Carrying the Torch for Bettie!

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Duvall Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

In the fall of 2015, the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, designated to coordinate events surrounding the 200th anniversary of Indiana’s statehood, announced a torch relay, similar to the Olympic torch relays, to go through all 92 of Indiana’s counties. To select those who would carry the torch for specific segments in each county, the Commission asked residents to nominate both living and deceased Hoosiers who have made significant contributions to the state’s history.

At Theta headquarters, we knew we had a good candidate in Bettie Locke, and so nominated her as a potential torchbearer for Putnam County, home of Greencastle and DePauw University. In just 250 words, I had to describe who she was and why she was significant. Not a small task. With lots of writing and re-writing, and the help of a great editor, we narrowed it down to the following:

Elizabeth “Bettie” Locke Hamilton, born October 19, 1850, in New Albany, Indiana, was among the first five women to enter Indiana Asbury College (DePauw University) in 1867, and in 1870, founder of Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, the first Greek-letter organization for college women. Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity now has 137 chapters in the United States and Canada. Bettie first moved to Greencastle in 1860 when her father, Dr. John Locke, took a position with Indiana Asbury. The family moved for a short time to Kansas but returned to Greencastle in 1866. Graduating in 1871, she taught in Illinois and married in Kansas. The family returned to Greencastle in the late 1890s so their two daughters could attend DePauw. The Hamiltons built a house on South Locust St. and Bettie lived there for the rest of her life, attending events at the local chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta and of DePauw University. Bettie stated in later years, “You know the fraternity was always second in my mind to coeducation. It was organized to help the girls win out in their fight to stay in college on a man's campus. We had to make a place for women in a man's world, and the fraternity was one means to that bigger end.” At the time of her death in 1939, Bettie was DePauw’s oldest living graduate. She is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle.

What I could not fit in was that Bettie’s family had even more connections to Indiana’s history. Bettie’s grandmother and namesake, Elizabeth McReynolds Locke, operated a boarding school for young ladies in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the late 1820s/early 1830s, considered to be the first in that town and possibly in the state. Education for women was very important to Bettie and her family.

In late summer, we were thrilled to learn that Bettie had been selected as a posthumous torchbearer. Kerri Hemmelgarn, CEO of Alpha Chapter, was chosen to carry the torch not only to represent Bettie, but also to honor the many Thetas here in Indiana and across the U.S. and Canada who everyday live by the ideals established by Bettie and our founders.

Bettie’s segment of the relay on Thursday, September 22, at approximately 5:35 pm EDT, will run through the campus of DePauw University. Bettie, as represented by Kerri, will return to the campus that she loved. Chapter members and local alumnae will be cheering Kerri on in Greencastle, and we are inviting Thetas, wherever they may be, to join us via Facebook Live, to help us support Kerri as she carries the torch for Bettie!

If you can’t make it in person, we would love for you to share this experience via social media! Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (username is kappaalphatheta), and please use the hashtags #INTorchRelay, #runBettierun, and #Theta4TheLongRun. We plan to report live from the scene via Facebook Live! You can watch the broadcast live beginning around 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, or catch the full broadcast recording on Facebook later.