Phi Chapter was founded at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts on May 10, 1882. The Chapter closed in 1971.
Lucia Peabody was Phi’s first President and Jessica Mitchell the last. Jessica wrote in the fall 1971 issue of The Key, “The decision to surrender the charter … serves to dramatize the problems many chapters all over the country are facing … the number of those going through rush declined at a steady rate while hostility toward the Greek system increased … the decision whether or not to continue had to be made … we had a responsibility to our heritage … and so we made the only decision we thought we could.” A 50-year member said, “When I got the announcement saying Phi had died, I felt as if I had lost my oldest friend.”
Boston University was founded in the historic city of Boston, Mass., in 1869. Its first department was the Theological Seminary. In 1971, most of the campus was located on the Charles River on Commonwealth Avenue. Just across the river were the campuses of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Boston University is one of the oldest and largest metropolitan universities in the country.
When Adelaide Dean (Child), Wisconsin, left Madison for Boston, she decided she must have a Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter there. On May 10, 1882, at 20 Beacon Street, the four charter members she selected heard her read the constitution and the oath of initiation. Social, literary and business meetings held later at the Woman’s Club at 5 Park Street inspired a statement to The Golden Key: “A season of bliss over our new chapter room. The perfect delight of sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree … the room has added much to our interest in society.”
In 1884, Phi initiated its only honorary member, Julia Ward Howe, one of the country’s most prominent women “who stood for educational and social progress of women and nobility of womankind.” Her poem The Battle Hymn of the Republic was set to the music of John Brown’s Body and remains today one of the nation’s most patriotic songs. She spoke before many Kappas in her tours about the country, wrote a poem for the 1890 General Convention and was an inspiration to the young women of the Fraternity.
When the 1886 Convention made publication of The Key Phi’s duty, Emma Cooper (Adams) was editor-in-chief. Other Phi chief editors were Margaret Bradford (Hildreth), Margaret Dodge, Alexandrine Chisholm (Hager), Ella Titus, and Mary Kingsbury (Simkhovitch), the internationally known social economist. At the 1890 General Convention, Mary Kingsbury (Simkhovitch) was made chairman of a planning committee for the first Panhellenic Convention. Called to order by Phi Chapter on April 15, 1891, Lucy Evelyn Wright (Allan), St. Lawrence, was elected the first president. Julia Ward Howe, Mary Kingsbury, and representatives from seven other women’s fraternities received guests at the formal reception.
During World War I, the chapter sponsored a French war orphan, nursed at the Massachusetts General Hospital, bought Liberty Bonds, and knitted. In 1921, a French soiree was given and money raised for the European Aid Fund. A scholarship, to be held by a Phi member, was financed by Carlota Tirrell de Tomas.
A larger apartment was taken in 1921 and a permanent house fund was created in 1922. Also in 1922, Phi sponsored another chapter for New England, Gamma Lambda at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.
Sororities were no longer able to rent apartments during the Depression, membership dropped, and some gave up their charters. Alumnae from a number of women’s Greek-letter groups rented a house from Boston University at 131 Commonwealth Avenue. Elsie Putney Ericson was the first to step foot in the house that was proof for 35 years of the Panhellenic spirit thriving during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
By 1967, the house was feeling the effects of student unrest. In the fall of 1970, the university’s Panhellenic was in chaos, and in 1972 the house was sold by the university.
The pamphlet, The House Across the Street, which tells the touching, impressive success and failure story of 131 Commonwealth Avenue, ends, “Sororities had served the university well … and had helped generations of girls to become leaders and scholars … . Today the sorority women of Boston University are probably its most loyal alumnae … . Although it is doubtful that the values of sorority life will ever again be realized at this great, crowded, liberal university, the 131 Corporation cannot quite believe that there is not a possibility of revival, so it is leaving a door ajar … any time within the next 20 years … the house across the street was the scene of a noble experiment in Panhellenic endeavor … .” This was written by Anne H. Rich, Sigma Kappa Fraternity, Boston University.
Early Phi members held responsible Kappa positions. Those elected Grand President were Charlotte Barrell (Ware), 1884–1888; Emily Bright (Burnham), 1892–1894; Bertha Richmond (Chevalier), 1896–1898. Other noted members of Phi were the chapter’s 11th member, Anna Christy Fall, the first woman to plead a case before a Massachusetts jury and the first to argue a cause before the Massachusetts Supreme Court; her daughter, Emma Fall Schofield, one of the first two female judges appointed by the governor of Massachusetts; Priscilla Fairfield Bok, an astronomer; and Mary Warren Ayars, the daughter of William Fairfield Warren, the first president of Boston University. Mrs. Ayars has been recognized by Kappa for her ritual contributions and her idea of the mother-daughter (big and little sister) relationship.
Although there have been notable Phi members of the past and present, the lives of two members especially reflect some of the history and glory of this closed chapter.
Charlotte Barrell (Ware) went to the 1884 General Convention at Canton, New York, as a delegate from Phi and went home as Grand President to serve two terms.
When she married Robert Ware in 1895 and they moved to the family home, Warelands, at Norfolk, Mass., she expressed her love of the outdoors through her work with her husband. They set up a summer dairy school. Their educational and experimental emphasis brought about national and international recognition.
Organizations and governments honored Charlotte Ware, but her prized awards were the gold medal from the Belgian government in 1924 for her dairy work, one from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1929 to “a pioneer who has blazed many an agricultural trail,” and the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from Boston University in 1937.So great was her love for Warelands and Kappa, Charlotte and Robert A. Ware gave Warelands to Kappa Kappa Gamma for a second Hearthstone unit.
Two years before the closing of the chapter, another of Phi’s last great public spirited members died. In 1967, Beatrice Stanton Woodman was made a fellow of the Boston University libraries, and gave the undergraduate reading room of the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University. She was an adviser to Phi Chapter for 40 years, president of both Boston alumnae groups, and chairman of the Kappa Foreign Fellowships. As chairman of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Fund for French Relief during World War II, she was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor of Foreign Affairs by the French government in 1948. Beatrice Woodman was given Kappa’s highest personal honor, the Loyalty Award.
In 1971, Phi presented a table to the Fraternity in memory of Beatrice Woodman. It is in the Heritage Museum in Columbus, Ohio, which holds early badges, Beatrice Woodman’s carved emerald and diamond poison ring, her diamond and sapphire badge, her 50-year pin, and the Gold Medal of Honor presented by the French consul.