Born in New Albany, Ind., on October 19, 1850, Bettie spent her early years moving around the Midwest. Her father, Dr. John Locke, was president of Brookville College in Brookville, Ind., at the time of her birth. He later became president of Baker University in Baldwin, Kan., and then returned to Greencastle, Ind., and Indiana Asbury College (later to be called DePauw University) to assume a mathematics professorship. Bettie's grandmother was also an educator, establishing one of the first girls’ schools in the Terre Haute, Ind., area in the 1830s.
Indiana Asbury admitted female students for the first time in the fall of 1867, and Bettie was among the first five women to enter the college. Their presence was not without some controversy. The local paper wrote editorials questioning the advisability of women in higher education, and a contingent of male students protested their admittance. A member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity asked Bettie to wear his badge, not as a mark of engagement but to show her support of the group. (Her brother was a Phi Gamma Delta.) She said that only if she could be a fully initiated member would she wear it. The Phi Gams declined, and upon the suggestion of her father, she created a fraternity of her own.
Bettie graduated from Indiana Asbury in 1871, and considered studying medicine. Instead, she became a teacher at the Illinois Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, now known as the Lincoln Developmental Center. In 1876, she married Edward A. Hamilton, a graduate of Lawrence University, and lived in Jerseyville, Ill., where he was in business. They moved to Greencastle in the 1890s in time for their daughters, Edna and Eulalia (later members of Alpha/DePauw), to attend the university. When Edna was initiated, Bettie also went through initiation, as she had initiated herself at the founding of the fraternity.
Bettie became a fixture in Greencastle and on the DePauw campus, visiting Alpha Chapter on a regular basis. She attended the 1899, 1907, 1924, and 1932 Grand Conventions. Prior to the 1932 Convention, held in Estes Park, Colo., she spent a week at the Beta Iota/Colorado chapter house. Another trip took her to the east coast, where she had been invited to a Founders Day celebration; the weekend trip extended to three weeks, and she visited chapters in New York and saw the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
When she died on September 21, 1939, she was DePauw’s oldest living graduate. She is buried in Greencastle.
A message from Bettie Locke Hamilton’s great-granddaughter:
“I think Thetas should keep in mind what these women had to do and what they had to go through to do it.”