February 2021 Heritage News: Reading Books on Theta's History

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

February is a month to curl up with a book. Of course, I enjoy reading history – women's history, history of social groups, and creative works of fiction based on history. Among those that I have read (and refer to regularly) are the histories written about Theta's past.

In the earliest years, Theta published historical overviews within the pages of the Theta Magazine, but it was not until 1930 that the Fraternity published a book-length history. Sixty Years in Kappa Alpha Theta, 1870-1929 (1930). Written by Estelle Riddle Dodge, Kappa/Kansas, and edited by L. Pearle Green, Phi deuteron/Stanford, the 500+-page history was a comprehensive look at the history of Theta.

Sixty Years grew out of a project to write a history for Theta's 50th anniversary in 1919. An alumnae committee began working on the project, and Dodge was appointed as a historian in 1923. She visited Indiana several times, spending an entire summer in Greencastle, including time with Bettie Locke Hamilton. She accessed resources from Bettie and Hannah Fitch Shaw and other early members of the Fraternity. As she lived in California, she was able to access the Fraternity archives, which were at the time located at Stanford University. Green, who was the longtime Fraternity executive secretary, edited the work. I reference it regularly.

Carole Green Wilson, Phi deuteron/Stanford, a published author of histories and biographies, took on the task of updating Theta's history in the 1950s and published We Who Wear Kites: The Story of Kappa Alpha Theta, 1870-1956 (1956). Her work is written in a conversational voice and includes lists of officers. A follow-up volume is published in 1976 to update the original book.

Martha Smith White, Beta Beta/Randolph-Macon Woman's College, wrote a decade update with Kite Flight (1986). It provided a snapshot overview of each college and alumnae chapter as of the mid-1980s. It also updated the lists of officers, notable Thetas, and chapters.

In the mid-1990s, researcher Diana Turk utilized the archives for her dissertation, which New York University Press published. Bound by a Mighty Vow: Sisterhood in Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, 1870-1920 (2004) reviews Theta's development as an example of how women's fraternities and sororities provided a support network for college women. She sets the context for developing groups like Theta and provides insight into how groups like Theta reflected the larger society in which they were created.

And I cannot finish this review of Theta's history books without including the newest one, 150 Years of Kappa Alpha Theta, 1870-2020 (2020). It is our first history where Theta's story is told through images and artifacts.

If not found in your local library, all these titles are available through interlibrary loan. The four early histories are out of print but may be found in used bookstores. The final two, Bound by a Mighty Vow (2004) and our newest title, 150 Years of Kappa Alpha Theta (2020), are available for purchase.

I encourage you to find some time and curl up with a history of Kappa Alpha Theta.