In 1922, the original Kappa Kappa Gamma Headquarters was a humble space - literally a side room in the home of the Executive Secretary, where boxes piled high and work was conducted on a card table. Ninety-six years later, in 2018, Kappa moved their headquarters into an elegant, thoroughly modern office space.
During those intervening years, Kappa's Headquarters changed locations several times, moving into larger and larger spaces. In those various office spaces, Kappa’s Executive Directors oversaw the growing Fraternity itself.
This is the story of the growth of the Fraternity and the professionalization of Kappa’s Central Office, led by the remarkable Executive Directors who facilitated that growth.
Foundation and Fraternity leaders, along with Gregory Peterson, the Mayor of Dublin, Ohio, cut the ribbon officially opening the new Headquarters of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
On July 20, 2018, Fraternity Executive Director Kari Kittrell Poole stood with Fraternity President Beth Black while she cut through a blue ribbon, officially dedicating the new Kappa Kappa Gamma Headquarters in Dublin, Ohio. The new office, taking up 22,000 square feet on two floors, showcases the history of Kappa with artifacts and exhibits built into the walls while also being thoroughly modern. It combines the elegance long associated with Kappa with cutting-edge technology one would expect at the headquarters of a national organization.
Comfortable sofas in inviting spaces combine with offices and conference rooms designed for efficiency. Jean Davis, Director of Technology, says ". . . all our meeting spaces and our training room [were designed] to include conference calling, video calling, live computer and mobile device displays to TVs, live streaming and recording of meetings, and display annotation software for presentations."
Caren Foster, associate principal architect at the firm Moody Nolan, says, "The new space needed to reflect the deep history and heritage of Kappa as well as the modern organization it has become." Part of that history includes moving from a group run by volunteers to a modern central office run by business-minded leaders who helped establish the reality of a Kappa Headquarters.
Read more about the technology at the new headquarters here.
See more details of the ribbon-cutting ceremony photo on the left by visiting the item record here.
A group of Kappas including former Grand Presidents Sarah Rowe (second from right) and May Westermann (far right) sit outside in formal academic robes during the 1930 National Convention on Mackinac Island.
Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Headquarters and the position of Executive Director have always been linked. In fact, both were conceived at the same time.
At the 1922 National Convention in Glacier National Park, Montana, Grand President Sarah Harris Rowe, Northwestern, brought forward a recommendation that "we have one office of the Fraternity who shall be a paid officer, having an office which shall be the central office of Kappa Kappa Gamma, said officer to give her full time to her Fraternity work."
At the time, much of the Fraternity’s business was handled by the unpaid volunteer positions of the Grand Secretary and the Grand Treasurer. Sarah suggested combining the growing responsibilities of these two officers and giving them to the new executive officer. Consider, she argued, "the mass of detail work which must be done in a Fraternity which boasts 48 chapters and as many alumnae associations and more. Consider also the amount of money which is handled by such a Fraternity. And then ask yourself if any business organization could exist with the kind of organization we now have. We must have," she concluded, "a business head as well as an inspirational head."
The new business head would officially be the Executive Secretary-Treasurer, though most just called it the Executive Secretary. The treasurer half of the position was divided into a separate position much later. Then, finally, the position was renamed Executive Director.
The delegates approved the recommendation, and the Central Office and the position of the Executive Secretary were created. It was, as reported by The Key in its Convention coverage, "The Big Change."
Read the Report of the Grand President, 1920-21, here.
Learn more about the image of Sarah Rowe with May Westermann, Nebraska, by visiting the item record here.
Della Burt poses with her husband, Howard, during the 1936 National Convention in Montebello, Quebec.
At the 1922 Convention, the Nominating Committee unanimously advanced current Grand Secretary Della Lawrence, Texas, who was elected first Executive Secretary of Kappa Kappa Gamma, and paid a salary of $1,500 a year.
In her new role, The Key noted, Della "will handle all Kappa business directly. She will have the duties of Grand Secretary, Grand Treasurer, Custodian of the Badge, Business Manager of The Key, and Director of The Catalogue."
Della wasted no time, setting up the Central Office in her home in Bryan, Texas. Though the work kept her busy, she did find time to be courted. A year later, after she married Howard Burt, she moved Kappa’s Central Office into her new matrimonial home.
Her first desk was a bridge table and later upgraded to a dinner table. She wrote of "files in the living room, Kappa boxes in the bedroom, and of Mr. Burt’s feeling that he would never be surprised to find multigraph type in his oatmeal." From morning until night, she wrote, "the subject of conversation in the Burt house is Kappa! Or if not a Kappa at least a Kappa husband; or surely a Kappa something."
Della handled the growing work in the increasingly crowded space. Between Jan. 14, 1926, and May 15, 1926, she recorded receiving 838 letters (not including postcards or packages) and mailing in that same time over 1,000 letters (not including over 5,000 form letters). That kind of volume of work, she noted with some understatement, was made more difficult due to a "lack of adequate office space."
Shortly after the 1928 Convention, Della announced her intention to step down as Executive Secretary. When she resigned, Della was determined that her vacancy would be filled by Clara O. Pierce, Ohio State. Clara was highly respected and admired by other Greek-letter organizations in the National Panhellenic Conference (known then as the National Panhellenic Congress) and the North American Interfraternity Conference for her executive abilities in Kappa Kappa Gamma. A native of Columbus, Ohio, she insisted on bringing Kappa’s Central Office to Columbus immediately after she was appointed. And just like that, Kappa was moved to the Buckeye State.
View a photo of Della Burt wearing the Fraternity Constitution as a stole here.
Learn more about the image of Della and Howard Burt by visiting the item record here.
Clara Pierce (left) and Della Burt (right), Kappa's only Executive Secretaries, sit together on the Sun Valley terrace at the 1940 National Convention in Sun Valley, Idaho.
"No saner, more able business leader could be found than Clara O. Pierce, whose care and interest have given Kappa Kappa Gamma our real Central Office," Della wrote in the final months of her tenure.
This was generous of Della, not in her estimation of Clara, but in passing the credit for the first "real" Central Office to Clara. In fact, Della had been advocating for such an office for years. But one thing that the two had in common - other than their complete dedication to Kappa - was their penchant for deflecting credit to others.
Clara would indeed prove to have a great mind for business. She had previously served as the Chairman of the Endowment Fund, Secretary for the Columbus Alumnae Association, and acted as Gamma Province Vice President, (a role that would later evolve into the Province Director of Alumnae). She had also worked for the Industrial Bureau of Columbus.
Before taking over as Executive Secretary, Clara, eager to learn, traveled to St. Louis, where Della and her husband had moved, and worked directly under Della’s tutelage as the National Cataloguer.
After Clara took over as Executive Secretary, Della continued to work with her as the Deputy to the Executive Secretary from 1929 to 1935.
Learn more about the image of Clara and Della by visiting the item record here.
This section of the Assistant Secretary and Cataloguer's office in the Ohio State Savings Building central office shows a work table, desk of the endowment chairman, The Key mailing list and catalog files.
In January 1929, Kappa’s new Executive Secretary moved into the new Central Office, which was located on the fourth floor of the Ohio State Savings Building in Columbus, Ohio. It was celebrated for being a "fireproof building where the business of the national Fraternity may be conducted in an efficient manner."
The office consisted of three rooms, which must have seemed expansive after years of residing in Della's home.
Visitors entered into a center reception room decorated in early American antique maple with offices on each side. To the left was the office of the new Executive Secretary, which had a green, steel desk that Della previously used.
The small but growing staff used the office to the right. The assistant to the Executive Secretary (who was also the National Registrar) and the Cataloguer each had a green, steel desk while the Chairman of the Endowment Fund used a roll-top desk.
Kappas (and families and friends of Kappas) from around the country donated items or money for furnishings for the new space, including a wall hanging, a floor lamp, and an adding machine.
As files were unboxed and furnishings arranged during the first week, the office was decorated with roses Della and Howard Burt sent.
The increased space meant that the "Kappa library" could be enlarged and that books and magazines featuring the work of Kappas and items such as badges from previous years could be collected for a future museum.
To view details about the Assistant Secretary and Cataloguer’s office, click here.
Fraternity Leaders - including Grand Secretary Clara Pierce - pose either before or after the Council Session at the 1934 National Convention at Yellowstone National Park.
Clara went right to work. In her first year, she helped oversee Kappa’s legal incorporation. She would later file for nonprofit status so that people could make tax-exempt donations to the Fraternity and its scholarships. Then, in an effort to combat the sale of unauthorized Kappa badges, she trademarked the Greek letters ΚΚΓ.
As the country staggered after the stock market crash of 1929, Clara had the forethought to recommend "each chapter Treasurer be bonded through the Central Office on one bond schedule." All but one chapter did so. As a result, Kappa didn’t lose a single dollar during the Great Depression, even as banks collapsed throughout the 1930s.
After World War II, when campuses experienced a housing shortage, Clara initiated a housing program that financed the construction of new chapter houses and the expansion of existing ones.
Learn more about the convention leaders in the image here.
Clara also saw the advantage of being able to negotiate business deals for all the chapter houses as one entity. For example, at one point the Fraternity held 77 different insurance policies for 22 chapter houses, each with different stipulations that offered different coverages with different renewal dates. She saw that bringing all those policies under one umbrella policy would not only simplify things, but could also save the houses money. In 1951, she negotiated the master fire insurance policy, first of its type for any fraternity in the United States.
Similarly, she negotiated contracts for wholesale buying of items for chapter houses, such as china and silver.
Over the years, as the Fraternity grew under Clara’s leadership, Kappa leased additional space to keep up with the business needs, including adding more staff and housing the stencil files for The Key, which were brought to the Central Office from the publishers in Wisconsin. But eventually, leasing more and more space wasn’t prudent. It was time for Kappa to buy a home.
See images of chapter house exteriors here.
See images of chapter house interiors here.
Learn more about the featured image of Clara O. Pierce here.
This building, located at 530 East Town Street in Columbus, Ohio, served as the Headquarters of Kappa Kappa Gamma for 65 years.
Property in downtown Columbus, Ohio, was expensive, but Clara located a property within walking distance of downtown that also offered a homey charm. The three-story brick residence was nearly 100 years old, but with a renovation, Clara saw possibilities. It would be large enough for present and future needs, and it would provide Kappa with a permanent home with "the dignity befitting our age and standing". It even had wrought-iron fence with a fleurs-de-lis pattern.
Following Clara’s recommendation, the Finance Committee approved the purchase of the site. A year later, in December 1952, Kappa moved into the new building at 530 E. Town St., and became the first Greek-letter women’s organization to own and operate a headquarters.
The new headquarters included 6,850 square feet of office space as well as 3,170 square feet for the library, meeting room, lounge, lunchroom and kitchen, and upstairs sleeping rooms for visitors. There was ample space for the growing Fraternity staff, which now consisted of the Executive Secretary, a receptionist, a bookkeeper, bookkeeper’s assistant, head cataloguer, assistant cataloger, a file clerk, someone in charge of reference, and someone in charge of mail orders and inventory. In addition, a part-time worker maintained the office machines and another assisted with bookkeeping and budgeting.
Ann Scott Morningstar, Ohio State, Public Relations Chairman, wrote, "As a result of Pierce’s devotion to every detail of the planning and building, important architectural survivals, such as the rare hand-rubbed slate mantel pieces, have been carefully preserved. At the same time the latest and most practical office equipment has been installed."
That the property was suitable for the growing and future needs of the Fraternity was borne out by it being Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Fraternity Headquarters for 65 years.
Read more about the East Town Street image included here.
Members of the National Council pose outside during the 1966 National Convention in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
"Budgets to most people are a dull subject, and truly dull when not in balance," Clara said. She may or may not have found budgets dull, but she excelled at creating and maintaining them.
As Kappa’s Treasurer, Clara managed the budget for The Key, the Students’ Aid Fund and Endowment Fund, and the housing budget. Additionally, she oversaw the operating budget for Fraternity Headquarters and kept an eye on the budgets of all of the chapter houses.
She was also responsible for the Fraternity’s investment portfolio, generally keeping to low-risk, long-term investments like railroad bonds and guaranteed stocks that mirrored the steady, inevitable growth of the Fraternity itself.
She thought having basic financial literacy was an important part of a woman’s education, and she hoped that Kappas would take an interest in the finances of their chapter houses. "To say that college girls are not capable of handling the treasury position in the chapter is a bad reflection on their ability," she reported. "Budgets and expenses will always be with us no matter in what field we find ourselves in the future. In my opinion a college education is not complete without some practical knowledge of finance. It is a known fact that the women are the buying power of the nation."
See more items related to annual budgets here.
Learn about the National Council members pictured here.
Fire trucks park in front of the Fraternity Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, which was partially damaged by a fire on February 11, 1965.
On the morning of Feb. 11, 1965, a fire swept through Kappa Headquarters. By the time the flames were put out, the catalogue and office machine rooms were completely destroyed as well as the auditorium and apartments. Rooms that were spared from flames were severely damaged by smoke and water.
Clara quickly took action. She arranged the rental of an empty building across the street from the smoldering headquarters, where a makeshift office was set up. She also rented a warehouse so waterlogged carpets, furnishings, and records could be spread out to dry.
Though other options were considered, eventually Fraternity Council decided to rebuild the property at 530 E. Town St. Clara looked for ways to improve Kappa Headquarters, including reimagining the interior space, updating the office machines, and investing in fireproof cabinets for records.
In the summer of 1966, the remodel was complete and Clara and the rest of the Kappa Headquarters staff moved back into the new and improved building. The fire had represented one of the darkest chapters in Kappa Headquarters history, but the staff under Clara hardly missed a beat. "Time does not stand still," she wrote. "Neither do the Kappas."
View more about the 1965 fire at Kappa Headquarters here.
See information about the image featured on this slide here.
In 1969, Clara retired. It had been a remarkable tenure. During her 40 years at the helm, Kappa had grown considerably. Between 1929 and 1969, membership in the Fraternity increased from 16,000 to over 82,000. Fifty-eight chapters had become 94. Twelve full-time staff now worked at Kappa Headquarters.
She left an indelible mark on the Fraternity. Her recommendations led to the appointment of paid traveling secretaries (known first as Field Secretaries, then Traveling Consultants, now Leadership Consultants) who traveled to the different chapters to work with them directly to provide training and support, the creation of the Convention Committee, and the establishment of the Convention fund. She also helped create the Alumnae Achievement Awards and the 50-year Kappa pin. After World War II, when jobs were difficult to find, she created the Vocational Guidance Bureau to help Kappas enter the workforce.
But one of Clara’s most important influences is harder to quantify. Together with Della, Clara had professionalized the Fraternity. Under their tenures, Kappa had gone from a social organization operating out of the homes of volunteers to a national business with over $5 million worth of assets and an operating budget of over $200,000. The Fraternity’s operation was now handled by professional businesswomen who were recognized for their business acumen from coast to coast.
To see more items related to Field Secretaries, click here.
Kappa Kappa Gamma has had six Executive Secretary/Directors since Clara retired in 1969. Though they are all following in the footsteps of Della and Clara, each has left her own mark on Kappa Headquarters.
Katharine "Kay" Wade Pennell, Ohio State, followed Clara, serving from 1969 to 1972. During that time, the role of Treasurer was finally separated into a distinct position at Kappa Headquarters.
Betty "Seetie" Sanor Cameron, Ohio State, served as Executive Secretary and then Executive Director (as the position was renamed) from 1972 to 1987. In 1984, Kappa Headquarters expanded into the Town-Bartlit property next door. Its 3,300 square feet was used for storage and leased office space for a variety of tenants until 2007 when the space was renovated to serve as offices for the Kappa Kappa Gamma Foundation. Seetie also helped computerize the Fraternity, overseeing the introduction of electronic typewriters, word processors, and in 1980, the Fraternity’s first computer. During her tenure, the Kappa properties at 530 and 538 E. Town St. were entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
To meet the Fraternity’s evolving needs, Dale Brubeck, William & Mary, Executive Director from 1987 to 2000 (and Foundation Executive Director from 2000 until 2008), created several new positions, including a Director of Business and Operations, a Director of Education and Training, and an Archivist. Dale also oversaw further computerization of the Fraternity, including moving the membership records into a database.
Lila Anne Isbell, Montana, was appointed Executive Director in 2001 after having worked with Dale as Director of Business for seven years. Lila oversaw several renovations at Kappa Headquarters while she was in office and an ambitious technology review.
Lauren Sullivan Paitson, Penn State, served as Executive Director from 2005 to 2009. She created an internship program for Kappa Headquarters, providing Kappas with a hands-on learning experience about the business of operating the Fraternity.
Kari Kittrell Poole, (Miami University), has served as Executive Director since 2009. She was at the helm as Kappa Kappa Gamma finally outgrew the brick building that was the Fraternity’s home for over 65 years, and now leads from the new office at 6640 Riverside Drive in Dublin, Ohio.