“Eclipse! What Eclipse?” #GreatAmericanEclipse

“Eclipse! What eclipse?” is how I interrupted a speaker at the Rotary Club of Carbondale-Breakfast meeting about two years ago. The speaker was gracious and answered my question before moving on but I could tell I wasn’t the only one who was wondering what she meant when she started her talk. Since then, the eclipse of 2017 (and another in 2024) have been the talk of the town. The site of the longest duration of the eclipse was a few miles south of Carbondale, in the small little town of Makanda, Illinois.

For more than a year, Carbondale has been preparing for the influx of visitors and NASA scientists. We locals were inundated with pre-eclipse hype about the expected traffic delays. None materialized except for the exodus out of town, but I am getting ahead of myself.

As Carbondale welcomed visitors, we visited the Bucky Dome, something we’ve never had the opportunity to do. Buckminster Fuller taught in the Art and Design program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from 1959-72. He was one of the distinguished individuals SIUC President Delyte Morris hired as he transformed the institution from a sleepy teachers college to a comprehensive university. The geodesic dome Fuller designed and had built is at 407 South Forest Avenue (see https://www.fullerdomehome.com/).

In the loft library of the Bucky Dome. The shelves will someday have books on them again. If you look closely at the picture in the background, you can see Bucky in front of the shelves.

Yesterday was a special day in southern Illinois. As I walked the dogs in the neighborhood, I saw lots of out-of-state cars and many neighbors had visitors. As we headed outside in preparation of the event, I noted that it felt like the time after the derecho but with electricity. (In 2009, a derecho came through the area and we were without power for nearly a week, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_2009_Southern_Midwest_derecho.) 

One of the granddogs ready for the eclipse.

Photo courtesy of the Metropolis Planet

Chi Psi Headquarters in Nashville also had prime viewing for the eclipse.

The Beta Theta Pi chapters in the direct path of the eclipse. One of those logos is the SIUC Saluki dog (top row, on the right) signifying the chapter at SIUC.

A selfie during the total eclipse.

My friends at the Pi Phi Headquarters in Town and Country, Missouri, slightly west of St. Louis, were outside celebrating the eclipse, too. This photo appears to be one taken at night. Not so. It was taken as the sun was hidden by the moon, and the spotlights came on.

The Pi Phi HQ during the eclipse (photo courtesy of Betsy McCune)


I would also be remiss if I did not mention that Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory passed away this weekend. He was a member of the Beta Eta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. In 2009, he was named as one of SIUC’s Distinguished Alumni. He and his wife Lillian were Grand Marshalls of the Homecoming parade. That weekend, he was the first person inducted into the Varsity Center for the Arts Hall of Fame.

The Beta Eta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. Dick Gregory is third from left in the top row. To the left of him is his roommate Harvey Welch, Jr., who after a career in the Air Force returned to SIUC as a student affairs administrator.

Gregory, a distance runner, chose to attend SIUC after being courted by more than 100 institutions. He was captain of the cross-country and track teams. In 1953, he was the first black student athlete to win the outstanding athlete of the year award. My sincere condolences to his family, friends, and Alpha Phi Alpha brothers.

Posted in Fran Favorite | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

There Are No Babies Among Us!

Every time I hear sorority women mention the newest members as “babies,” I cringe. The women who have just made commitments to be members of a National Panhellenic Conference organization are anything but babies. The young women have graduated from high school, have applied and been accepted to colleges, and have done a tremendous amount of curricular activities, volunteer hours, and studying to get there. Unfortunately, some of these highly accomplished young women, once they accept sorority bids, will be known as “babies” until they become full-fledged initiated members.

How did this happen? Until the late 1990s, the women who made a commitment to join an NPC organization were known as “pledges.” At that time, the approach of a new century, the effort was made to change the terminology associated with women who wanted to join the NPC organizations. “Rush” became “Recruitment.” “Rushee” became “Potential New Member” or “PNM.” “Pledge” became “New Member.” 

It appears that some chapters did not enjoy the term “New Member” and chose to substitute something else, with something that defined the relationship with a little more emphasis on status, or lack thereof. Babies are the most helpless among us and need assistance for all their daily needs. They’re usually cute and irresistible, but I don’t think the term’s usage in this instance came from that quality.

We, collectively, are shooting ourselves in the foot by calling the women who want to become dually initiated members of our organizations “babies” or any derivative, i.e., “baby upsilons, “baby omegas,” “baby psis.”  I doubt anyone would call any of their organization’s founders a “baby,” least of all to her face, as is being done to some of the women who will follow in those founders’ footsteps.

The women who are wearing the new member pins of  the NPC organizations are planning to trade it in for an official badge. We need to help them become members who will value the history of the organization, who will reflect credit upon it, and who will support it with their time, talents, and treasure for the rest of their lives. Our collective futures depend on it.

Theta Phi Alpha Founders

Theta Phi Alpha Founders

The Alpha Gamma Delta Founders

Alpha Gamma Delta Founders

gamma phi founders

Gamma Phi Beta Founders

sigma kappa founders

Sigma Kappa Founders

(Sarah) Ida Shaw Martin, Delta Delta Delta Founder

(Sarah) Ida Shaw Martin, Delta Delta Delta Founder

The four Kappa Alpha Theta Founders

Kappa Alpha Theta Founders

The founders of Delta Phi Epsilon

Delta Phi Epsilon Founders

Sigma Delta Tau Founders and Ritualist

Sigma Delta Tau Founders and Ritualist

Four members of the Holt House Committee along with the painting of Pi Beta Phis 12 founders.

Four members of the Holt House Committee along with the painting of the 12 Founders of Pi Beta Phi.

Phi Sigma Sigma founders

Phi Sigma Sigma Founders

The pictures are the ones I could easily find in my media library. I am in no way singling these organizations out. I am merely suggesting that unless our members want to refer to these founders as “babies” then no women who join the organizations in 2017 should be referred to as babies.

Posted in Fran Favorite | Leave a comment

A Total Eclipse in the Heartland, About 150 Years Apart

I often remark that I live in the exact center of nowhere. Apparently, I am in error. Carbondale, Illinois, is finally on the map and the hubbub of the upcoming total solar eclipse is at a crescendo. Carbondale is the spot of the longest duration of the eclipse. To be honest, it’s a few miles down the road in the small little town of Makanda, home of the smiley bow-tied water tower, an homage to the politican Paul Simon, and Giant City State Park, a local treasure.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale postponed opening day. The Saluki Stadium seats might well be all sold for a show by NASA and prime eclipse viewing (last I checked they were almost all sold). A towering residence hall, soon to be demolished, is fully rented to eclipse viewers. Carbondale has been gearing up for this event for almost two years. I am writing this post in haste as I need to get to the grocery store after nearly two weeks being other places (nothing too much fun, sad to say).

My Pi Phi and P.E.O. double sister Elizabeth Davenport Garrels wrote an article in the lastest P.E.O. Record about the eclipse that took place on August 7, 1869, mere months after P.E.O. was founded. I suspect that the founders of P.E.O., Pi Beta Phi, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Kappa Alpha Theta were caught up in eclipse mania. Although Kappa and Theta were founded in 1870, the women who founded the organizations resided in Illinois and Indiana and would have had very good viewing spots for the event. Did any of them keep diaries? Do we have stories of the eclipse, I wonder.

Posted in Iowa Wesleyan College, P.E.O. | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

But I Really Wanted My Daughter to be My Sister

It’s that time of year. The academic year is beginning and along with it, sorority recruitment is taking place on many campuses. Along with the majority of excitement and giddyness of Bid Day, the day when the Prospective New Members (PNM) find out which organization will be theirs, there can also be some heartache. Most of the time that heartache is felt keenest by the family members of the woman going through recruitment.

A woman going through NPC sorority recruitment who has a mother, grandmother, or sister initiated into a particular sorority is considered a legacy of that organization. Some groups also include other relatives and step-relatives in the definition of legacy. It is possible for a woman to be a legacy to several chapters. 

Several of the 26 NPC organizations each have a pair of real sisters among their founders. Alpha Gamma Delta has Marguerite and Estelle Shepard. Helene and Adriance Rice founded Alpha Sigma Tau. Frances and Almira Cheney belong to Alpha Xi Delta and Clara and Emma Brownlee founded Pi Beta Phi. Only one organization, Theta Phi Alpha, has two sets of sisters among the founders – May C. Ryan and Camilla Ryan (Sutherland), and Katrina Caughey (Ward) and Dorothy Caughey (Phalan).

The sad fact is that not everyone’s daughter, granddaughter, or sister is going to end up wearing the pin of her legacy organization. Perhaps the number of legacies going through is too large to invite everyone back for more than one day.  Or maybe, it isn’t a good match. The PNM might want to follow her own heart. 

Whatever the reason, dreams sometimes die when a PNM opens a bid card and on it is an organization other than the one to which her mother, grandmother, or sister belong. And the dream that dies is usually the one belonging to the relative(s) of the new member.

To the ones who suffer hurt on Bid Day, my advice is to change the dream. The experience your daughter, granddaughter, or sister will have in any of the 26 NPC groups is essentially the same. And chances are very good that if she dedicates herself to the organization, she will leave it with the same feelings and love for her organization that you have for yours. In the end, isn’t that what you want for her?

Enjoy giving her things with her letters or symbols. Send her flowers after initiation. Revel in your time with her and the chapter at Parent’s Weekend, Homecoming, and Mom’s Weekend, or anytime you visit her. If the chapter has a Mom’s Club, get involved.

Yes, feeling sadness when a dream dies is normal.  If your legacy was raised with your sorority songs being sung to her when she was a baby, to helping with alumnae club or chapter advising, to touring your organization’s chapter house on campus visits, then the hurt will sting a little more. Don’t let your hurt affect your legacy’s experience. Let her enjoy it just as you enjoyed yours. Genuinely support her. Help her leave her chapter on graduation day feeling the same love for her organization as you do for yours. That is one of the greatest joys you can give her during her time at college.

The New Members (formerly known as Pledges) of 1946


Posted in Fran Favorite | Leave a comment

Miss America Voting and News from Gatlinburg

There are sorority women competing in the Miss America 2018 contest. You can help make one of them the People’s Choice Candidate. Vote once a day at  www.missamerica.org/vote/. Voting closes on September 5th! For the list of sorority women competing in the contest, see http://wp.me/P20I1i-3ER or you can link to it at the top of the page.

Back in November, I wrote about Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and how the fires burned down two of the dormitories, Hughes Hall and Wild Wing, named for Pi Phi’s Past Grand President Marianne Reid Wild. This week, Arrowmont held a groundbreaking ceremony for a replacement dormitory. A new entrance to the renowned Arts and Crafts school is also being constructed.

The last time I was in Gatlinburg, it was to celebrate Pi Beta Phi’s Centennial of Literacy. Marie Maddox, a teacher at Pi Beta Phi Elementary School wrote a play about the founding of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School. It was a wonderful evening and the performance was a tour de force. Marie later wrote a book about one of Gatlinburg’s oldest citizens, Martha Cole Whaley. Marie lost her courageous battle with cancer earlier this week. The tributes from her former students reinforced my conviction that she was an outstanding teacher and her spirit will live on in her students. My condolences to her daughter Shelley and son-in-law Dwight, her family and her friends. 

photo 2 (3)

Posted in Fran Favorite | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Two BILs on Beta Theta Phi’s 178th Birthday

A few days ago I wrote a post, Beta, Pi Phi and P.E.O. When I wrote it, I’d forgotten that Beta Theta Pi’s Founders’ Day was just around the corner – the eighth day of the eighth month. In that post, I mentioned the connection Beta Theta Pi had on the founding of P.E.O., a Philanthropic Educational Organization founded at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on January 21, 1869.

About 30 years earlier than the founding of P.E.O., on August 13, 1839, it was Commencement Day at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. At the first official meeting five days earlier, on August 8, eight young men established Beta Theta Pi, the first men’s fraternity founded west of the Allegheny Mountains. The men, “of ever honored memory” were John Reily Knox, Michael Clarkson Ryan, David Linton, Samuel Taylor Marshall, James George Smith, Charles Henry Hardin, John Holt Duncan, and Thomas Boston Gordon. 

Back to the chapter at Iowa Wesleyan University. One of the founders of the Beta Theta Pi chapter there was Will Pearson, brother of Suela Pearson Penfield, a founder of P.E.O. The future husbands of two other P.E.O. founders were also members of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at IWU. Charles Stafford, husband of Mary Allen Stafford, and Washington Irving Babb, husband of Alice Bird Babb, became members of the chapter. During that time it was the only fraternity at Iowa Wesleyan. The Babb sons, Max Wellington and Miles Thornton, were initiated into their father’s chapter. (Coincidentally and as an aside, the Babb’s daughter, Mary Alice Babb Ewing, was an Alpha Xi Delta.) The husbands of P.E.O.s are called BILs and Charles Stafford and W.I. Babb were two Betas who were also BILs. (Hemmerle B. Williams, husband of Lulu Corkhill Williams coined the term BILs, short for Brothers-in-law. Some P.E.O. chapters use variations on this theme.)

Washington Irving Babb, Beta Theta Pi, and husband of P.E.O. Founder Alice Bird Babb


Posted in Fran Favorite | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Two BILs on Beta Theta Phi’s 178th Birthday


“Did they get all their facts right Fran?” a friend asked on my Facebook page. She was referencing one of the posts ranking sororities – best, prestigious, most sought after – the adjectives don’t matter. The posts appear on a regular basis. My response, since I was typing on a phone and not a keyboard, was short and to the point:

I refuse to read this kind of drivel. Almost every member of each group firmly believes that hers is the best. And that is the way it should be. The experience one will have in any of the groups is almost exactly the same. After all we believe and care about the same basic values. No one should be made to feel she is a member of a less prestigious group. It serves no purpose and we collectively shoot ourselves in the foot when we encourage these sorts of comparisons. Rant over.

An Alpha Delta Pi friend chimed in:

I despise these things – we are all equal in that we have strong chapters, weak chapters, giant houses, tiny lodges, chapters living in residence halls, great philanthropic projects and #AmazingSororityWomen among all organizations. #QuitRankingUs #EmpowerEachOther When we come together there’s no stopping us!

An Alpha Gamma Delta friend added:

I did read the drivel. (It’s not called click-bait for nothing!) As usual there is incorrect information and a reference to ‘alumni.’

I often say that the affection I feel for Pi Phi is akin to that which I feel for my children. The affection I have for the other NPC groups is very much like what I have for my nieces. They are family and I would go to bat for any of them. After all, who understands us better than each other? The power of 26 is so much greater than the power of one. Alone we can do great things, but together we can do so much more. Let’s not divide ourselves over these nonsensical, manufactured rankings. 

As thousands of women begin the recruitment season, let us hope they all find a chapter they will love, cherish and work for its betterment. We will all benefit for it. When a woman drops out of recruitment or is heartbroken at the way it turns out, we all suffer for it. We, the sorority women of the world, need to help potential members and new members realize that the experience a woman will have in any of the 26 NPC groups will be more alike than different. Moreover, the most determining factor in the equation is the woman herself. Being a member of a sorority is much like anything else. The more that one puts into it, the more one will get out of it.

Posted in Fran Favorite | Comments Off on #QuitRankingUs

8/3/1923 – A Phi Gam and a Pi Phi Become President and First Lady

When Grace Goodhue Coolidge fell asleep on the evening of August 2, 1923, she was the wife of the Vice President. In the middle of the night, she awoke to news that President Harding was dead. She dressed and went downstairs to join her husband in the parlor. Her father-in-law, Colonel John Coolidge, a Windsor County notary, administered the oath of office to his son Calvin, her husband, by the light of a kerosene lamp, she suddenly became the First Lady of the United States.

President Harding was in a San Francisco hotel when he died suddenly late in the evening. The Coolidges were in Vermont at the family homestead in Plymouth Notch.  President Harding’s death happened four hours before news was delivered at 2:30 a.m. to the Coolidge homestead. 

Colonel Coolidge’s home did not have a telephone. President Harding’s secretary telegraphed the initial message of Harding’s death to White River Junction, Vermont. The public telephone operator who received the message sought out Coolidge’s stenographer, W. A. Perkins, and Joseph N. McInerney, his chauffeur. They alerted a reporter. Much activity ensued in a short amount of time. Colonel Coolidge answered the door and received the news. He trudged up the stairs to wake his son.  The President recounted the night in his autobiography:

…I noticed that his voice trembled. As the only times I had ever observed that before were when death had visited our family, I knew that something of the gravest nature had occurred.

He placed in my hands an official report and told me that President Harding had just passed away. My wife and I at once dressed.

Before leaving the room I knelt down and, with the same prayer with which I have since approached the altar of the church, asked God to bless the American people and give me power to serve them.

The oath administered by Colonel Coolidge was taken in the 14′ x 17′ parlor. Electricity had not yet reached the house and the oath was taken by the light of a kerosene lamp. President Coolidge’s mother’s Bible was on the table at his hand. She died when she was a young boy.

First-hand accounts vary as to the people in the room when the oath was administered. That is understandable given the haste of the activity, the darkness of the night, and the solemness of the occasion.

If you’re ever near Plymouth Notch, Vermont, you can stop by and see the room where Grace Coolidge became First Lady by the light of a kerosene lamp. And on that night, Grace Coolidge, a charter member of the Pi Beta Phi chapter at the University of Vermont, and Calvin Coolidge, a member of the Phi Gamma Delta Chapter at Amherst College, became the first President and  First Lady to have been initiated into Greek-letter societies as college students.

Grace Coolidge in her official portrait. It was given to the Nation by her Pi Phi sisters.

Posted in Grace Coolidge, Phi Gamma Delta, Pi Beta Phi, University of Vermont | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on 8/3/1923 – A Phi Gam and a Pi Phi Become President and First Lady

Beta, Pi Phi, and P.E.O.

My life has been lived east of the Mississippi, the last half of it just miles from the river. When we first moved to Illinois, it was odd to tell people that we were five hours from Chicago, the only Illinois city most easterners recognize. St. Louis, on the other hand, is two hours away. Crossing the Mississippi is a regular occurence in my life. The crossing of the Mississippi by Greek-Letter Organizations is a story that was running through my mind as I travelled through Iowa and Kansas on a recent trip.

There’s only about 60 miles and one big river, the Mississippi, separating Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, from Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. In 1868, when Pi Phi founder Libbie Brook enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan with the express purpose of founding a second chapter of her organization, she likely travelled to Mount Pleasant by train.

In 1855, the Xi Chapter of Beta Theta Pi was established at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Galesburg is about 15 miles from Monmouth. Ten years later, after the Civil War, Beta’s Alpha Alpha Chapter was chartered at Monmouth College. Pi Phi founder Nancy Black’s future husband, Robert S. Wallace, was a charter member of the Beta chapter at Monmouth College.

The founding of Pi Beta Phi as I.C. Sorosis took place on April 28, 1867 between the founding of Beta’s chapter at Monmouth College and the founding of its Alpha Epsilon Chapter at Iowa Wesleyan University in early 1868. It was the first men’s fraternity to be installed at Iowa Wesleyan and it is my contention that Libbie Brook’s decision to enroll at Iowa Wesleyan was due, in large part, to the presence of the Beta chapter there. Libbie established her organization’s second chapter at Iowa Wesleyan in December of 1868 and the women first wore their arrows at a New Year’s party thrown by the Betas at Hallowell’s Restaurant.

Coincidentally, among the founders of the Beta chapter at Iowa Wesleyan was Will Pearson, the brother of P.E.O. founder Suela Pearson. P.E.O. was founded at Iowa Wesleyan on January 21, 1869, a month after the Pi Phi chapter. Had Libbie not enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan, would P.E.O. be around today? Had the Betas not established the chapter at Iowa Wesleyan, would Libbie have ventured there? I thought about that on my drive. To me, it was a domino effect. The Beta chapter was the reason Libbie chose Iowa Wesleyan and the founding of the Pi Phi chapter caused seven young Mount Pleasant women to create a society of their own, the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

As an aside, many of the vignettes about the personalities of the P.E.O. founders were taken from the recollections of Dillon Payne, a charter member of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Iowa Wesleyan. In the 1920s, the P.E.O. Record published his reminiscences of the P.E.O. founders.

While the Beta chapter at Iowa Wesleyan was the fraternity’s second chapter west of the Mississippi, it closed in 1915. The first Beta chapter west of the Mississippi was chartered at the University of Iowa in 1866.

In the late 1870s, the GLOs were forced off the Monmouth campus. Had Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma, not extended quickly and successfully beyond the Monmouth campus, the Monmouth Duo likely would not be around today. This thought hit me, too, as I was driving through Iowa to Lawrence, Kansas. In 1873, Sara Richardson was a student at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois. She heard through the grapevine, likely the Knox Betas whose chapter was in the same city, that Beta was establishing a chapter at the University of Kansas. It would be the first fraternity at the university. Her three sisters, Flora, Alma, and May, were students at the university. She encouraged them to seek a charter from the Alpha Chapter at Monmouth, the body that was granting charters in the early years. The sisters gathered a few of their friends and the Kansas Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi was established on April 1, 1873.

Flora was the first female to graduate from the University of Kansas. In addition, she was the Valedictorian of the class of 1873. At a party in June of 1873, when Sara arrived back in Lawrence, the first Cookie Shine took place. It was named by Chancellor John Fraser and the tradition quickly caught on and it is still a much-loved tradition.

Sara Richardson’s autograph album includes this ditty from David Starr Jordan, a Delta Upsilon, who taught for one year at Lombard College. He would later go on to do great things for Indiana University and Stanford University. (See http://wp.me/p20I1i-Md for more information)

Libbie Brook, Dillon Payne, Suela and Will Pearson, the Richardson sisters, the seven P.E.O. founders, the Beta men, and David Starr Jordan all made appearances in my thoughts as I drove back east to the Mississippi and onward to home.

Posted in Beta Theta Pi, Delta Upsilon, Fran Favorite, Iowa Wesleyan College, Kappa Kappa Gamma, P.E.O., Pi Beta Phi, Stanford University, University of Indiana, University of Iowa, University of Kansas | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Beta, Pi Phi, and P.E.O.

A 50th for Sigma Chi and a 100th for 2Cool4School

My friend Jane is an amazing woman. She is creative, loyal, fun to be around, thoughtful, and I could go on and on, but she is humble beyond belief, so I will stop there. Jane’s blog, 2Cool4School, is delightful. Her 26-year-old son has autism and is non-verbal. Jane’s blog is about the learning at home program she created and continues to create. I’ve learned so much from reading her blog posts. Here is Jane’s response to a question about her program:

1) Do you really do this study thing EVERY night? Yes! 
     –  If my son didn’t like what we are doing, he would firmly escort me out of the room, and that would be the end of that. 
     –  My son’s daytime regimented agenda keeps him content and occupied, but offers no intellectual growth.  I am not sure I could be okay with this.  I want him to have an opportunity for intellectual growth EVERY DAY.

She recently celebrated her 100th post. Please take a look at her wonderful work. (P.S. Jane is a Pi Phi.)



I stumbled on this video the other day and it touched my heart. It’s about the Zeta Eta Chapter of Sigma Chi at Texas A&M University – Commerce, but it could be about hundreds of other chapters. Founders never ever make it to the Centennial. Therefore, it is extra special to have them at the 50th anniversary and to have their reflections and recollections preserved for prosperity.

Posted in Fran Favorite | Comments Off on A 50th for Sigma Chi and a 100th for 2Cool4School