Theta Archives

A Lucky Find in the Theta Archive: A Good Photo with a Great Backstory

The archive recently acquired an image of Edith Wilk Willkie, Beta/Indiana, with several Colorado Springs area alumnae from 1940. Edith was the wife of 1940 U.S. presidential Republican candidate Wendell Wilke (a member of Beta Theta Pi). Even though he was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Roosevelt used him as a general ambassador.

The image was interesting and we wanted it for the collection, but while looking through some magazine issues from 1940, I ran across the following:

Thetas in the Press: Edith Wilk Willkie, Beta – In Colorado

Do you remember the interesting talk at convention by Genevieve Forbes Herrick on Good and bad publicity and the words of advice she gave us about what we should do if Mrs. Willkie, by chance, should visit our city?

With her admonitions still ringing in my ears I arrived home from convention to find that Colorado had been selected by the Willkie party as its summer vacation spot. Here was a chance to put into practice all the good advice “Geno” had given us. I shall have to confess to some mingled feelings – the reticence at attempting to contact so famous a person as Mrs. Willkie had then become, and the thrill of excitement in having a Theta bond which might justify that contact.

After quite a lot of “red tape” we were able to break through the barricades surrounding Mrs. Willkie, and to our delight found her pleased to be the guest of honor at a Colorado Theta tea. July 27, the date of tea, was a red letter day for Colorado Thetas, who with pride came to Colorado Springs 250 strong, from all parts of the state to be charmed by one of the most gracious, self-effacing woman it has ever been our pleasure to meet. Her simplicity, friendliness, and enthusiasm for Theta made converts for her husband out of even some “dyed-in-the-wool” Democrats. Mrs. Willkie’s thoughtfulness for Theta has been evidenced by her frequent references to the fraternity in many of her interviews.

Our tea took on the combined aspects of a Theta jubilee and a political rally. The press photographs almost outnumbered the Thetas and their flashing bulbs reminded us of how newsworthy we were that day.

For some of our members the party had special significance. To Grace Gable Strickland, Beta, it meant the renewal of a college friendship with Edith Wilk, and to Mary Parker Freeland, gamma, and Ruth O’Meara Ulen, Beta, it meant a chance for talk with Edith about relatives and friends.

Kappa Alpha Theta came in for its share of good publicity, but, had it not, the occasion would still have been a memorable one because of the pleasure all of us had in meeting so great a lady. The Colorado Thetas all join in wishing her and her famous husband “Good Luck.”

Thelma Owen King, Beta Iota
Magazine, November 1940

What was a good picture is even better with this backstory. And it is a bonus that the three Thetas mentioned in this article along with Edith are in the photograph. What a lucky find in the archive!