Stepping Into the Life of Hannah Fitch Shaw

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

One of the many great things I get to do as staff archivist is research. I love to do research! Nothing makes me happier than digging into a topic like our founders, using many of the tools that are now available to find out things we didn’t know before.

In 2018, we are celebrating Hannah Fitch Shaw, the last of the four founders to be gathered in by Bettie Locke. The youngest of the bunch (born on October 6, 1851), she did not graduate until 1873, two years after Bettie and Alice Allen. (Bettie Tipton had transferred to Millersburg at the end of her first year at Indiana Asbury.)

Hannah Fitch Shaw
Hannah Fitch Shaw, one of the four founders of Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity


Earlier sources like Sixty Years in Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity (1930) provide Hannah’s basic story. She remained at Indiana Asbury and helped to grow the fraternity. She married a fellow graduate, Archibald Shaw, just a month after commencement in 1873. They returned to their hometown of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on the Ohio River 26 miles west of Cincinnati. She passed away in 1924, a year after she and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary.

Over the years, as content has become more accessible, I have been able to add to what we know about Hannah. Doing genealogy research, I discovered that she had eight children, four of whom died before their early twenties. One day, while searching through Google Scholar, I stumbled across the fact that Hannah had patented an “improved dustpan” in 1886. Who knew!

We did know that she presented papers, both as a student and as a member of a local women’s group, in her later years, because the archives holds several of her original papers. The most significant one is titled “Choosing an Occupation,” in which she gives advice to female students: get an education no matter what you think you will do in life. While searching through digitized newspapers, I found a reference to a presentation Hannah made in March 1871 in one of the Indianapolis papers. The article summarized her remarks as, “Everyone should have something to do. Having nothing to do is not contentment. We must improve our natural abilities and work always with zeal; otherwise we can expect but moderate results.” Imagine one of your college presentations being quoted in a major metropolitan newspaper!

Sometimes references in these outside sources point me back to materials we actually have in the archives. I did not know how much Hannah remained connected to Theta. I had known she attended the first Convention in 1872, but she also attended the 1899, 1907, and 1919 Conventions. Hannah attended the installation of Alpha Tau/Cincinnati in 1913 and was the guest of honor at many Founders Day events in Indianapolis. Hometown papers as well as larger city papers would often note the comings and goings of visitors. In 1913, an Indianapolis newspaper (most likely because Hannah had a son who lived in Indianapolis) noted her travels with family, visiting Idaho, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, and St. Louis. By cross-referencing with the Theta magazine, I was able to find reports of her visiting chapter facilities and meeting members during her travels.

As more newspapers and other sources are digitized, the more I will continue to discover about our founders and other early members of Kappa Alpha Theta. Our images of these women will continue to evolve and provide us more insight into who they were as college students as well as alumnae. In filling out details of their lives, our founders become more real to me, which helps me connect more to them. I can’t wait to see what I find next.

You can view a timeline of Hannah’s life here.