Brave hearts filled with a noble purpose whose eyes saw clearly into the future…
At a time when society looked upon women only as daughters, wives, and mothers—and therefore not in need of higher education—our ten founders were pioneers of the coeducational system. Attending school with the handicap of implied, if not open, opposition, our founders sought support from each other. There was a need for a social center, a place of conference, a tie which should unite, a circle of friends who could sympathize with one another in their perplexities. They formed Alpha Phi in 1872 at Syracuse University. Today, Alpha Phi continues to provide a “tie which unites, a circle of friends” for women young and old all around the world. From hand to hand and heart to heart, we are all grateful and proud of the legacy left to us by our founders.
Clara Bradley Wheeler Baker Burdette
…lived the longest, most active life of all of the Founders. She was born in East Bloomfield, New York. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she graduated in the class of 1876. She was a writer, lecturer, business woman, philanthropist, a trustee of Syracuse University, and held many volunteer positions that filled her nearly ninety-nine years. Nationally recognized for her achievements, Clara was listed in Who’s Who of America.
Hattie Florence Chidester Lukens
…was born in Utica, New York. She received her B.S. degree in 1875 at age 21, and her M.S. degree in 1879. Upon graduation she became an elocutionist and teacher of higher mathematics in the high school in Bedford, Pennsylvania. She also taught in Minnesota, Clifton Springs, New York, and in Teacher’s Institutes in Pennsylvania and Iowa.
She gave numerous readings in fourteen states and territories. A Syracuse newspaper wrote: “It is a matter of gratification that a Syracuse lady and graduate of the University has achieved such flattering success in this difficult department of literary work.”
Her father’s office served as the first chapter room. The rent was $7.50 a term. Florence was the first Founder to enter the Silent Chapter.
Martha Emily Foote Crow…was born at Sacketts Harbor, New York. She received a Ph.D. in English literature. She taught and wrote, and went abroad to study at Cambridge, Oxford, and Leipzig.
From the beginning of Alpha Phi, she dreamed of an international Fraternity. Part of the chapter program was literary exercise, and in one of these essays she wrote: “Now that we have founded the Alpha Chapter of the Alpha Phi Sorority, is this all there is to do? … No indeed … We have all the Alphabet to go through, and to go through again and again … Can we not be a World Society as well as a National One? Yes, there is work enough for all of us and today is no time to be idle.”
She was the first National President of Alpha Phi and was an administrator in education. She was the fourth Alpha Phi to serve as Dean of Women at Northwestern University, and also a founder of the American Association of University Women.
Martha’s biography, written by Julia Kramer, is available by contacting the Alpha Phi Foundation.
Ida Arabella Gilbert DeLamanter Houghton
…was born in Phoenix, New York. She received her B.S. in 1876 and in 1879 she received an M.S. degree in modern languages. After college, she taught school and wrote for newspapers and magazines.
Ida never entered a room - she breezed in, and everybody stopped until they heard what she had to say. But although she was witty and full of fun, she was never unkind. She lived in a mansion on Turtle Street in Syracuse, and she and her mother arranged the first Alpha Phi banquet there following initiation. To her and her mother we owe this tradition which we still enjoy.
Jane Sara Higham
…was born in Rome, New York. She received her B.A. degree in 1876 and her M.A. degree in 1879. After college she taught for a short time in Syracuse, then from 1882 to 1892 she taught at the High School in Rome, New York. She then traveled in Europe for a year. Thereafter, for forty years she taught Latin at the Rome Free Academy.
After Jane Higham had attended her last Convention, she wrote, “When I think of the faces of Alpha Phi women, I feel sure that Alpha Phi is big enough and noble enough to reach out and help others where there is the greatest need.”
She, Mattie Foote, and Clara Bradley became members of Phi Beta Kappa. A newspaper editorial paid her tribute when she retired in 1921: “No teacher has made a more lasting impression of true culture and refinement of spirit than Miss Higham, and she has always had the happy faculty of inspiring both friendship and effort.”
Kate Elizabeth Hogoboom Gilbert
…was born in Ovid, New York. She received her B.S. degree in 1875 in the scientific course at age 20, her M.S. in 1878, and a music degree in 1879.
After graduation she studied music in Boston and later taught at Newark and Ithaca, New York. She possessed an excellent soprano voice and sang in the choirs of several Syracuse churches. She was very active in many civic and religious activities of Syracuse. She was gifted also in the field of debate.
She was the first recording secretary of the chapter and, along with Mattie Foote, wrote the Ritual and the first Constitution. Her enthusiasm for Alpha Phi was infectious, and she was very popular. She also became the mother of the first Alpha Phi daughter, Ruth Gilbert Becker, Alpha.
Elizabeth Grace Hubbell Shults
…was born in Rochester, New York. She was a brilliant student who graduated with marked honor from the Rochester Free Academy at age thirteen. At sixteen she taught in the Rochester Collegiate Institute, then took a brief preparatory course in the Genesee Wesleyan Conference Seminary, entering Syracuse University in the fall of 1872. She graduate with honors from the four year classical course, displaying unusual ability in Latin, mathematics, and political science.
She was 22 years old when Alpha Phi was founded, and the only one old enough to sign the legal documents.
She was an excellent debater, and one of the first exercises of the chapter was a debate, which she and Mattie Foote won on the topic: “Resolved: That women have their rights.”
Rena A. Michaels Atchison
…was the first president of Alpha Phi, and the Michaelanean Society derives its name from hers. The Michaelanean Society still exists as a corporation and owns the Alpha Phi Syracuse chapter house. She was in the class of 1874, engaged in the study of the classics and literary work, which she continued to study from 1874 to 1877. She received her M.S. degree in 1879 and her Ph.D. in history in 1880.
She was a professor of modern languages and preceptress at Upper Iowa University, Fayette, Iowa; she later held these same positions at Albion College, Albion, Michigan from 1882-85.
She was also a professor of Spanish and Italian languages and literature and preceptress at DePauw University, and then Dean of Women’s College, Northwestern University from 1886-1891. She was an admirer of Frances Willard and became a lecturer for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Louise Viola Shepard Hancock
…was an inseparable friend of Jane Higham. Born in Rome, New York, she attended Rome Free Academy with Jane, and together they entered Syracuse University. Louise and Jane remained the closest friends till Louise’s death, and Louise’s children called her “Aunt Janie.” She was in the class of 1876 and received a master’s degree two years later.
She had a vivid imagination and keen sense of humor. Throughout her life she made literary contributions to various papers and envisioned many of the privileges which have come to women today. Clara Bradley said Louise “always wanted the last word, and got it. She was a real contender for high and noble things.”
Clara Sittser Williams
…was born in Weedsport, New York. She was the only Founder not to graduate from the University, leaving in 1874. Her course had been Latin-scientific. She had taught school for a time. Clara was the only farmer’s daughter among the Original Ten. The first Alpha Phi meeting was held in her room.
In her “Old Girl and Days of ‘72,” written for the 40th reunion, Clara wrote, “We thought it would be a fine idea socially to form a circle of sympathetic friends whom we would know personally. We had as our aim the mutual improvement of each other, ever trying to do our best in college work, always keeping a high ideal before us. Never under any circumstances were we to speak disparagingly of a sister. We were to be ever loyal to one another, in joys or sorrows, success or failure, and ever extend a helping hand to our sisters who needed our aid; truly we planned to be a ‘Union hand in hand.’ “