On December 5, 1776, a group of students at the College of William and Mary in Virginia met in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg. Here they formed the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which they dedicated to high purposes with eighteenth century eloquence. In the Phi Beta Kappa Handbook you will find a brief account of the early days of the Society in Virginia and of the establishment of chapters at Yale in 1780 and Harvard in 1781. These New England chapters ensured the perpetuation and propagation of the Society when the parent chapter became inactive. During the following half century four more chapters were founded: at Dartmouth in 1787, Union in 1817, Bowdoin in 1825, and Brown in 1830. After a pause of fifteen years a slightly more rapid expansion began in 1845. At the end of the next half-century of growth, twenty-five chapters had been founded. In 1833, the need for a greater unity and uniformity of practices led to the organization of the national body, the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. As of 2012, there were 280 chapters.
In 1875, the Society extended the privilege of membership to women. In 1926, the 150 th anniversary was made the occasion for raising an endowment fund and for exploring ways of encouraging scholarship in the educational institutions of the country. More recently, the Society has joined in the defense of freedom of teaching and intellectual inquiry and of the liberal arts ideals in education.
In the fall of 1937, The College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) earned the right to have a chapter on its campus. It was the first Catholic institution of higher learning to earn this honor. For thirty years Mother Antonia had—as faculty member, dean, and president—worked to procure a scholarly faculty, a curriculum devoted to the liberal arts, and a student body responsive to the rich classical and Christian heritage of the West. For the graduates, a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa also meant recognition of the standards and achievements of the institution by national educational organizations.
The Chapter at our institution was installed on May 17, 1938. At that time one honorary member, Mother Antonia, six alumnae members, and one member in course were admitted to the new chapter. On the first anniversary of the installation, the first Greek Letter Banquet, suggested by the Phi Beta Kappa Chapter, took place. The numbers of qualified students were at first very few, but today the total membership is over 1,000, of whom 26 have been elected as alumnae members.
The St. Catherine University Chapter (Gamma Chapter of Minnesota) participates in the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program, which brings prominent scholars in the liberal arts and sciences to campus to give a public lecture and to engage with students in the classroom.