Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest undergraduate honors organization, the first permanent Greek letter society. It was founded in 1776 by five students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. John Heath, the first president of Phi Beta Kappa, was determined to develop a student society that would be much more serious-minded than its predecessors at the college, one devoted to the pursuit of liberal education and intellectual fellowship. The Greek initials for the society's motto, "Love of learning is the guide of life," form the name Phi Beta Kappa.
Phi Beta Kappa introduced the essential characteristics of the Greek societies that followed it: an oath of secrecy, a badge, mottoes in Greek and Latin, a code of laws, an elaborate form of initiation, a seal, and a special handshake. The organization was created as a secret society so that its founders would have the freedom to discuss any topic that they wished, no matter how controversial. Freedom of inquiry has been a hallmark of Phi Beta Kappa ever since.
The symbol of the Phi Beta Kappa Society is a golden key engraved with the image of a pointing finger, three stars, and the Greek letters from which the society takes its name. The stars are said to represent the ambition of young scholars and the three distinguishing principles of the Society: friendship, morality, and learning.
Soon after its founding at William and Mary, chapters were formed at Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown, and the society has been in continuous existence ever since. Only 280 of the more than 2,000 American colleges and universities have passed the rigorous scrutiny required to be allowed to charter a chapter on their campus. The rigorous and comprehensive standards of Phi Beta Kappa have made election to it a premier sign of excellence in scholarly achievement. Each year, membership is granted to only one percent of the nation's graduates.
With its roots established during the American Revolution, Phi Beta Kappa has for more than two centuries fostered the principles of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. The society promotes a culture of disciplinary rigor, breadth of intellectual perspective, the cultivation of skills of deliberation and ethical reflection, the pursuit of wisdom, and the application of the fruits of scholarship and research in practical life.
Today's inductees are about to join a distinguished company: 17 US Presidents, 38 US Supreme Court Justices, and 136 Nobel laureates were members of Phi Beta Kappa. In fact, 7 of the 9 current Supreme Court Judges are members. Other noteworthy members include authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Pearl Buck, and Rita Dove; philosophers John Dewey and George Santayana, physicists George Smoot, Brian Greene, and Lisa Randall, director Francis Ford Coppola, composer Stephen Sondheim, jazz musician Joshua Redman, coach Marv Levy, quarterback Peyton Manning, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Honorary members include great writers such as Emerson, Mark Twain, Henry James, Robert Frost, Isaac Asimov, and Eudora Welty; composers such as Leonard Bernstein; and distinguished activists and leaders such as Helen Keller and Booker T. Washington.
A feeling of fraternity and common purpose among the members of Phi Beta Kappa surfaced in Delaware some years before our Chapter's beginnings. As early as 1938, Mr. Wilmot R. Jones, headmaster of the Wilmington Friends' School, called a meeting to organize a local Association of Phi Beta Kappa in order to promote higher scholarship. At the general meeting called by Mr. Jones the group's constitution and by-laws were presented for adoption and a formal application for a charter was drawn up. While the Association was not affiliated with the University of Delaware, the relationship between the two organizations was warm and mutually supportive. Dr. Walter Hullihen, then President of the University, was among the charter members of the Association.
Efforts to establish a Delaware chapter of Phi Beta Kappa began in earnest in 1952, thanks in large part to the efforts of Herbert E. Newman, Professor of Economics and Business Administration. Later that year the members of Phi Beta Kappa appointed a committee to prepare the various reports required as part of the application for a charter. This committee consisted of Augustus H. Able, Associate Professor of History; William H. Bohning, Registrar; Evelyn Holst Clift, Associate Professor of History; Anna Janney DeArmond, Associate Professor of English; Edna C. Frederick, Associate Professor of Modern Languages; John E. Hocutt, Dean of Students; E. Wakefield Smith, Associate Professor of Economics and Businss Administration; and William V. Smith, Professor of Physics.
Dr. Newman compiled the reports into a formal application, which was submitted to the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa in 1953. Following a campus visit by Dean Lawrence Chamberlain of Columbia University, Delaware's formal petition was filed and approved early in 1955. An organization committee—consisting of Drs. Able, Clift, DeArmond, Newman, E. W. Smith, and W.V. Smith—met frequently in 1955 and 1956 to prepare for the installation of the chapter in the spring on 1956. Installation ceremonies took place on April 25, 1956, and Alpha of Delaware was officially chartered the next day.
Many of the founders of Alpha of Delaware continued to serve Phi Beta Kappa in important ways. For example, Drs. Able, Clift, DeArmond, and E. W. Smith served as chapter presidents in the early years, and Dean Hocutt served as chapter secretary for many years. Reviewing the list of officers of Alpha of Delaware reflects the importance of Phi Beta Kappa to distinguished faculty. Other chapter members with noteworthy records of service include Dr. E. Arthur Trabant, former president of the University of Delaware, who was chapter historian for many years; Dr. Diane Ferry, Associate Professor of Management, who has served as treasurer for many years; and Dr. Burnaby Munson, Professor of Chemistry, who was president and now has been secretary for many years.
Throughout its history, the members of Alpha of Delaware have pursued Phi Beta Kappa's main objectives of encouraging, stimulating, recognizing, and rewarding intellectual achievement.
The DeArmond Phi Beta Kappa Scholarship supports graduate study in history (including the history of art) or literature (in English or another language) at an institution outside the state of Delaware. The recipient must be a member of the Alpha of Delaware chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and intend to teach in a secondary school, college, or university. The scholarship was funded by Professor Jan DeArmond, a longtime member of this chapter.
The Clift and DeArmond Award recognizes the second-year undergraduate at the University of Delaware who shows the most outstanding scholarly potential in a Phi Beta Kappa curriculum. Criteria considered are both quantitative and qualitative. The committee considers the student's grade point average, the number of Phi Beta Kappa courses taken, the proportion of those courses that are Honors designated, and the number of those courses that are above the introductory level. Also considered is the intellectual diversity of the student's course of study as measured by advanced course work in more than one field. Especially impressive is a student who is combining depth in humanities and sciences. A coherence in the overall pattern of course selection is also sought. The award is in honor of Professors Eve Clift and Jan DeArmond, who were founding and long-term members of the Alpha of Delaware Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
The Herbert Ellis Newman Award recognizes the third-year undergraduate at the University of Delaware who shows the most outstanding scholarly potential in a Phi Beta Kappa curriculum. The criteria are similar to the Clift and DeArmond Award. This award is in honor of Professor Herbert Ellis Newman, who was a founding member of the Alpha of Delaware Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
Hand & Hammer, the official supplier of Phi Beta Kappa keys and insignia items