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The History of Phi Beta

Phi Beta Fraternity began as a local club at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL on May 5, 1912. The three founders, Josephine Mack, Elsie Schultz and Gladys Burnside, had no idea that their local club would grow to a national association. Gladys, the artist, devised the badge, Josephine focused on organization and ritual, and Elsie worked to solidify remaining details. From its inception Phi Beta held the ideal of uniting arts, evidenced by the selection of some her first members: from the School of Music came Mae Aurelius and Clara Ayers and from the School of Oratory came Rosebud Fortier, Gertrude Thomas and Evelyn Owens.

In the fall of 1914 the fraternity was incorporated by the State of Illinois. Phi Beta, at that time consisting exclusively of women, rented a house at 1928 Sherman Avenue in Evanston. Susan B. Davis, an admired member of the faculty, was chosen as the first honorary member of Phi Beta. Grace Mattern, who penned many of Phi Beta’s rituals and ceremonies, was not initiated until 1914, when she returned to Evanston to pursue her Master’s degree and join the faculty at Northwestern’s School of Speech.

Our founders’ vision of an organization that would promote the arts through service appealed to others. By 1915, a group of women at the Chicago Conservatory had petitioned to charter a chapter of Phi Beta Fraternity. Beta chapter was installed on July 13, 1917. Helen Rowan served as Phi Beta’s first national president. The first Convention was held in the spring of 1918 in Chicago, IL. Interest continued to grow in the relatively new fraternity. Phi Beta continued to initiate new chapters nationwide.

In the beginning, the fraternity was exclusive to women majoring in music and speech. Over time, the fraternity has grown to embrace all of the creative and performing arts and their related therapies and histories. In 1976 chapters voted on the matter of gender exclusion. Phi Beta today includes women and men and continues to be professionally focused.

Phi Beta has completed several national projects including: hand enlarging music for the visually impaired, service in USO shows, aid to music programs in Mexico, and most notably her work with The MacDowell.

Phi Beta Fraternity is the oldest national, professional fraternity that encompasses all of the arts. While other fraternities specialize in theater and music, Phi Betas treasure their diversity and recognize that artists of all kinds can learn from each other while supporting each other professionally and socially.