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Alpha Lambda

Alumnae Initiate

Oct 15th, 1875

Founding Date

Alpha Lambda is the designation for alumnae initiates. Our first alumna initiate was Frances E. Willard.


In the world of the Methodist Episcopal Church and its various institutions, lives intertwined considerably. Frances Willard (Alpha Lambda-Alumnae Initiate), who was to go on to great fame as the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), had spent many years of her young life traveling the country as a teacher at no less than eleven schools and seminaries. She had met Professor Coddington while teaching at Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, and had herself received a degree from there, (and thus was later recognized as an alumna of Syracuse University). Alpha Phi member, Lizzie Peebles, had been Frances’ student at Genesee, and “the friendship formed at that time between them continued unbroken till death parted them.” 


When it was announced that Frances Willard would be in Syracuse for a three-day meeting of the Association of the Advancement of Women (AAW), to be held at the Wieting Opera House in October 1875, Alpha Phi members were thrilled.


At a meeting in early October, Grace relayed a message from Professor Coddington that “he thought he might get Miss Frances Willard...in our society, as she was to be here during the Woman’s Congress.” Quickly, Grace, Mattie, and Allie were appointed to a committee “to wait upon Miss Willard and invite her to join our society.” 


Just a week later, on October 15, 1975, the Alpha Phi minutes recorded a momentous event that took place during the final day of the Woman’s Congress: “We did not meet today in the blue and golden rooms, but in a back room behind the curtain of the Wieting Opera House was enacted a drama that was more of a moment to us than any which had been on that stage in front.”  


The beautiful Wieting Opera House, decorated in gold and rose, with its stained glass windows, draperies of silk and velvet, and 170 electric lamps that lit the copper and lead entrance doors, was the perfect setting for such a “drama.” Crowds of people attended the congress, vying for a chance to meet the famous women there, including AAW President Julia Ward Howe, author Louisa May Alcott, astronomer Maria Mitchell, and educator Catherine Beecher (who was a relative of Mattie Foote). Amidst the busy energy of the sessions, the presenting of papers, and the conducting of AAW business, Frances Willard was led behind the curtain and initiated as a member of Alpha Phi, the Fraternity’s first alumnae initiate. “She could spare us ten minutes of her time,” the minutes recorded, “and so the initiation service had to be performed without much of its customary ceremonies, and in a very large strange place for such proceedings.” After the initiation, the members “formed a circle and sang quietly while the public meeting was in progress.”