Southern Methodist University Phi Beta Kappa records
A Guide to the Collection
As is clear from the correspondence contained in the collection, efforts to install a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Southern Methodist University began not long after the establishment of the school in 1915. SMU was successful in its efforts in 1949; the approval of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter there was considered to be "a true vote of confidence for the intellectual life of what was then a young university." SMU President Umphrey Lee became the first to sign the charter register.
The SMU chapter is today part of the South Central District of the national organization, and is the Gamma Chapter within the state of Texas. Requirements for membership in Phi Beta Kappa, briefly, include an excellent GPA and a challenging course of study that is based in the liberal arts. Those who are invited to become members represent the highest echelons of academic performance, prospective inductees being selected from the top 10% of their respective classes. The SMU chapter holds its Initiation ceremony each spring; faculty members who are themselves members of Phi Beta Kappa are on hand to pass along the society to its newest members.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the oldest undergraduate honors society in the United States. It was founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1776. Due to the ongoing Revolutionary War and the resulting closure of the college, the original society lasted only four years, but not before establishing the basic structure and characteristics of the society (and thus serving as a model for similar organizations). These included an oath of secrecy, governing rules and documents, initiation procedures, and a motto in Greek or Latin (Phi Beta Kappa’s motto is Philosophia Biou Kubernetes: "the love of wisdom is the guide of life"). A golden key is representative of the society and symbolic of Phi Beta Kappa’s emphasis on academic achievement and pursuit of learning.
Despite the interruption due to the American Revolution, the Virginia chapter was still able to found two other chapters at Yale and Harvard. These two chapters kept Phi Beta Kappa going, and the society expanded considerably during the 1800s, growing to 25 chapters nationwide by 1883. In the following three decades, over sixty new chapters were established, and today, The Phi Beta Kappa Society (the official name of the organization since 1988) has 276 chapters across the United States.
Prior to the establishment of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the main honor society at SMU from 1916 until 1949 was Alpha Theta Phi. Several faculty members—who were also members of Phi Beta Kappa—brought Alpha Theta Phi to SMU. This honor society must have been fairly obscure, as the chapter at SMU was only one of three in the entire United States. The other two chapters of Alpha Theta Phi, or at least those that were in existence as of 1949, were at the University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt University. The SMU chapter of Alpha Theta Phi was disbanded on December 6, 1949; the official installation of Phi Beta Kappa took place six days later.
Source of Quote: http://www.smu.edu/registrar/Honors_Convocation/Honor_Societies.asp
This collection contains the papers pertaining to the efforts to establish a Phi Beta Kappa chapter at SMU, as well as relevant documents and records used after that chapter was installed. The papers cover roughly a 50-year time period. Documents from Alpha Theta Phi, precursor to Phi Beta Kappa, are included in this collection, although early records on this society, especially regarding its founding, are either lost or unavailable.
The Southern Methodist University Phi Beta Kappa records are organized into four series. The first contains the correspondence generated by SMU’s request for a Phi Beta Kappa chapter from about 1916 through the 1940s (Boxes 1 and 2). The second series concerns efforts by other colleges and universities during this period to establish Phi Beta Kappa chapters at their respective institutions, and this also is mostly correspondence between the various schools and Phi Beta Kappa (Box 2). The SMU chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1949, and Series 3 holds important society documents, including information on the installation proceedings as well as the chapter’s charter and governing documents (Box 2).
Series 4 contains various documents and information dealing with the operation of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at SMU: chapter activities, officers, committees, financial records, annual reports, and records on society members including two boxes with member information cards (Boxes 2 through 5).
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Southern Methodist University Phi Beta Kappa records, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Finding Aid Written by Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2007.
Lara Corazalla, 2007.
Detailed Description of the Collection