Beta Zeta Chapter was founded at University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa on May 2, 1882. Initially, the fraternity custom was to name a new chapter after a closed one, so that all 24 letters of the Greek alphabet were always in use. Because of this custom, the Chapter is referred to simply as Zeta in early records. This practice ended in 1890 when Convention delegates voted to affix Beta to the name of a chapter to indicate it was the second and to affix Gamma on the second round, then Delta, and so on. The chapter at the University of Iowa was the second chapter to be known as Zeta and, after 1890, it became known as Beta Zeta.
2,991 initiates (as of June 2018)
The State University of Iowa, as it was then known, was in its 35th year when, in the spring of 1882, 11 young women petitioned for and received a charter from Kappa Kappa Gamma. The new chapter was given the name Zeta for the closed chapter at Rockford Seminary, and the prefix Beta was added in 1890 to indicate that the Iowa City group was the second chapter to be called Zeta. It was the second sorority to appear on campus. The first was a chapter of I. C. Sorosis, which later became Pi Beta Phi.
Chancellor Ross, head of the law school and father of two Kappas, formally introduced the chapter at a large party in his home on March 2, 1883. It was called “the event of the season” and reflected great credit on the Kappa girls.”
Gertrude Wheaton (Reamer), the only Kappa graduating in 1883, ended a successful year for the new chapter by being chosen a Commencement speaker. Those so honored “delighted their friends and relatives at the graduation exercises by their elegant endeavors, showing off the knowledge and general culture acquired at college.”
In 1884, the chapter followed the initiative of a number of men’s fraternities and rented a furnished room in one of the downtown office buildings. Soon “Kappa Parlor,” as the meeting place was called, became too expensive to maintain. The Beta Zetas solved the problem by sharing a room with Phi Delta Theta. The Phi Delts lighted the fire and put the rooms in order for Kappa meetings, and received in exchange the use of the furniture and $15 annually toward the rent. This arrangement continued for about 10 years.
During the next decade, 1887–1897, university enrollment increased from 571 to 1,334 and membership in fraternities and sororities also grew. The Kappas attempted to form a Panhellenic organization with Delta Gamma and Pi Beta Phi in 1888.
Beta Zeta morale was boosted when at the 1894 General Convention, Annabel Collins (Coe) was elected Grand Treasurer, an office she held until 1900.
A Phi Beta Kappa chapter was established at Iowa in 1896 and four Beta Zetas were elected to membership.
Housing and the Turn of the Century
During the 1898–1899 school year chapter houses appeared on campus. The Kappa “house” consisted of the second floor of a boarding house, a separate table in the dining room, and another room downstairs used as a chapter room. It was not until 1909 that the chapter rented an old house. It held all but five members, who lived a block away at the Kappa Annex.
In 1904, a fourth sorority, Delta Delta Delta, arrived at Iowa, and the four groups enjoyed many social exchanges. In 1910, other groups appeared and, after World War I, with a large increase in enrollment, sororities increased to 17 chapters that continued in 1975.
A custom was initiated during the 1913–1914 school year when town alumnae were urged to attend at least one meeting a month. The first Monday each month, the President, Treasurer and one other member met with an Advisory Board of the alumnae. That same year, by incorporating itself, the chapter took the first step toward launching a campaign to finance a new chapter house. The university adopted the policy in 1914 that freshman women, with the exception of sisters of sorority members, could not be pledged before they had sophomore standing. So in the fall of 1914, sororities at Iowa prepared for an entire year of rushing without pledging. In 1915, the rule was changed to allow pledging at the end of the first semester.
Marjorie Coast (McLain), in a Beta Zeta history, describes the chapter’s World War I activities: “Convention has been postponed … and the money … is to be given to the Kappa Relief Committee. Following the good example, we gave up the Founders Day banquet and bought a Liberty Bond instead … Wednesday nights were spent in the Red Cross Shop making surgical dressings. Most of the girls have won crosses. We have adopted a French orphan of our own who addresses her letters to ‘Monsieur Kappa Kappa Gamma’ and we also have a share in the support of one adopted by Eta Province.”
In the summer of 1925, after moving a number of times, the chapter built a house on the corner of Washington and Lucas Streets, not far from campus. Eight of the original 16 double rooms were later converted to triples, raising the house capacity to 40 members.
By the 1930s, many of the university’s present-day activities and honor organizations had appeared. Kappas were active in all: Mortar Board, Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Lambda Delta, honorary professional fraternities, Orientation Council, Union Board, Highlanders, Seals and more.
Old traditions were continued. Anita Hopkins Mercer wrote in 1930, “The University Homecoming in the fall and Founders Day Banquet in May are the chief occasions for gathering back the ‘old’ girls, and in connection with the latter comes one of Beta Zeta’s cherished customs … a Powder and Patch Banquet. The first mention … comes in 1902 when more than 40 active and alumna Kappas sat at the banquet table, making a very pretty sight, for the girls wore their hair powdered and had their cheeks rouged."
Despite the many social and academic activities, scholarship wasn’t neglected. Beta Zeta, as hostess chapter to the 1937 Province Convention (Meeting), could brag that it had won the scholarship cup for that year and expected to win it (and did) again in 1938. Jannes Savery (Westerfield), who had the only women’s role on the NBC program recognizing the 91st anniversary of the State of Iowa, was typical of the outstanding girls then in Beta Zeta Chapter.
Came the 1940s and Kappas were still campus leaders with girls like Barbara Kent (Greenleaf) who was Honorary Cadet Colonel, president of Mortar Board, chairman of Orientation Council, and secretary of the Union Board.
With Pearl Harbor, Iowa became a war school with an accelerated academic program. The chapter was active in the Double V Program of hospital and Red Cross, University Women’s Association and YWCA. There were few men on campus, but social life was not neglected. There were open-house events for pre-flight cadets, meteorologists and faculty members.
Scholarship was high. In the 1944–1945 school year, Beta Zeta received the scholarship cup for the highest grade point average, a 3.002, ever made by a sorority at Iowa. After three consecutive wins, this cup became a permanent possession.
The first Greek Week Banquet was given in 1950–1951, and on the basis of scholarship, fraternity and campus leadership and personality, Helen Hays (Lodwick) was selected the first “Most Outstanding Greek Woman of the Year.”
Four years of first-place scholarship brought another cup to the trophy case. In 1956, Iowa went to the Rose Bowl game, and the strains of “California Here I Come” floated through the Kappa house as many Kappas, spectators, rooters and Highlanders packed to head for the West Coast.
Many Kappa beauty queens graced the campus during those years. The 1958–1959 year began with two Kappas as runners-up for Miss Perfect Profile. Homecoming weekend, Kappas reigned as Dolphin Queen and Miss SUI (State University of Iowa). During Greek Week, an attendant and the Interfraternity Pledge Queen were Kappas. Then a former Interfraternity Queen became an attendant to the Honorary Cadet Colonel. These young women, plus many fraternity sweethearts, helped earn the Beta Zetas a reputation for both beauty and brains.
Homecoming, 1967, brought numerous awards to the chapter with a member crowned Dolphin Queen. Kappa and Sigma Pi earned the trophy for beautiful float-building.
There were additional honors in 1968 when Beta Zeta was named first scholastically, and Pat Henderson became “Most Outstanding Greek Woman of the Year.” That spring, the chapter began what it hoped would become a tradition—a chapter retreat—“Spring Thing,” at the city park, with a picnic, games and a serious discussion on chapter unity.
The previous information was excerpted from The History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, 1870-1976. The information that follows has been gleaned from available resources including Chapter History Reports, chapter meeting minutes, letters and comments from chapter members and alumnae, the Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity Archives, and The Key. Each chapter is expected to update its history record annually. Contact Fraternity Headquarters at [email protected] with questions.
The 1970s brought changes to college campuses across the country as the nation’s political awareness grew. And while Iowa students became more active politically, they also began showing a resurgence of interest in the Greek system.
Kappas had lacked campus involvement, so they set a goal to become more involved in the community and on campus and to raise more money for philanthropies. The chapter reached all three of its goals and set a standard that would exist for decades.
By the mid-1970s, Kappas had a highly visible presence on the Iowa campus, with a Beta Zeta chairing the all-campus blood drive in 1975, hosting the Province Meeting in 1977 and participating in other Greek campus philanthropies. In 1978, the Kappas were very involved in organizing the university’s first major rodeo, including visiting local elementary schools with rodeo promoters and giving assembly shows. During the rodeo, they sold programs, gifts, handled tickets, and served as ushers.
Beta Zeta’s focus on philanthropy and campus involvement continued into the 1980s, and chapter involvement was a priority, both in house and on campus. The Kappas consistently won the Anchor Splash, a Delta Gamma swim meet philanthropy event. In addition, Kappas were involved in Greek Week, Follies, the Special Olympics in Cedar Rapids, and they created their own signature philanthropy event, Kappa Day at the Races. The annual October event started with a pre-party on Friday before the Saturday races. Fraternities would compete against each other in an airband contest, and sororities started with a pizza-eating contest, which later changed to a less caloric event. On race day, along with their Kappa coaches, each Greek group would participate in various track and field events, including an 880-yard race, a 440-yard relay, a three-legged race and a tug-of-war as the grand finale. Tee shirts were sold throughout the year, with more than 650 sold in both 1986 and 1987, contributing to the event’s success. Beta Zeta’s Day at the Races increased its profits by 300% from 1985 to 1986, with receipts of $1,800, which were combined with other philanthropy monies and donated to Iowa City Geriatrics.
The chapter also increased its focus on scholarship during the decade. At the beginning of 1983, Kappa was ninth in grades among 15 Panhellenic groups. With a strong push toward improvement, in the first semester of 1984 Kappa moved up to fifth place among 15, and by the second semester, into second place. In 1985, eight chapter members had a 4.0 GPA.
Certainly one of Beta Zeta’s proudest moments of the decade was when Ann Carlson was awarded Greek Woman of the Year in 1983, a tremendous honor for the recipient and the chapter.
The 1990s began with a very special opportunity for Beta Zeta. The chapter was among four asked to help in the reinstallation of Omicron Deuteron Chapter in nearby Indianola, Iowa in early February, exactly 100 years to the day since Omicron’s charter was surrendered to the Fraternity in 1890. Beta Zetas joined Kappas from Chi Chapter at Minnesota, Gamma Theta Chapter at Drake and Delta Omicron Chapter at Iowa State in serving as Big Sisters to the Omicron Deuteron Kappas.
Beta Zeta kept its focus on philanthropy and participation in campus and Kappa activities. To keep their goal top of mind, the chapter adopted a motto: KAPPAS – Karing About Pride, Participation And Sisterhood.
By the mid-1990s, the chapter’s focus on scholarship was rewarded with consistently high rankings. In 1994, Kappa was second among all sororities and reported in its chapter newsletter, “…missing first place ranking to a small sorority of ten women. We are proud that we finally beat Delta Delta Delta!” By 1996, Kappa was ranked first in the fall semester and tied for first in the spring.
Campus policy began to change toward Greek functions, and Kappa responded by adding a risk management position to the chapter in 1996. Beta Zeta implemented the Kappa Saferide program, which allowed members to be anywhere on campus and have a designated driver available to take them home. This dedication came out of a violation of university alcohol policies, which resulted in probation for the chapter. The Beta Zeta newsletter in 1996 said, “But out of this adversity came strength in that Kappas, alums, actives and pledges came together to comfort their sisters and to offer assistance in our time of need. Our unity was striking at this time of crisis, and we’re happy to say that we believe we learned a big lesson and also learned to trust and turn to our sisters in our times of need.” The chapter had no further violations, and the sanctions placed upon Beta Zeta as a result of the probation were lifted.
In 1998, Beta Zeta’s commitment to the Iowa campus Greek system was rewarded with the Panhellenic Award at Convention.
An outside event rocked the University of Iowa in 1993. During the Great Midwest Floods of that year, the University of Iowa was hit by a 100-year flood. The campus straddles the Iowa River, and the event left deep emotional and financial scars on the Iowa City campus. Restoration cost the university more than $6 million, and the school developed a more significant flood emergency response plan that would prevent a repeat of the 1993 flood. What university officials didn’t know was that a much more devastating 500-year flood would hit the school fifteen years later.
The 500-year flood that hit the Iowa River in 2008 was the worst financial disaster to ever strike the University of Iowa. It was preceded by a wet and prolonged winter, followed by a moist spring that left the ground saturated and flood control reservoirs brimming. The first six months of 2008 were the wettest ever on record for Iowa. In early June, university staff and more than 2500 students and community volunteers worked for days in an attempt to hold back the rapidly rising water, using more than 1.8 million sandbags. On June 13, flood waters breached temporary levees and began flooding thousands of feet of underground utility tunnels and the basements and first floors of campus buildings. The university estimated its total damage and recovery costs from the 2,008 flood at more than $743 million.
The chapter continued its commitment to campus and community events, encouraging members to complete two hours of community service each semester and participate in two Kappa philanthropy events. Kappas were particularly helpful to their Panhellenic neighbor, Alpha Chi Omega, in recovering from the destruction of their chapter facility by a tornado in 2006.
Beta Zeta turned attention to its archives in the 2000s, setting up displays that chronicled the chapter’s history. Members were able to read old chapter minutes and awards and see past bid day photos, composites, newspaper articles and scrapbooks from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The chronological index of initiated members was available, and active members were able to find the dates of initiation for family members and friends. It helped develop a deeper appreciation of the chapter’s history.
Beta Zeta’s efforts received Convention award recognition throughout the decade, with honorable mentions in Technology, Panhellenic and Greatest Scholarship Improvement and awards for Chapter/Advisory Board Relations in 2000 and Most Improved Academic Excellence in 2008.