Share on Social Media

Powered by
HistoryIT | We Give History A Future

Story #010: Founder Facts - Martha Foote Crow

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 10 of 150.

Founder Facts: Martha Foote Crow

Many of us know that Martha posed the pivotal question, “Why can’t we have a society as well as the men?” that helped bring Alpha Phi to life. Some of us may know of her acclaimed teaching and writings or have heard of her dedication to her sister. Read on about her and join us in celebrating her life.



Born in 1854, Martha “Mattie” Emily Foote Crow, one of the more well-known members of the Original 10, developed a keen appreciation for education. She carried that passion with her and let it guide her career.

Daughter of a reverend, she attended Cazenovia Seminary and Syracuse High School. Between 1872 and 1876, Martha earned degrees at Syracuse University in English literature and philosophy. Later, she returned to Syracuse to earn her master’s and a Ph.D. in English literature. Of course, while there, she and nine of her classmates aimed to create for themselves a women’s society in support of one another and sisterhood. Martha was a driving force in the creation of Alpha Phi and was active in building the legacy of the Fraternity.

 After graduation, she was appointed preceptress at Ives Seminary in Antwerp, New York. In 1877, for one year, she held the role of Lady Principal at Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania, and from 1878-1882 she taught English literature at Newton High School in Massachusetts. At Wellesley College from 1882-1884, she served as the president’s assistant and a lecturer. She followed that by serving as principal of Iowa College in Grinnell Iowa from 1884-1891.

 Notably, Martha was the first national president of Alpha Phi, and served a second term while principal of Waynesburg College.

 Martha developed her own career and she built a life with her husband, John McCluskey Crow. He was principal of Elmwood Schools in Illinois and earned a Ph.D. in German at Syracuse in 1880. They met at Waynesburg College in 1878 and wed on August 7, 1884. Together, they welcomed one daughter, Agatha, on September 20, 1888. Tragically, Agatha died in August of 1890 and John passed a few months later on October 10.

 Heartbroken, Martha mourned her family before she attempted to focus on her career. In 1891 and 1892, Martha traveled abroad under commission from the National Bureau of Education to study women’s education and Europe. She studied at Cambridge, Oxford and the University of Leipzig.

 Upon returning to the U.S., she took on a position as assistant professor of English literature at the University of Chicago. Eight years later in 1900, she became Dean of Women at Northwestern University, where she was also an assistant professor of English literature. While there, as more rambunctious behavior and silly pranks became part of the sorority experience for many groups, she encouraged women in all sororities to take seriously the sacred ceremony of initiation and the responsibility of being part of a sisterhood. She remained at Northwestern until 1905.

 Later in life, she returned briefly to Syracuse before moving to New York City to be with her half-sister, Elizabeth. While in New York City, she wrote for, delivered lectures for and worked on behalf of several organizations. Martha was a member of the Browning Society, the League of American Pen Women and the Poetry Society of America. She wrote numerous essays, poems and books. Martha helped create the Conference of the Deans of Women. She founded the Association of Collegiate Alumnae.

 After a chronic heart-related illness, she passed away on New Year’s Day in 1924. Her friend, Harriett Moody, helped care for her in Chicago for the three years leading up to her death. A visionary, an activist, a leader, teacher and sister, Martha inspired Alpha Phis everywhere to dream big.

Founder Martha Foote (Crow) about 1876.