March 2021 Heritage News: Our Badge

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

Between International Badge Day in early March and the anniversary of our four founders wearing their Theta badges for the first time in public on March 14, 1870, I always feel like March is an unofficial “badge” month.

Theta’s badges range from the basic badge that many of us received upon our initiation to more ornate ones purchased later in life or received as it is passed down among Theta families and friends. I can never decide which ones are my favorite. The basic standard badge is beautiful in its simplicity but yes, I appreciate the bling in some of the more decorative badges.

Theta’s history of badge jewelers begins with John F. Newman, of New York City. One of DePauw’s professors, John Clark Ridpath recommended Newman to our founders as a jeweler to work with for the badge. Bettie wrote to Newman, a fraternity jeweler, and a member of Phi Gamma Delta who at first responded to her by addressing her “Mr. Locke” but apologized in the follow-up letter. Newman suggested some modifications to their design and produced a badge that arrived for the four founders to wear it to chapel on March 14, 1870, just six weeks after Theta’s founding. Until the appearance of the founders in their badges, the organization had been a secret. (You can purchase a replica of the founder's badge!)

Newman remained the official jeweler but as the fraternity grew, regional jewelers were identified as “official” by the fraternity. You can view the history of the official badge manufacturers on the Our Badge page on the Theta website. One of the fun things to view on the timeline are advertisements for each of the official jewelers. By 1915, the fraternity chose one official jeweler, L. G. Balfour Company, who remained the official jeweler until 1987. Theta’s official jeweler since 2009 is the J. Lewis Small Company.

A common question that I receive here in the archives from our older members, is “What to do with my badge as I have no Theta family members?” We have created a form that we encourage members to print and place with their Theta badge and other Theta jewelry, that will let family members know what to do with your Theta badge. The archives welcomes donations of Theta badges for the collection. We use these badges to help tell the story of Theta’s rich history.

I like to think that our own badge connects us to those members represented through the badges in the archives collection. Each time I receive a badge in the archives, I think of the woman who wore it and our shared experience, regardless of how many years that may separate us. Basic or ornate, small or large, it is a symbol of our common membership so wear it with pride.