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Happy Birthday, Phi Beta Kappa

Written By: Phillip Stone - Dec• 05•14

A long time ago, in a state not far away…..

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest, and arguably its most prestigious honor society, was founded 238 years ago today, December 5, 1776, by 5 students at the College of William and Mary.  Between then and 1780, when the British army’s approach led William and Mary to close briefly, the Phi Beta Kappa chapter held more than 70 meetings, inducted fifty members, and granted charters to Harvard and Yale.  That act saved the fraternity, which was the first to have Greek letters, a badge, a Latin and Greek motto, a secret handshake, and an oath.

In its first hundred years, Phi Beta Kappa grew slowly, and even 100 years later, in 1883, only 25 chapters existed.  Growth in the second century was much faster, and today, chapters exist at 283 colleges, generally at major research universities and leading liberal arts colleges.

Wofford’s chapter was granted at the 1940 meeting of Phi Beta Kappa’s Triennial Council, which to this day is the body that has the right to grant new charters.  On January 14, 1941, PBK President Marjorie Hope Nicholson visited Wofford to formally install the Beta of South Carolina chapter.  Since that day, a little over 1,000 Wofford students and alumni, along with a few honorary members, have been inducted.  As the chapter’s secretary, I get to sign letters to students each year letting them know they have been elected as well as their membership certificates.

We celebrate today that a small group of friends, meeting in a tavern a few hundred miles from here, created an organization that has evolved into a leading voice for the study and promotion of the liberal arts.

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