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HistoryIT | We Give History A Future

Story #008: Chapter Houses Through the Years

In celebration of Alpha Phi’s 150th Anniversary in 2022, we proudly share stories and moments that have created the legacy of sisterhood originally launched by our ten founders and which we still hold dear today. 

This is story 8 of 150.

 

Chapter Houses Throughout History

 

Early Homes

From the moment Alpha Phi established the very first chapter house among women’s fraternities, to our most recent chapter home at Kappa Alpha-UNC Chapel Hill, Alpha Phi’s residential facilities have welcomed women home since 1885. The first chapter house belonging to the Alpha chapter in Syracuse was followed up in the fall of 1893 by a chapter house for the Theta chapter in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The women of the Eta chapter took up their own chapter home that same season in Boston, and the Kappa chapter followed suit in 1901 in Stanford. These homes provided rooms for sisters to reside in, as well as a private meeting and social gathering space.

Challenging Times Call for Innovation

As college enrollment among women increased in the 1920s, there was a need for adequate women’s living facilities across many campuses. Greek chapter houses often helped alleviate some of the housing strain for colleges, but this expense was considerable for Greek organizations. In the 1920s, Alpha Phi entered an era where raising funds for and eventually building, purchasing or renting chapter houses was a large goal.

The first Gamma-DePauw Chapter house, circa 1920.

The Alpha Phi endowment fund was one way in which this funding was secured. No longer could individual contributions cover the mortgages, so mother’s clubs and alumnae chapters began to assist. These groups often provided furnishings, housekeeping and renovation services. Bridge parties, box socials, Sunday suppers, formals and bazaars were often organized by these groups to raise funds to support the financial responsibilities associated with chapter houses. Business ventures also helped. The Xi-Toronto chapter held tea dances with refreshments and desserts for paying guests, while the Eta-Boston sisters sold fresh eggs at their store.

The chapter house for Xi-Toronto in an undated photograph.

Universities also lent a hand. At Northwestern, where women had been banned from living in their own chapter houses for 40 years, school President Walter Dill Scott, whose wife Anna Miller Scott was a Beta chapter alumna, approved the leasing of university land to women’s Greek life organizations for new houses, so long as construction funds were raised by each group. One year later, in 1924, several groups on campus, including Alpha Phi, had pledged to raise $15,000 to finance the houses.

Sigma-Washington Chapter members pose together outside of their chapter house about 1922.

Many chapters were building houses, purchasing houses or renting houses, and the innovative fundraising ideas helped move the projects forward. Alpha Phis on all campuses partnered with Colgate and Company, who produced Fab detergent to help take orders for the cleaning agent. For each box of detergent packets sold, Alpha Phi received fifty cents. This money was split between the endowment fund and the chapter housing fund. Collegians and alumnae alike were involved in this process. In six months, Alpha Phi took 3,679 orders, which turned a profit of $1,839.50 for the Fraternity.

The Omega-Texas Chapter house as it appeared in 1930.

The Beta chapter opened the Cricket Tearoom, named after the Charles Dickens’ story, A Cricket on the Hearth, to help raise funds for their chapter house. Every sister took part in running the kitchen, stocking, serving, and operating the soda fountain. It was a very popular establishment, and in one month, they served nearly 3,700 orders! Financing chapter houses was a challenging process, made all the more complex when the Great Depression began. Mortgages and limited growth came into view, and the Fraternity put together an emergency loan fund, in addition to the Martha Foote Crow student loan fund, to help address student and chapter emergency needs.

Beta Kappa-Denison Chapter members pose together in front of their chapter house during the 1941-42 school year.

House Corporation Board

As the nation recovered, chapter house renovations and construction slowly resumed. At the forty-fifth Convention in 1964, International President Ruth Knight Vos (Beta Gamma-Colorado) spoke about the need for Alpha Phi to offer comparable housing on campus. Many universities, at that time, had constructed well-kept dormitories and chapter houses needed to have a better strategy for management and upkeep. The large expense of chapter houses required that the houses be full so that mortgage payments could be made. Ruth proposed the creation of the Alpha Phi House Corporation, which would combine assets of housing boards at collegiate chapters into one holding corporation.

 

It was also at this meeting that Ruth presented gavels to each collegiate chapter that were made from the wood of the stair railing at the original Alpha house.

The Beta Epsilon-Arizona Chapter house in 1966.

Current Chapter Houses & Spaces

Today, the number of Alpha Phi chapter houses stands at 100. In addition, 11 chapters have live-in suites on campus, 14 have dedicated dorm facilities, two have apartments and one chapter has a lodge – a house with no live-in capacity. Social events, meetings, sisterhood gatherings and other events often take place in Alpha Phi chapter houses and other residential facilities.

Often commemorated in anniversary ornaments or prints, chapter homes and Alpha Phi facilities hold special places in the hearts of our members. These are the spaces in which memories are made, sisters are welcomed home and new generations of Alpha Phis celebrate what it means to be a sister.

 

Alpha Phi chapter houses have evolved through the years, reflecting trends, neighborhood styles and various eras. Take a look at more of our home sites with the related items below.

The Kappa Epsilon Chapter house as it looks today.