Gamma Psi Chapter was founded at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland on June 7, 1929. The Chapter closed on May 20, 1992.
1,522 initiates (as of June 1992)
On March 6, 1856, the forerunner of today's University of Maryland was chartered as the Maryland Agricultural College. Two years later, Charles Benedict Calvert, a descendant of the Barons Baltimore, fervent believer in agricultural education, and a future U.S. Congressman, purchased 420 acres of the Riverdale Plantation in College Park for $21,000. Calvert founded the school later that year with money earned by the sale of stock certificates. On October 5, 1859, the first 34 students entered the Maryland Agricultural College, including four of Charles Calvert’s sons: George, Charles, William and Eugene. The keynote speaker on opening day was Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
In July 1862, the same month that the Maryland Agricultural College awarded its first degrees, President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act. The legislation provided federal funds to schools that taught agriculture or engineering, or provided military training. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the school became a land grant college in February 1864 after the Maryland legislature voted to approve the Morrill Act. A few months after accepting the grant, the Maryland Agricultural College proved to be an important site in the Civil War. In April 1864, General Ambrose E. Burnside and 6,000 soldiers of the Union’s Ninth Army Corps camped on the MAC campus. The troops were en route to reinforce General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces in Virginia.
Later that summer, around 400 Confederate soldiers led by General Bradley T. Johnson stayed on the grounds while preparing to take part in a raid against Washington. A local legend claims that soldiers were warmly welcomed by university President Henry Onderdonk, a Confederate sympathizer, and that the cavalrymen were thrown a party on the campus nicknamed “The Old South Ball.” The next morning, the soldiers rode off to cut the lines of communication between Washington and Baltimore.
Financial problems forced the increasingly desperate administrators to sell off 200 acres of land, and the continuing decline in student enrollment sent the Maryland Agricultural College into bankruptcy. For two years, the campus was used as a boy’s preparatory school.
Following the Civil War, the Maryland legislature pulled the college out of bankruptcy, and in February 1866 assumed half ownership of the school. The college thus became in part a state institution.
The state took complete control of the school in 1916, and consequently the institution was renamed Maryland State College. Also that year, the first female students enrolled at the school. On April 9, 1920, the college merged with the established professional schools in Baltimore to form the University of Maryland. The graduate school on the College Park campus awarded its first PhD degrees, and the University's enrollment reached 500 students in the same year. In 1925, the University was accredited by the Association of American Universities.
Sigma Delta, the Greek letters of Kappa’s pledge pin, was the name and Kappa Kappa Gamma was the goal of a group of nine Maryland college women who on February 20, 1920, formed this first women’s organization on the College Park campus. These pioneers wrote the constitution, bylaws and ritual used throughout Sigma Delta’s existence.
Sigma Delta, with the aid of Marie Mount, Indiana, then serving as dean of the College of Home Economics, and the faculty wives as patronesses, accomplished much during the next few years. A financial coup showed remarkable foresight: Dr. H. J. Patterson, dean of the College of Agriculture and Sigma Delta’s first financial adviser, suggested that each girl take out a life insurance policy and immediately borrow on it. With this money, a large lot on College Avenue was purchased. On July 8, 1926, ground was broken, and the house was moved into that December. It was the first house to be built by a women’s fraternity at the university. Furniture from Montgomery Ward was bought with the little money remaining, and the first meal was prepared by a cook who was to remain with the chapter for almost 40 years.
Sigma Delta Honors The women of Sigma Delta were outstanding. For the first six years, the Women’s Citizenship Award, offered at commencement to “the woman member of the senior class who during her collegiate career has most nearly typified the model citizen and has done the most for general advancement of the interest of the university” went to a Sigma Delta.
Early records tell of happy time, of agreement on organizational matters and of the firm decision to work for a Kappa charter. The Fraternity’s national reputation was well known, but it was admiration for Marie Mount that kept the goal always in the Sigma Delta mind. Although other fraternities encouraged the group, Kappa was always the goal.
On June 6 and 7, 1929, the dream was realized, and Sigma Delta became Gamma Psi Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Gamma Psi and the sister chapter, Gamma Chi at George Washington University, were installed at the Sigma Delta house by Florence Tomlinson (Myers, Wallace), Drake, Fraternity Registrar; May Whiting Westermann, Nebraska, Historian; and three chapters: Beta Alpha, Pennsylvania; Beta Iota, Swarthmore; and Gamma Kappa, William & Mary. It was the only occasion of a two-chapter installation at one time and in the same place. On June 8, 20 alumna members and, after pledging, 11 additional undergraduates, were initiated and joined the 24 charter members.
Kappa was the second national women’s fraternity to be installed on the Maryland campus, following Alpha Omicron Pi. At the time of installation, almost half of the 276 women students were members of the university’s four Greek-letter organizations, two local and two national.
A New House
New faces and the joys of fraternity living filled the 1929 to 1937 years. The mothers club was founded in 1934, and the alumnae association was founded in 1937. By 1936, the chapter had outgrown the Sigma Delta house. By the fall of 1937, Gamma Psi had a new but unfinished house, planned by Kappa architect Margaret Read, Colorado. The girls were given rooms with College Park friends as the old house was already occupied by another sorority.
“We walked our rushees over boards and tar paper,” reads the chapter history. “Past sawhorses, down the steps to the recreation room for our supper parties … the faithful cook … was right on hand in the unfinished kitchen cooking over little electric burners … it worked … and we got the usual good crop of pledges.” The move was finally made after Thanksgiving in 1937. The chapter members slept on mattresses on the floor until beds and springs arrived a week later. The following year brought Mrs. John Hill, the dearly loved “Miss Anne,” to Gamma Psi, and she served as House Director until 1951. Her kindness, her gracious ways, and her devotion to the girls made Miss Anne a cherished part of the lives of a generation of Maryland Kappas.
During the late 1930s, a group of the first graduates formed the College Park Alumnae Association, with a charter granted February 24, 1938. Helen Parrington Larner was the first association president. In 1958, the name was changed to Suburban Washington (Maryland) Alumnae Association. Further growth led to another change in 1965 and a merger with the Washington, D.C., Alumnae forming the Washington, D.C.—Suburban Maryland Association.
These alumnae gave much time and attention to Gamma Psi, supplying Advisory and House Board members, assisting with Initiation, sending flowers and baskets of fruit, presenting small gifts to initiates, and giving the chapter a Christmas gift. Initiation robes were furnished as well. The pledge with the highest grade-point average was given her badge at Initiation. This group also gave an Omicron Nu pin each year to the university student with the highest GPA, an award in honor of Marie Mount. At graduation, a year’s membership in the Alumnae Association was offered to all seniors.
During World War II, many Gamma Psis joined women’s service groups, the Nurse Corps and USO units. In 1943, when the university lacked manpower, girls of the active chapter laid a do-it-yourself brick sidewalk in front of the Kappa house. Only 150 civilian men were registered at that time, although 1,000 course-taking servicemen were bivouacked in men’s dormitories. The Kappas took the lead on campus by assuming extracurricular posts customarily held by male students; editorships of publications, positions in student government, and numerous class officers.
The student boom began at the end of the war, and Maryland expanded rapidly. Due to the rapid growth of the university, it was decreed in the 1960s that all Greek-letter groups must house their own members. The Kappa house was doubled in size, the new wing being constructed on land purchased by the Sigma Deltas in 1926, and 55 members were accommodated.
Gamma Psi was always near the top of the campus scholarship list, and the late 1940s and early 1950s found the chapter often in possession of the scholarship cup. Mortar Board, established at Maryland in 1934, had many Kappas as members. A domination of the cheerleading squad continued for many years. The chapter had frequent wins of the Interfraternity Sing and Harmony Hall, both spring traditions on campus.
During its first 50 years of Kappa life, Gamma Psi contributed a number of Province Directors and two Field Secretaries (now Field Representatives). Nationally, the chapter’s best known member is Jane Cahill, the first woman to be named vice president of IBM.
Other prominent alumnae include author Elizabeth Harrover Johnson; artist Virginia Bradford Burton; former assistant to the hostess of Blair House, Mary Moran Schenke; Connie Cornell Stuart, Mrs. Richard Nixon’s former aide; fashion designers; pediatricians; and a specialist in geriatrics, Virginia Truitt Sherr. The chapter’s location close to Washington, D.C., made it possible for members to serve as Congressional secretaries and administrative aides, as well as wives of diplomats and military men.
Chapter traditions come and go—the tea dances of the 1930s, the Spinster Skips of the 1940s, the Triad Dances and Powder Puff football of the 1950s, the pledge skit night and pumpkin carving of the 1960s—gave way to the new activities of the 1970s … but Kappa spirit and loyalties remained.
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.
In 1987, Gamma Psi had 110 active members and a successful rush, taking the quota of 52 pledges. The chapter history report from this year mentions that the attitude of the university administration towards greeks was mixed due to bad publicity from the actions of other Greek groups on campus. The chapter was concerned with maintaining the its good reputation and keeping up chapter spirit and grades. The report states that the chapter GPA was raised from 2.5 to 2.7 during this time.
Philanthropy events from 1987 included a Christmas Party with Sigma Alpha Epsilon for the mentally handicapped and a Balloon Derby with Pi Kappa Alpha to raise money for missing and exploited children. More than 3,800 balloons were released during the Balloon Derby. Each balloon contained the stub of a ticket belonging to the balloon’s purchaser. The person who found the balloon that traveled the farthest in a two-week period won the $50 prize.
The chapter held the Balloon Derby again in 1988, as well as participated in a fundraiser for the National Cancer Society (Dancer Against Cancer). The chapter’s theme/goal for the year was social graciousness and participation. Their catchy slogan was “Our goal for ‘88, the year we all participate.”. The chapter’s number of active members and pledge class size diminished slightly in the late ‘80s, and by the end of 1989, the chapter had 97 active members and a pledge class of 39. The chapter finished the decade focusing on a greater awareness of Kappa Ritual.
The chapter was visited by many Fraternity officers in 1990, and a chapter consultant was assigned to the chapter for 1990 and 1991. The chapter was placed on Warning of Probation in February 1990, and Probation in October 1990. The Probation period was extended in late 1991.
Gamma Psi, Maryland, closed May 20, 1992. Due to circumstances within the chapter and having received Fraternity support for an extended period, the Council recommended withdrawal of the charter to those designated in the Bylaws to vote on the issue.
“While the decision will rest with a future Council, it is the hope of the 1990-1992 Fraternity Council that Gamma Psi may be chartered in the future when the time is right for the University and the Fraternity.” Letter to Fraternity chapters and alumnae associations from the Fraternity President May 18, 1992.