Anna dickinson 415x260

What Are Honorary Thetas?

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

Between 1871 and 1893, Theta chapters were allowed to name specific women as honorary Thetas. Sometimes these were women who were visiting the chapter’s campus, often for speeches. Other times, these women may not have had the option to attend college.

Theta has recognized only 17 women as honorary members throughout the organization’s history. These honorary members include the following:

  • Anna Dickinson: Anna was a noted orator and lecturer both in the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights. She is considered the first woman to speak before the U.S. Congress. Alpha/DePauw chapter minutes states, “As Miss Anna Dickenson is to lecture at Asbury next Saturday, Nov. 11, it was moved and carried that we make her a proposition, and if she accepts, to pin her immediately. Bertie (Jennie Brown) was instructed to send for a chapter badge for use on this occasion.”
Anna Dickinson
Anna Dickinson (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)
  • Emma S. Howe: Emma was a singer and toured not only in the U.S. but also in Europe. She taught vocal music at Wellesley College.
  • Josephine R. Nichols: Josephine was president of the Indiana Women’s Christian Temperance Union and a lecturer on women’s suffrage.
  • Mary E. Iliff Gray: Mary was trained in Germany as a musician. She taught music and served as co-president of the Wesleyan College of Music, and then onto her own school of music in Bloomington, Ill.
  • Adelaide Farrington Potter: Adelaide was the mother of Mary Ross Potter, Delta I/Illinois Wesleyan, who was dean of women at Northwestern University from 1905-1929, and at Monmouth College from 1929-1935.
  • Ida Banta Lindley: Ida was a professor of Latin at University of Southern California (USC) and dean of women at Whittier College. She was also active in philanthropic work in California.

It is unclear why the Fraternity’s Constitution removed honorary membership as an option when it was updated in 1893. National speaker and women’s suffrage leader Anna Howard Shaw attended the 1893 Grand Convention and was named an honorary member but was never specifically listed as a member of a chapter as the other honorary members had been.

While only in place for a short period of Theta’s early history, honorary membership is a fascinating glimpse into those women our early members considered significant.