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Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa History

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest undergraduate honor society, was founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1776. The name of the society abbreviates the phrase "Philosophia Biou Kurbernetes," which means "Philosophy (wisdom) is the Guide of Life."

Phi Beta Kappa grew beyond Williamsburg with the establishment of chapters at Yale University (Alpha of Connecticut) in 1780 and at Harvard University (Alpha of Massachusetts) in 1781. Over the next century, Phi Beta Kappa gradually changed in character from that of groups of intellectuals to that of an honor society dedicated to encouraging excellence in liberal learning. In 1883, the 25 chapters of the society gained greater unity by forming the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa.

Phi Beta Kappa Today

Phi Beta Kappa, now "The Phi Beta Kappa Society," operates a national headquarters in Washington, D.C. The society has 270 chapters and more than 50 associations across the country. It elects over 15,000 members a year and boasts a living membership of more than 500,000 individuals.

Notable Members

Nineteenth century Phi Beta Kappa members include George Washington Henderson, a former slave, who was inducted into PBK in l877 at University of Vermont; Winfield Scott Montgomery, who was inducted in l878 at Dartmouth College; and Edward Alexander Bouchet, who was inducted in l884 at Yale University.

Jessie Redmond Fauset, scholar and novelist, was the first Black woman elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was inducted into the chapter at Cornell University in l905.

Other notable members include W. E. B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Will Mercer Cook, Ralph Bunche, Alain Locke, Sterling Brown, Johnetta B. Cole, Gloria Steinem, and Condoleeza Rice.