Psi Chapter was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York on November 24, 1883. The Chapter closed in October 1969.
1,086 initiates (as of 1969 closure)
Cornell University was chartered by the State of New York in 1865 and was opened to students on October 7, 1868. Its founder, Ezra Cornell, had said, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study,” and although no housing arrangements had been made for women, and no women applied during the first few years, Trustee Henry W. Sage became so interested in women’s admission to the university that he donated money for Sage College, dormitory and social center, and female students were admitted in 1871.
The university was highly endowed, its faculty was distinguished, admission standards were high, but breeziness prevailed. Attitudes were fresh, and the first women had scholarship, courage and character. In the fall of 1883, five women applied to Kappa Kappa Gamma for a charter (the year before, Kappa Alpha Theta had entered Cornell, and Theta Anna Botsford Comstock, later to become a professor of botany, endorsed the application). Within three weeks the official papers had arrived and with them two members of Tau (later Beta Tau) at Syracuse to initiate Psi’s charter members on November 27.
In 1885, Psi ardently discussed the question of an open rather than a secret constitution. The next year, the chapter agitated for a new badge design. When this move was defeated at the Akron General Convention, Psi tried, and failed, to develop a new initiation ceremony. When the chapter had to give up its room at Sage its sense of failure and discouragement became acute and a vote was taken (1888) to return the charter. Charlotte Barrell (Ware), Boston, then Grand President, came to Ithaca and persuaded the group to carry on. At the General Convention the following summer, the Psi delegate, Mila Tupper (Maynard) later to become a Unitarian minister, was officially appointed with her chapter to revise and add to the initiation ceremony. Psi’s rebels now had a legitimate outlet for vision and revision.
Cornell was non-sectarian and might not have been expected to oppose secret societies as so many church-based colleges did, but early in the 1890s there was strong and organized anti-fraternity feeling, by no means limited to Cornell: “A growing opposition to fraternities is noticed in many of our colleges … (it) demands the attention of the fraternity world.” (The Key, December 1891) Forty years later, Psi’s historian, the famous Dr. Mary M. Crawford, wrote in the 1930 History of Kappa Kappa Gamma, “The Greek-letter fraternity system is deeply imbedded in Cornell, both for men and women. It is an integral part of student life, and with all its obvious faults it adds much to the lives of its proponents. The privilege carries with it a high obligation to give back generously of the results of this privilege and it is the aim of all Psi Kappas to serve their University to the extent of their abilities. If Cornell spirit and class spirit dwindle because of Kappa spirit, then the real object of the Fraternity has failed … .”
Cornell’s attitude toward women had always been adult. There were a few rules of safety and decorum but never any attempt to stand in loco parentis. Career-oriented young women thrived in this atmosphere, there were no dropouts or “bustouts” (failures), and women of Psi have always been vigorous in their pursuit of professional careers.
Honors and Traditions
No other chapter has received more Kappa Alumnae Achievement Awards. Margaret Cuthbert was the first, in 1946. At that time, she was director of the women’s division of NBC and was one of three Kappas included in the Women’s National Press Club of Washington, D.C., list of Ten Women of the Year. In 1949, Dr. Mary “Molly” Crawford (Schuster) was honored by Kappa as a Cornell trustee, as head of the Health Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and as a pioneer ambulance surgeon. Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer, the first female ambulance surgeon in New York, was honored in 1952. In 1962, two Psi members received the award: Lieutenant Colonel Emily Gorman, director of the Women’s Army Corps, Washington, D.C., and Dr. Adelaide Romaine (Kinkele), specialized in industrial medicine. In 2006,Marilyn Gross Coors was recognized for her work as an ethics and genetics professor and researcher. This record of achievement is no accident. Cornell has always demanded that its students be aggressive, questioning, independent, factors that make for outstanding alumnae performance.
It is a privilege to read the names of Psi members, once names known country-wide, and names that gave prestige and strength to Psi and to the Fraternity. The Balch Halls at Cornell were the gift of Janet Jacks Balch and her husband, and Balch Hall at Scripps College also carries her name; Grace Van Sweringen Baer was professor of Germanic Languages at the University of Colorado; Nora Blatch Barney was well known as a civil engineer, architect, contractor and women’s suffrage leader; Bernice Andrews Fernow, Amy Otis, and Adna Huestis Simpson were artists; Elizabeth Rhodes Jackson, Martha Didson, and Lucy Mary Park (Clarke), writers and editor; Harriet Anthony was a pioneer female photography who went to Boston, hobnobbed with Phi members, and her own studio. Another outstanding member was Dorothy Masterman McNeill who retired in 1973 as a Philadelphia newspaper executive. Province and Fraternity officers include the names of Jennie Angell (Mengel), Grand Treasurer, 1892–94; Graduate Counselor Doris Heath (Webster), 1938–39; Sally Schwartz Muzii, Director of Pledge Training, 1972–75, and Mu Province Director of Chapters; two editors of The Key, Mary Josephine Hull, 1894–95, and Elizabeth Rhodes Jackson, 1910–14, the founder of Beta Alpha Chapter in 1890, Lois Otis; and Catherine Alt Schultz, Director of Membership, 1956–60, and 1955–56 Chairman of Rehabilitation Services.
The chapter has always been proud of its outstanding members, but the chapter of 1902 and the readers of The Key took to their hearts the story of a member who had been basketball captain, treasurer of Sports and Pastimes, member of honoraries and a professor’s daughter. On January 3, 1902, she died suddenly, and was eulogized in the April issue of The Key. “The promise of a noble womanhood was disappointed in her death,” and in memory of this beloved young person who had “rowed in the Sage boat,” her parents gave a rowboat, “safe and well-made” for the use of the women at Cornell.
During the 1890s, the meeting place for the chapter had shifted from Sage College to rooms in different parts of Ithaca. In the fall of 1917, a first house was rented and by 1921 sufficient funds had been raised to buy. Janet Balch gave $5,000 “with her usual Kappa-Cornell generosity,” and other alumnae contributed. The house, 508 Thurston Avenue, had been the home of Beverly Baines, romantic partner of early film idol Francis X. Bushman at a time when Ithaca had been the center of the motion picture industry (1912–1920). This house was razed in 1936 and a modern brick house was built on the site. It was opened in the fall of 1937 for the Alpha Province Convention, and was famed as the first Kappa house for which steel construction had been used. At this time, Mary Geisler Phillips, Pennsylvania, (See Beta Alpha history) was corporation president. Her usefulness to Psi might have been said to have balanced Beta Alpha’s indebtedness to Psi, since Lois Otis had resigned from her own beloved chapter in order to found Beta Alpha while she did graduate work in Philadelphia.
In 1957, at Province Meeting in Ithaca, plans were made to build a larger house for Psi and the ideal location of the existing building caused a decision to enlarge rather than rebuild. Many changes were made, including facilities for visitors and a new wing with a suite for the house director. Two-thirds of the chapter could be housed and the chapter grew more unified and aware of its responsibilities and the pleasures of group living. In 1961, the dean of students said of Psi, “The women of Psi chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma have made the Panhellenic Creed a living reality on our campus and the student community has profited from their positive leadership. As a group, they have shown thoughtful concern for others while preserving the uniqueness of the individual. Their sense of community responsibility and their positions of leadership in campus organizations have earned for them a place of respect on the Cornell campus.”
The further report in The Key (winter 1961) included an account of a series of programs given by Psi featuring a travelogue, a concert, lectures on 20th-century Russia, and a plan of meal exchanges and a Christmas party with foreign students. The year was marked by the positive presence of a Graduate Counselor Martha Simmons (Murray), Akron and an outstanding record in campus activities. The chapter President was elected to Mortar Board and Phi Beta Kappa and was accepted by the Yale Law School. A successful attempt had been made to approach a balance between social and cultural goals of the Fraternity, with an active responsibility in campus life and personal education and betterment. It was the stated opinion of the incoming chapter President that “a fraternity must be more than a mere living unit or a group organized primarily for social activities.” It was a statement she felt that had to be true in practice “if the fraternity system is to meet and overcome the increasing number of attacks being made on it.” Long-range planning, she knew, was necessary and the chapter was working together … it was her hope that Psi would continue to follow the example of its early members.
Changes and Challenges
The 1960s were troublesome years on the campuses of the country. Student revolt was common, although Cornell, always liberal, had less “trouble” than many schools. To ensure that there were no areas of discrimination or unfair practices on the campus, the trustees prepared a “report on residential environment” making strict demands in all university-approved housing, including fraternities. The demands included abolition of mandatory recommendations systems and of the unanimous vote for membership, and the surrender of rituals if charges were made that discrimination was suspected in these documents. The Council of Kappa Kappa Gamma decided that such local autonomy was contrary to Kappa constitutional procedure and could not be countenanced. Certain irregularities had placed Psi on probation warning in 1967, and probation was voted by Council in January, 1968.
That June, Council voted to continue probation, a condition to be terminated in January 1969, either by a removal of probation or by dismissal proceedings. In January, the Council voted unanimously to start dismissal proceedings and the chapter was so notified by Louise Little Barbeck, SNU, then Fraternity President. Kappa Psi, a local group, was immediately formed to preserve the existing chapter. A rushing (recruitment) program, which had been planned before the dismissal, was carried out, and the chapter life continued with Psi and Kappa Psi existing in one body until October 1969, when the end of the 86-year-old chapter was marked. The last days were attended by cloudy rhetoric, personal grievances, misunderstandings, lack of communication and unfortunate timing. Psi had been an unusual chapter, with an interesting history.
It had been of value to the Fraternity, and it has been difficult for some members to be objective in considering it. It is interesting to note that even after the dismissal, the Fraternity President wrote to the chapter President expressing deep interest in the outcome of the rushing period.
A distinguished alumna wrote in the summer 1903 issue of The Key, “We have found that we can keep our high fraternity ideal and loyalty while losing not a jot of our class spirit and our college loyalty. The two aid each other instead of the one interest pulling away from the other We need the college interests, they need us; we stand or fall together.”
An initiate of Psi during the 1960s recalled in 1975 a relaxation of the bond between chapter and the Fraternity, a detachment that she felt could have been caused by an increased individual self-absorption, fewer members to perform the necessary jobs, changing mores among college students with greater stress of action independent of parental and school guidance. “I am and I was proud to be a Kappa,” she said, “and I was very grieved when Psi Chapter was dropped. It was a loss for both Kappa and Cornell and most especially for the girls attending Cornell.”
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.