Seven Women and a Dream
This month not only is DVA month but also, we celebrated Founder’s Day on October 15th. This is a perfect opportunity to look back at not only how Alpha Chi was formed but also how we got involved in our philanthropy, Domestic Violence Awareness.
Specifically, let’s talk about the women who made this organization possible.
The women who founded our university were seven music students from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
Here’s what the Alpha Chi Omega HQ website has to say about these women:
ANNA ALLEN SMITH (1870–1933)
Interested in music from early childhood, Anna was the youngest student to do advanced work at DePauw’s School of Music, graduating at the age of 19. Anna was an accompanist, performer and teacher in the school for 10 years. She lived in Greencastle all her life, and the first Alpha Chi Omega convention took place at her home.
OLIVE BURNETT CLARK (1867–1956)
Olive (called “Ollie” by her friends) studied piano, violin, cello and double bass. She taught at DePauw for two years while carrying on her studies. In her junior year, she left school to take teaching positions in Anderson, Indiana and Franklin, Indiana. “I have found no greater happiness in my life than in Alpha Chi Omega,” she said later in life. “All I have ventured to give toward the upbuilding and uplifting of our fraternity has been from the depths of my heart, and has been repaid in thousandfold by my girls.”
BERTHA DENISTON CUNNINGHAM (1869–1950)
When Bertha’s parents decided their musically advanced daughter should continue her studies at DePauw, she had to play for Dean Howe to determine just how advanced she was. She went on to become the envy of the school’s music students because of her composing skills. She also was an accomplished performer and successful teacher in the School of Music for 10 years. Hers is the only one of five original badges that exists today; it’s on display at Alpha Chi Omega headquarters.
AMY DUBOIS REITH (1868–1915)
Amy was only 15 when she entered DePauw. She studied both voice and pianoforte. She was known as “the little girl with the big voice” and was selected to sing important roles in school productions. Amy had a quiet and straightforward manner, which belied her fondness for pulling pranks on her fraternity sisters. Her influence on the Fraternity endured long after she left to teach music in Kansas.
NELLIE GAMBLE CHILDE (1867–1960)
Nellie studied piano from an early age and, after much deliberation, chose DePauw. She was described variously by her sisters as being gentle, energetic, earnest and friendly, leading a life of “quiet influence for good.” Later in life, she cultivated roses and loved to garden. She said that Alpha Chi Omega had a small beginning, but was built by loyal women with high standards who have achieved “marvelous results.”
BESSIE GROOMS KEENAN (1866–1920)
Bessie began studying music as a young child and was an accomplished pianist by the time she entered DePauw. Near the end of her first year there, she strained the muscles of her left hand from over-practice and had to give up the ambition of her life. However, she gave much of her time to help build Alpha Chi Omega. Her daughter, Hannah, eventually became director of Alpha Chi Omega's central office, today known as headquarters
ESTELLE LEONARD (1860–1955)
Estelle entered DePauw hoping to make a living as a musician. Most of her time was spent practicing or studying. She also served as Dean Howe’s secretary for two years. Though she had serious goals and a “dignified appearance,” she was known for playing practical jokes on her colleagues. She graduated in 1891 and had a full career teaching music, publishing piano compositions and reporting for the local newspaper. Long involved with Alpha Chi Omega, she attended more conventions than any other Founder. She was described as “distinctly modern in her ideas” and as having “developed independence, decision and a rather bohemian attitude.”
Thanks to these women, we have the sisterhood now known as Alpha Chi Omega. However, our national philanthropy didn’t come until much later on.
The 1992 Alpha Chi Omega National Convention marked the adoption of domestic violence awareness, an issue that affects people – and primarily women – all over the world, as our national philanthropy. We serve individuals and families impacted by domestic violence through fundraising and sharing gifts of time and talent with shelters and other service-providing organizations. Alpha Chi Omega also works to empower our own members, giving them tools to build their own healthy relationships, and to raise awareness of domestic violence by educating others on its impact and work being done to end it.
We take this time to look back at where we came from, look at how much we have grown as a sisterhood, and adventure to the heights of our future.
“Our History.” Alpha Chi Omega HQ - Our History, www.alphachiomega.org/about-us/our-history/.