Lambda Chapter was founded at Buchtel College (now the University of Akron) in Akron, Ohio on June 10, 1877.
1,902 initiates (as of June 2018)
The University of Akron, previously known as Buchtel College, has a long history of Greek life. Men’s fraternities have existed there for many years but in 1877, the Greek community decided that something was missing: a women’s fraternity. J. Augustine Gutherie, a Phi Delta Theta at Buchtel College, contacted Indiana University’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma to tell them about three Buchtel College women and the Greek community was on its way to changing for the good.
These three women, Mary B. Jewett, Harriet Evelyn Pardee, and Elizabeth O. Slade, signed Lambda Chapter’s charter on June 10, 1877 and held its first meeting on January 14, 1878. Five honorary members were in attendance including the wife of the Buchtel College president. This makes Kappa Kappa Gamma the first women’s fraternity on Buchtel College’s campus and the longest continuing Greek letter organization on campus.
A lot has changed since that first meeting including the landscape of campus, women’s rights, fashions, and even the name of the college itself, but several things remain the same. Lambda Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma has had over 1700 members since it first started. These active members still aspire to be good sisters, good leaders, and good students. They work to serve campus and the community. Lambda alumni still display these qualities as well, because you can’t become a Kappa and remain unchanged. Kappa is for life.
Generally speaking, Lambda Kappas at the University of Akron live at home with their families. Many members work to assist with their college expenses; they are active in the chapter and on campus, are community-minded and maintain high scholastic standing.
As individuals, chapter members have contributed much since Lambda’s founding, June 10, 1877. The college was called Butchel at the time, named for John R. Butchel, and Kappa was the first women’s fraternity to be placed there, and is the oldest continually active Greek letter organization on the Akron campus.
Buchtel College, founded in May, 1870, designated by the Universalist Church as its contribution to education in Ohio, was dedicated September 20, 1872, and nine days later 217 students became involved in a simple course of study with seven faculty members. Discipline was rigid: a certificate of good behavior was required for admission; abstention from tobacco and liquor insisted upon for scholarship holders; daily chapel, (cut to three days a week in 1912 and finally ended as compulsory in 1934), was a firm rule.
In 1877, young J. Augustus Guthrie, a Buchtel Phi Delta Theta, told some Kappas at Indiana University about three Buchtel girls. Letters were exchanged, and on June 10, Mary B. Jewett, Elizabeth U. Slade (Voris), and Harriet E. Pardee (Parshall) signed Lambda’s charter. The first Kappa meeting was on January 14, 1878. Five honorary members were taken in, one the wife of the college president. Literary meetings and sponsored lectures were held in members’ rooms and on the top floor of Buchtel Hall.
The first woman editor-in-chief of The Buchtelite was Elmie Warner (Mallory). The first YWCA president was Ethel Davies (Read), and the first five Mary Queens were Kappas. The first Panhellenic president was Rachel Fleming (Hertz) and the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the university was Evelyn Church Smith. The Lambdas were the first to wear rush outfits (1968) and by 1970 every sorority had followed their example.
Lambda alumnae have become doctors, lawyers, artists, authors, educators. They have taught in Egypt, Okinawa, Pakistan… Patricia Rose Costello was a Rockette; Gretchen Bock was associate editor of Sesame Street; Antonia Blackletter Nichols became the head of the Red Cross volunteer program in the Far East. Three Lambdas have been president of the University of Akron Alumni Association: Lucy Danforth Felt (1893), Margaret Cruickshank Fleming (1944) and Lois Waltz Burgner (1959). Margaret ( Maggie ) and Lois, as well as Evelyn Church Smith and Virginia Lyon Hardwick, have been honored by the university as outstanding alumnae.
Since Akron rubber companies send people all over the globe, Akron Kappas, with their husbands, are representing the United States in almost every country of the world.
A happy event mentioned in early minutes told of a visit in 1882 to the Wooster chapter (two years later the Wooster girls were refused a return visit by their rigid faculty), and the two groups celebrated Thanksgiving together with dinner, a reception, and, next morning a sleigh ride.
Strawberry festivals, taffy pulls, and chestnut roasts were popular pastimes. A Lambda girl was fined $2 for wearing a gentleman’s fraternity pin. Term dues to the Grand Chapter were $1; personal dues, 25 cents; initiation fee, $1.25; fines for absence, tardiness, and disorderly conduct, 25 cents, 10 cents, and 5 cents. The most tragic event ever associated with Lambda was the fire of 1890, started at the praeceptress’s party for birthday girls. A Mother Goose cap, made of paper and tufted with cotton, took fire from a gas light. Two girls died that night and another later; five others were badly burned. The whole college mourned.
Emily Bader Chapter Registrar Kappa Kappa Gamma Lambda September 28, 2017
Viola Myrtle Steigmeyer was born on November 10, 1870 in Seneca, Ohio (Archive 1).
Viola also went by two other nicknames, Lulu or Lula. It was not easy to find Miss Steigmeyer in historical records because of her other two nicknames. In the U.S. Census of 1880, Miss Steigmeyer was put down as Lula (Archive 2). This name was used in other newspaper articles such as Mourning Buchtel (Archive 3). It was not until the end of my research, that we found her real name. On Ancestry.com, someone made a family tree with her father, Frederick H. Steigmeyer, and mother, Caroline Steigmeyer. They had labeled Viola Myrtle Steigmeyer as the daughter of Frederick and Caroline Steigmeyer. I can assume that Lulu and Lula are nicknames for Viola (Archive 8). On Viola’s gravestone, it uses the name “LuLu Steigmeyer.” Under her name, are the names Lockie and Clarence. These were the names of her brothers who died a year after birth. However, Lulu died in 1890, but her gravestone says 1870-1900 (Archive 9). I can only assume that this was a mistake. I have read online articles saying that gravestones are not always an accurate way to get a person’s date of birth or date of death. I can hypothesize that with the sudden death of their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Steigmeyer may have not had the funds at the time to create a gravestone for their daughter. It also could have been just a mistake made by the gravestone maker that in fixing it would have cost too much time and money (Archive 10). The real reason may never be known. On December 13, 1890, the women of Kappa Kappa Gamma were having a birthday celebration for all the girl’s birthdays that fell between the months of September to December. This celebration occurred at Cary Hall in Buchtel College. There were about a dozen or so girls dancing around a piano. These girls were wearing festive costumes, tall paper caps trimmed with cotton, surmounted by a tassel, upon their heads (Archive 4). While they were dancing, Miss Aurelia Wirick, of Iowa, moved her head up and the tassel went over the gas jest. Within an instant, she was covered in fire from head to toe. Some girls did not notice and they danced past Miss Wirick and soon caught themselves on fire. Spectators were frightened with fear, but some quickly tried to put out the fire by tearing the clothes off of the women (Archive 5). A hero arose from this tragedy; Mr. Shoaf grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran into Cary hall. On the second floor, Miss Wirick was lying on the floor. Mr. Shoaf extinguished the flames and ran to the third floor. There Mr. Shoaf found Miss Addie Buchtel on the ground with all of her clothes burned off. Miss Steigmeyer was a few feet away on the ground unconscious. Shoaf put out the flames in the room and moved on towards the west end of the hall. There he saw Miss May Steves engulfed in flames. She moaned out, “My God! Won’t somebody do something for me?” Shoaf put out the flames. Miss Steves then said, “My God! My God! Won’t somebody send for my mother?” Miss Eva Dean was a few feet away with fire burning on her head and her arms. Shoaf then put out the fire. The last girl on the fourth floor was Miss Dian Haynes, who covered herself with blankets and quilts to stop the fire, but those too ended up catching fire. If it was not for Mr. Shoaf, she would have been dead (Archive 5). Shoaf went into room 61 and found two girls ready to jump from a fourth story window. He put out the flames in the room and continued to stop the fire in Cary Hall until it ended for good. Miss May Baker found her way to a bathtub to stop the fire that was on her (Archive 5). Miss Steigmeyer was taken to her room. She was burned in many places to a crisp. Her lower limbs, back, and shoulders were deeply burned. Her lips, nose, and ears were burned into mere cinders. Miss Steves’ clothes were burned from her body and then she was taken to a room and placed on sheets. When physicians arrived, they decided it was best to move her to another position. In doing so, shreds and bits of tissue stuck to the sheets, which caused intense pain for Miss Steves. She was constantly calling for her mother. At 12:20 a.m. Miss Steves passed away. Miss Steigmeyer passed away at 5:15 a.m. that Sunday morning (Archive 5). Two girls died within 12 hours of the fire; however, this event would claim another life one year later. Three of the women recovered from their injuries and returned to college. They were Miss Eva Dean, Miss Myrtle Barker, and Miss Dian Haynes (Archive 6). Miss Barker had suffered from her injuries ever since that fire. The burns healed rapidly, but other complications soon came apparent. Despite these complications, she was determined to finish her college courses. When she returned to school in the fall of 1891, she was not the same. The pores of her skin were entirely closed so that perspiration was impossible. All the heat and impurities could not escape her body. She suddenly became ill and died at 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 10, 1891 (Archive 7). This fire had claimed a total of three lives and scarred about a dozen more. It was featured on the front page of the Summit County Beacon on December 17, 1890 and the Cleveland Plain Dealer on December 15, 1890. It was a horrific tragedy that even death came as a relief from such horrible torture.
Summary The fire of 1890 was tragic. This fire took place in 1890 at Buchtel College in Cary Hall. It took the lives of May Steves, Viola Steigmeyer, and Myrtle Barker. May Steves and Viola Steigmeyer died within 12 hours of the fire. Myrtle died one year later from her injuries. Many speculate that the reason Kappa has a no open flame rule in their houses was because of this event. Lambda Kappas have always referred to our house ghost as Lola. From the information above, we can now call her by her right names; Viola, Lula, or Lulu. We also now know that two other girls died. May and Myrtle will be given attention as our “ghosts” in our house as well. Even though the fire did not happen at a Kappa house, I am sure we will say that they are with us in our house. For more information please refer to the archives mentioned. Archive 5 explains in great detail what happened. A special thanks to Jeff Bader for helping me find all of this information.
Lambda’s interest in the Fraternity at Large was spurred by the election of Marion Bell Slade (Ransom) as grand marshal in 1884. The 1886 Convention was held in Akron, costing considerably less than $75. Lambda presented another honorary member, Emma White Perkins, who sang at the Convention. Mary Krenzke (Grandlin) was Grand Secretary, 1886-1888. Lambda had continuous representation on Council. Elmie Warner (Mallory) served four years as Grand Registrar and two as Grand President after her marriage, 1904-1906; Elizabeth Voris Lawry was Editor of The Key and then Grand Treasurer; Lydia Voris Kolbe was Grand Treasurer six years, Business Manager of The Key two years, and Grand President, 1916-1920. She was also the first Gamma Province president. Helen Farst Walace wrote the Lambda chapter report for the 1870-1930 History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity. Turn of the Century
In 1901, after a period of fund raising and rebuilding following a serious campus fire, Dr. Augustus Church became college president. He was a man of many virtues and well acquainted with Kappas: his wife a Beta Beta; and two daughters, Evelyn and Dorothy, initiates of Lambda and Beta Beta ∆ and Gamma Chi. After his sudden death in 1912, Parke R. Kolbe became president, and Lydia, his Lambda wife whose mother Elizabeth Slade Voris was a charter member was often a gracious hostess to the chapter.
Under Dr. Kolbe’s supervision the City Council of Akron accepted the land, buildings and endowment, and, with Buchtel College as a nucleus, established the University of Akron, September, 1914.
Hezzelton Simmons became president in 1933. Under him, Simmons Hall was built, and a student building, opened in 1939, was run by a student crew with a Kappa co-manager, Antonia Blackletter (Nichols). She was the first woman to ever hold such a position in the United States. President Simmons had three Kappa daughters and a Kappa daughter-in-law. He himself always presented Kappa bids to each new girl. Catherine Simmons Russell, who earned a graduate degree at Goucher College while she helped organize Delta Theta Chapter there, remembers her father’s sense of humor… She mentions an instance when she was delegated to do the Kappa laundry which conflicted with a special date. Her father, then a chemistry professor, sent her off on the date and did the laundry himself.
During the Depression many Kappas worked part time, dues were lowered, and the spring formal was cancelled. Song Fest took place for the first time in 1933.
World War II found Kappas knitting, wrapping bandages, selling savings stamps, writing letters to servicemen, and working at the USO. Veterans flooded the campus after the war ended.
Mary Giddings Keating was named dean of women, responsible for counseling all women student. In 1945, after years of rented rooms and houses, Lambda took the first step toward home ownership since 1900, when an unsuccessful attempt had been made. With Margaret Zink Brewster as chairman, the Lambda House Association was founded with 164 contributing charter members. In 1948 the move was made to 204 Spicer Street, a home which the chapter purchased.
During the early 1950s, all was not well with women’s fraternities. The expected increase in enrollment was mostly men. An alumnae steering committee, headed by Lambda’s Marion Barnes Zehender helped pull the chapter back to its former level.
The actives worked hard to set up a tight budget, coordinate activities, and regulate studies. Results were good and morale rose, the common goal drawing the members into close harmony. The summer of 1957 found Lambda with membership up, finances under control, scholarship excellent. So it was with disbelief the chapter read a letter from the Fraternity Council requesting a surrender of its charter due to inadequate women’s facilities on the campus. Chapter President Ann Whiting (Baldwin) called an emergency meeting of actives and alumnae. Result: a reply stating that the charter would not be voluntarily relinquished.
The Akron Beacon-Journal featured the situation on the front page, and the university President Norman Auburn invited the Council to come to Akron. Accepting the invitation were Executive Secretary Clara O. Pierce, Ohio State, Fraternity President Eleanore Goodridge Campbell, Colorado, and Director of Chapters Frances Fatout Alexander, DePauw. The decision: the situation had been misconstrued. The committee was impressed with the university and was proud to have Lambda Chapter on the campus. Its delegate to the 1958 Convention returned to Akron with a large silver tray inscribed: First Place—Greatest Chapter Improvement Award—Lambda. In 1959 a new award, given in the name of Jayne Pesar, a beloved member who died that spring, was offered to the Lambda member best exemplifying a Kappa woman.
To encourage members to stay in school the Akron Alumnae Association inaugurated the Memorial Scholarship Fund, a no-interest loan fund through which alumnae can remember a Kappa sister by temporarily easing the financial burdens of an active student.
Once again, in 1966, the Kappas found themselves in the path of an expanding university, and the Lambda House Association, led by Carol Aspell Messmore, bought three parcels of property, containing four houses. Two were then rented, one was razed, and one renovated to house 12 university students. Plans for a future chapter house for 40 members were drawn up, and a fund drive launched with hopes of building in 1971. By 1968 the university no longer needed the housing, so the Kappa Annex came into being. The house on Spicer Street was sold to the university and the annex became the Kappa House. It was realized that Lambda would never need a structure to house all members and plans for a lodge-type house were made. The realization of this dream came true in 1975 when a new lodge was dedicated.
1970 was a year of great change. Greek activities lost emphasis. The events at Kent State, so close to home, had a serious effect on Akron students. Lambda Kappas ranged from those who mourned the loss of traditional events to those who gladly turned their attention to national and political action. The Kappa Centennial was celebrated on Founders Day, 1970 with 100 alumnae and 70 actives in attendance. Virginia Bader (McGuckin), who was named Outstanding Greek Woman of the Year and the Akron recipient of Kappa’s Centennial Scholarship, was a featured guest.
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.
Trends on campus and within the chapter included the importance of performing arts and speaking up about issues on campus. Many influential speakers visited the University of Akron to inform students about current issues, a variety of bands performed on campus, and many theatre productions were held. Fashion trends included the Farah Fawcett hairstyle, leather jackets, short dresses, wedge shoes, different prints and patterns, and big accents on clothing.
The Lambda chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma faced very few difficulties during these years. The chapter was doing very well and was successful in many aspects. They had the highest GPA on campus for several years in a row, had successful rush weeks where they pledged more than 20 women during the fall Recruitments, and they were very involved on campus and in Greek life.
The biggest challenge that the Kappas faced was maintaining such a high reputation on campus. They were able to deal with this challenge by continually recruiting outstanding women, hosting and attending many events with other Greek groups, and participating in activities throughout the campus and in the community. Kappa Kappa Gamma had a very positive reputation and was a highly respected sorority on the University of Akron’s campus.
Through the passing years, some important events occurred that influenced the chapter, like the opening and dedication of the new chapter house in October of 1975. This was very significant to the chapter and even to the surrounding community, and the mayor of Akron declared that October 26th of that year was Kappa Kappa Gamma Day. Also, members of the chapter attended Kappa’s 51st biennial convention held at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, Calif. in the summer of 1976. The women of Lambda chapter were very excited that they got to participate in and attend that event.
During the weekend of June 10, 1977, they celebrated Lambda chapter’s 100th anniversary with many of their alumni and national Kappa Kappa Gamma officers at a dinner and a big ceremony (see below). On this day, the women displayed a quilt that they’d made showing their Kappa memories. Finally, in 1979, they hosted Gamma Province Meeting in Akron.
At this time the President of the University of Akron was Dominic J. Guzzetta and the school was the third largest university in Ohio. The university opened music, speech, and theater arts building in 1975, in 1976 the building was renamed Guzzetta Hall in honor of the president and his wife.
A national energy crisis was occurred at this time and the city of Akron was experiencing a decline in their once flourishing rubber industry. To deal with these problems, the university conserved energy by turning off lights and closing its game room for a period of time. Another issue on campus, included the lack of available parking spots.
Centennial Celebration June 10–12, 1977: 200 gathered in Akron to celebrate Lambda’s 100 years. The weekend began with tours of Akron attractions for out-of-town guests. Saturday, was reunion day with many classes having noon gatherings. One loyal alumna flew from Denver to Akron for the luncheon and returned home again that evening. Others came from as far as California, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Florida, Chicago and Pennsylvania.
The highlight of the weekend was the Centennial Banquet held at the Firestone Country Club. Connie O’Dell Nolte, Akron, Akron Alumnae Association President, served as toastmistress. A check for $1,000 was presented to Dr. Dominic Guzzetta, university president, by Sally Moore Nitschke, Ohio State, Director of Membership, on behalf of the Fraternity for Centennial Scholarships.
Graduating seniors were inducted into the alumnae association by Dru Cox Zuverink, Kentucky, Gamma Province Director of Alumnae. Juliana (J.J.) Fraser Wales, Ohio State, Gamma Province Director of Chapters, presented 50-year awards to four Lambda alumnae and one Beta Beta Deuteron alumna. An audio-visual presentation of 100 years of Lambda Chapter entitled Bustles to Blue Jeans was enjoyed, highlighted by a style show presented by the active members wearing gowns which had been worn by former Fraternity Presidents.
Everyone was delighted to receive two elegant favors, a blue-and-blue needlepoint key tag made by various members and a blue enamel-on-copper fleur-de-lis pin made by area alumnae.
A new tradition began when a new President’s badge was presented to the incoming association President. This badge will be passed on to each newly elected association president and she will wear it during her term of office. At this banquet, the new association officers were installed.
During this Centennial year, Lambda Chapter was proud to earn the university scholarship cup two out of three quarters, and first place in Song Fest with Sigma Pi and Theta Chi fraternities, and, for the second year, a Lambda member was named Outstanding Greek Woman. This special weekend culminated with an open house at the Kappa Lodge, a memorial service and campus tours conducted by actives members.
Lambda chapter members worked together to make improvements to many areas of the chapter in 1987. Ritual and initiation procedures were improved, committees were reconstructed to work more efficiently at the suggestion from the Traveling Consultant, finances were kept in order and the chapter improved academically to rank second on campus. Fall rush brought 17 new pledges to the chapter. On the Akron campus, seven sororities were involved in the Panhellenic Council.
This upward trend in the chapter carried forward until the end of the decade. At the 1989 Gamma Province Meeting, Lambda received the award for the most improved pledge program. The chapter pledged 23 new members that fall in a successful rush, to add to the five new members from the spring 1989 rush. The chairman of the Panhellenic council fundraiser in 1989 was a Kappa, as was the president of the Panhellenic Council. Additionally, Lambda had the second highest GPA on campus among NPC chapters.
Lambda chapter was also recognized by the campus in 1989 by winning Desiderata, which is an award for the overall best sorority on campus based on service hours. It also won the Panhellenic Spirit Award. Housing: The Kappa Lodge was redecorated in 1987 with new carpeting, furniture and wallpaper. The formal room of the Lodge was completely redecorated in 1989 with new paint, reupholstered furniture, new curtains, the carpet was cleaned and letters were added to the outside of the annex.
Philanthropy: Increasing involvement in philanthropy was a chapter focus in 1987 and the chapter history report indicates that philanthropic fundraising that year increased by 50% from the previous year. The 1989 chapter history reports shares that Lambda donated the most service hours of any sorority on campus that year, more than 700 hours, and raised the most money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Philantropy events included the sale of Kiss-o-grams (Hershey Kisses) for American Diabetes Association, visiting Manor Care Nursing home for a Halloween party and participation in the Great Strides Walk-a-Thon for Cystic Fibrosis.