scholarship remains the highest aim of Theta on all college campuses.

No chapter minutes have come to light from the initial years of Kappa Alpha Theta's presence on Hanover's campus; whatever minutes might have once existed disappeared during the fraternity's sixty-year absence from 1899 to 1959. However, the Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, published in Kansas by the Kappa Chapter and distributed to all of the chapters, made its first appearance in 1885. The editors of the Kappa Alpha Theta Journal expected member chapters to send letters to inform the other the chapters of the events and activities that they had sponsored, so thereafter, as noted above, Nu Chapter contributed to the Journal on a regular basis. Some of Nu Chapter's letters provide details of their achievements and events, while others show little of their activity since the previous issue. Between 1885 and 1892, these letters focus very much on scholarship and academic achievements of the Nu Thetas. After 1892, the letters show a shift from a focus on academics to the participant culture ideal, displaying more interest in the other fraternities and parties on campus than on their academics per se. Academics are still mentioned after 1892, of course, but not to the same degree as they once had been. This year thus appears to mark a shift from the outsider culture to the participant culture, suggesting a greater acceptance of women as students on Hanover's campus.

In their letters from 1885 to 1892, Nu Chapter regularly comments on the current members' academic achievements, as well their alumnae achievements upon graduation. The author of the letters often includes information about Hanover College during that time, such as the arrival of new professors, the construction of new buildings, and the creation of new academic departments. Commencement is often discussed, especially if a Theta had a role in the ceremony. In both the June 1885 and October 1885 letters, Nu wrote of the commencement ceremony of the Class of 1885. In June, the author stated that "the Class of '85 is comprised of eighteen members, seventeen of whom are gentlemen--and the "daughter of the regiment" is a Theta. Her diploma, from the ladies' Literary society, will be delivered by Mrs. Josephine Nichols of Beta chapter." (11) In October, the reader learns that the "daughter of the regiment" was Cressie Gilchrist, the author of the previous letter. Nu also boasted in October that,

On Wednesday eve before Commencement, the three literary societies of the College delivered diplomas to their graduates and held their annual reunions. The young ladies' society was fortunate in obtaining the services of the prominent lecturess, Mrs. Josephine R. Nichols, of Indianapolis. The lady holds, among other honors, the presidency of the State W.C.T.U., and is an honorary member of our K.A.Q. We were delighted to adorn her with our prettiest pin, and when she was heartily encored and responded in the neatest fashion, (the first time, Dr. Fisher told us, in the history of the College that a speaker, on that occasion, had ever been encored,) we were more than pleased. (12)

From this part of the letter, the reader can infer that the ladies of Nu Chapter were proud that their honorary sister had brought respect for the women on campus by speaking so well that those in attendance had demanded an encore. They were also proud because Dr. Fisher had told them that this had been the first time this had happened in the history of the College, indicating that a big step for women had just been achieved on the campus. They felt that their hard work in prioritizing academic excellence was successful at the time, insinuating that women did previously have a place at Hanover College as intellectuals.

As for graduated members, by 1898 three members had become missionaries, four had become College professors, ten were teachers, and one became involved in politics. (13) The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal lists the names of some of these sisters in its chapter correspondence throughout the years. In 1886, Cressie Gilchrist was appointed to be a teacher in the Presbyterian Mission School at La Costilla, New Mexico. (14) Katie Piatt, the last of the charter members, graduated in 1886 and subsequently received a job as the chair of Natural Sciences at Kalamazoo Female College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (15) Established in 1887, the new Department of Music chose a Theta, Laura Palmer, as an "instructress." (16) Finally, Nu's only "Notable Theta," Anna Adams Baird, is mentioned in the 1891 Kappa Alpha Theta Journal. Notable Thetas were members who were "recognized for their contributions to their profession or to the larger community." (17) Anna Adams Baird and her new husband, William, visited Hanover one last time before leaving for Korea in 1891, where they worked as missionaries. Nu's letter said that "Baird is well fitted for her work for she is a bright and earnest woman, having held the position of State Secretary of the Y.W.C.A., in Kansas, for several years preceding her marriage." (18) Baird lived in Korea until her death in 1916 and is known for having translated children's songs and nursery rhymes into Korean. (19) Even though these members had graduated and left Hanover College, the Thetas at Nu still supported them in their endeavors and were sufficiently proud of their achievements to share them with other Thetas throughout the country. The current members wanted to convey the importance of the fact that their members were showing both their fraternity and their sex in the best possible light, thus proving that women belonged on the campus. (20)

This focus on academics in Nu Chapter is apparent in the chapter's letters to the Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, which repeatedly display their determined nature through the vows that they were taking during initiation to support each other in their academic endeavors and their pledge always to achieve the highest scholarship. The Nu Thetas were very active in the Zetalethean Society, and practiced their speeches for these literary society meetings beforehand in chapter. They also discussed various books and readings upon which they agreed at the beginning of the term. (21) As noted above, however, the focus solely on academics shifted in 1892; thereafter, the Nu Chapter letters published in The Kappa Alpha Theta--the title had been shortened from The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal that same year--show more of an emphasis on the participant culture and a focus on other fraternities on campus. Interestingly, the male author of the section entitled "The Greek Press" in The Kappa Alpha Journal (a publication of the social fraternity known as the Kappa Alpha Order) in April 1892 praised the latest issue of The Kappa Alpha Theta, noting that it was "full of a variety of contributions, from the highest sentimental verse to discussions weighty enough to suit the most severe advocate of seriousness and knock-down solemnity. . . . The chapter letters are . . . well written," he added, "and brimming full of natural womanliness." Taken as a whole, he concluded, the issue "breathes a gentleness, a tenderness that proves that the writers are women, real women, not according to the human patents of modern times, but according to the original design of the universal God, who after all is a greater inventor than man." Indeed, he observed, the Nu Chapter was now signing its letters, "Lovingly, Nu." (22)

The Nu Chapter letter from April 1892, perhaps from the very same issue of The Kappa Alpha Theta examined by the author of the Kappa Alpha Journal article, confirms this shift. The author of the Nu letter states that the six new freshmen Thetas "persist in having impromptu candy pullings, spreads, and the like while the upper classmen stay at home and 'dig.'" (23) In the nineteenth century, the word "dig" meant "to study hard and closely at a subject." (24) The considerable difference in interests here no doubt reflects the generational gap between the newer members and the upperclassmen Nu Thetas at Hanover. The upperclassmen, in keeping with the way that they had been taught when they became Thetas, preferred to remain in their rooms studying, focused on academics, rather than participating in the social events attended by the underclassmen. The underclassmen, in contrast, attended events characteristic of the participants at the time, such as candy pullings. The younger members felt more comfortable with their role on campus as woman and as students, encouraging them to participate in social events rather than solely focus on academics. The older Nu Chapter sisters, meanwhile, remained conservative and somewhat insecure in their positions at Hanover. In an attempt to cultivate justification and purpose to their college experience, they remained committed to academic excellence.

A new emphasis on the participant culture emerged within the context of initiations and pledges mentioned in the letters, juxtaposed alongside the continued interest and enthusiasm about academics. Celebrations following initiations are rarely mentioned in the chapter letters. Prior to 1892, the chapter mentioned only that new young women had pledged, or that they initiated one new member who was "a girl of rare accomplishments and . . . a valuable addition to our number." (25) When writing of the initiation of Jessie Young, daughter of Hanover professor Andrew Harvey Young, in 1895, however, the author of the letter appears significantly more enthusiastic: "The latest event of interest and importance was the initiation of Jessie Young of '98. The affair was one of the most enjoyable we have ever had; the zeal and spirit with which the mysteries were unveiled, the dignity and appreciation of the new sister, and last, but not least, the 'spread.'" (26) The emphasis on the "spread" and the change in the amount written about initiation suggests that, while initiation and ritual had been important in the past, it had never been celebrated to this extent. Once again Nu Chapter appears to have embraced the participant culture, leaving behind the emphasis strictly on academics found among the earlier sisters who had been seeking to prove their intellectual capacity.

Beginning in 1896, the letters mention the social events hosted by Nu Chapter. Professor Young's home became the location for many of these events since Nu Chapter did not have its own chapter house, only a hall reserved to host their Monday evening chapter meetings. A popular professor on campus and the father of a Theta at this time, Professor Young's home was the logical location for the chapter to host its events. The members planned the events down to the last detail, and invited their friends and other fraternity members on the campus. In their March 1898 letter to The Kappa Alpha Theta, the writer told of the Valentine's Day party that the chapter had hosted. Before writing of the party, she discussed academics and how the chapter's minds wished to think of something more "agreeable" than scholarship.

But lately our thoughts have wandered from the daily intercourse with musty classics, from the intricacies of Pythagoras' doctrines, from the mysteries of science, and the learned depths of Psychology and Logic to something more agreeable. On February 14 we gave a "Valentine Party" at the home of Prof. Young. Everything was in keeping with the night and hearts were displayed everywhere. (27)

This statement demonstrates that the participant culture had become more influential in the life of Nu Chapter by 1898, and that the chapter members now held the status of academics in less esteem than their social lives, quite a different scenario from when the chapter had received its charter in 1882. This change in importance is telling of the feeling that women were more accepted as students on Hanover's campus, as the women of Nu became more involved in social events rather than academics.

The last activity of Nu Chapter before its disestablishment due to declining enrollment at Hanover College occurred in October 1899 at the home of one of its patronesses. Described as "one of the pleasantest social events of the first term," the reception included a game where the gentlemen chose the name of a young lady and then wrote descriptions of that young lady from memory. The members spent the remainder of the evening singing and talking with the other attendees of the reception. (28) Enrollment at the college had been steadily declining, however, along with the number of women in the chapter. By 1892, only twenty-five percent of women on campus were in Nu Chapter, as opposed to the fifty-eight percent in 1882. (29) Part of this decreased participation, of course, stemmed from increased competition with other sororities who were present on campus by this time, but clearly Nu Chapter was in a state of decline. Perhaps the members of Nu Chapter were unaware of the fact that they were to return their charter at this reception on account of the declining enrollment of women at the college and membership in the chapter, but whatever the case may have been, this final activity of Nu Chapter certainly exemplified participant behavior in middle-class college culture: to host a party to celebrate the seventeen-year presence of Kappa Alpha Theta on Hanover College's campus. This reception celebrated the fact that the charter members had successfully established a chapter on campus only two years after women were first admitted to the college, and also that they had been able to prove to those who disapproved of their presence that women could be academics just as well, if not better, than men. Once this had been achieved, members of Nu Chapter could partake in the participant culture on campus and engage in more social events, confident of their acceptance as women academics and of their place on the campus of Hanover College.

1. Kappa Alpha Theta Grand Council, "For Parents," Kappa Alpha Theta, http://www.kappaalphatheta.org/learnabouttheta/whatistheta/for_parents.cfm?from=HomeHeaderLink (accessed 18 Nov 2016).

2. The term "sorority" was not employed until Gamma Phi Beta adopted it in 1874.

3. Diana B. Turk, Bound by a Mighty Vow: Sisterhood and Women's Fraternities, 1870-1920 (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 13.

4. Turk, Bound by a Mighty Vow, 35.

5. Ibid., 23.

6. Ibid., 25.

7. Ibid., 22.

8. "Annual Catalog of Hanover College, 1870-1895," Archives of Hanover College, Duggan Library, Hanover College (Hanover, Ind.).

9. "Nu: Hanover College, Chapter History," in The Kappa Alpha Theta, vol. 13, no. 4 (May 1899), 285. As described below, the journal's title was shortened in 1892.

10. Hanover College, "Kappa Alpha Theta. Nu Chapter," in The Crowe [yearbook] (1899): 126.

11. Cressie Gilchrist, "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 (June 1885), 27.

12. Annie L. Adams, "News from Hanover," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 1, no. 2 (Oct. 1885), 53.

13. Hanover College, "Nu Chapter, Kappa Alpha Theta History," in The Quid [yearbook] (1898): 87.

14. "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 1, no. 3 (Jan 1886), 98.

15. "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 2, no. 1 (Oct 1886), 36.

16. "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 2, no. 3 (June 1887), 118.

17. Kappa Alpha Theta, "Notable Thetas," Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation, http://heritage.kappaalphatheta.org/page/notablethetas (accessed 19 Nov 2016).

18. "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 5, no. 1 (Jan 1891): 14.

19. Kappa Alpha Theta, "Notable Thetas," Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation, http://heritage.kappaalphatheta.org/page/notablethetas (accessed 19 Nov 2016).

20. Turk, Mighty Vow, 24.

21. "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana," in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 3, no. 4 (Oct 1889): 131-132.

22. Reported by the author of "The Greek Press," in The Kappa Alpha Journal (a publication of the Kappa Alpha Order), vol. 9, no. 4 (April 1892): 365, available as a Google book at: https://books.google.com/books?id=lOESAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA365&lpg=PA365&dq=Kappa+Alpha+Theta+Journal&source=bl&ots=_lCcztsnKB&sig=zX6rEUyWTcRzv2jE3ia8VbR6a9o&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjbtZbL7tbUAhVCMyYKHR71AgUQ6AEISzAH#v=onepage&q=Kappa%20Alpha%20Theta%20Journal&f=false.

23. "Nu: Hanover College," in The Kappa Alpha Theta, vol. 6, no. 3 (Apr 1892): 164-165.

24. Oxford English Dictionary Online, http://www.oed.com.haproxy.palni.edu/view/Entry/52553?rskey=i5lo6Y&result=4&isAdvanced=false#eid (accessed March 10, 2017), s.v. "dig, v.," definition I.1.c.

25. "Nu: Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana" in The Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, vol. 2, no. 3 (June 1887): 118.

26. "Nu: Hanover College," in The Kappa Alpha Theta, vol. 10, no. 1 (Nov 1895): 39.

27. "Nu: Hanover College," in The Kappa Alpha Theta, vol. 12, no. 3 (Mar 1898): 162-163.

28. "The Kappa Alpha Theta Reception," in The Journal of Hanover College (Jan. 1900): 166.

29. Annual Catalog of Hanover College, 1870-1895, Archives of Hanover College, Duggan Library, Hanover College (Hanover, Ind.).