holt house

In 1867, a group of young women attending Monmouth College met in a room rented from “Major” Jacob Holt. They founded I.C. Sorosis, now named Pi Beta Phi.

Where It All Began

On April 28, 1867, a group of female Monmouth College students gathered in the southwest bedroom of the house owned by “Major” Jacob Holt, in a room rented by Ada Bruen Grier and Libbie Brook Gaddis. It was in Ada and Libbie’s second floor bedroom where the women’s fraternity movement began with the founding of a secret society named I.C. Sorosis by 12 young Monmouth students. The group’s Greek motto was “Pi Beta Phi,” which would eventually become the organization’s formal name. 

After the Holt family passed on, the house was ultimately abandoned and fell into disrepair. The idea of purchasing the home was discussed at the 1938 Pi Beta Phi Convention in Asheville, North Carolina. Those who had seen it thought it was in too poor a condition to even consider renovation, and there was no real enthusiasm for the project. In 1939, during the interim of convention, a neighbor and father of a Pi Phi, Hugh Moffet, purchased the home for $1,100 at a delinquent tax auction. Mr. Moffet turned the property over to the Fraternity. After careful inspection of the property, it was found to be fundamentally sound. Instead of tearing it down and erecting a plaque, as some had wanted to do, the attendees at the 1940 Convention in Pasadena, California, voted to restore the home. A committee was appointed to oversee the restoration.

An upstairs bath and a downstairs powder room were added while three small rooms at the rear of the first floor were combined to make one large room. Great care was taken to acquire furnishings historically accurate of the 1860s period. On April 26, 1941, a restored Holt House opened with a tea hosted by Illinois Alpha and the Monmouth Alumnae Club.

The First Floor

Through the double-front doors of Holt House is a center hallway with a lovely stairway rising upward and curving sharply at the top. To the right of the entryway is the Pine Room, named for the antique pine bench under the east windows. The large room extending across the back of the first floor is called the Music Room. This graciously appointed room is often used when the home is rented for meetings and social events. The Parlor is in the front southwest corner. It is furnished in Victorian fashion.

While care has been taken to make sure the window treatments and furniture are similar to what might have been there in 1867, there are two rooms on the first floor that are quite modern and yet the styling gives a nod to the home’s 19th century roots. Both the kitchen and the south powder room have been recently renovated. A handicapped accessible restroom is located at the north end of the home.

The Second Floor

Holt House was intended not as a monument to the organization's achievements, but as a special place for all Pi Phis to celebrate their history and to mark the Fraternity's humble beginnings.

The second floor is uniquely Pi Phi in almost every respect. The northwest bedroom at the back of the house is now known as the Illinois Alpha Room. It houses memorabilia and historical items pertaining to Illinois Alpha. Across the hallway from the Illinois Alpha room is the Library, with bookshelves containing books by Pi Beta Phi authors and more historical memorabilia. The upper southeast bedroom is known as the Historical Room. The walnut glass front case houses 12 wax figurines — one figurine of each of the Pi Phi Founders. 

Across the hall is the southwest bedroom, where, on April 28, 1867, those 12 women met to start the women’s fraternity movement. Rightfully so, this bedroom is called the Founders’ Room. In that room in 1867, with Emma Brownlee Kilgore as President, they decided to “always conceal and never reveal” the secrets of their new society. Within those walls, they wrote a constitution and formulated objects of the society, including the mission “to cultivate sincere friendship, establish the real objects of life and to promote the happiness of humanity.”

Holt House Today

Today, Holt House is a vital part of the community and Monmouth College. The house has been completely restored and is available for use by chapters, clubs and local groups for gatherings. It is an intimate setting for weddings, receptions, parties and meetings. Ample seating and the recently renovated kitchen make it perfect for private dinners or luncheons. 

In early spring of 2009, the Fraternity applied to the Illinois State Historical Society for Holt House to be recognized as a historic landmark in the state of Illinois. On October 8, 2009, the Holt House Committee hosted a dedication ceremony for a historical marker, which is now permanently placed in the southeast corner of the front yard.

Holt House was intended not as a monument to the organization's achievements, but as a special place for all Pi Phis to celebrate their collective history and to mark the Fraternity's humble beginnings.

Holt House Mission Statement
The mission of Holt House, the founding home of Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, is to promote a welcoming spirit, to preserve Fraternity history and to provide an inviting setting that serves Pi Beta Phi collegiate chapters, alumnae organizations and the greater Monmouth community.

Holt House Vision Statement
Holt House, the founding home of Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, is committed to being recognized as a premier historic home.

Home is where your sisters are

From traditional chapter homes to university residence hall and common meeting spaces, Pi Phi facilities give members a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to build bonds that last forever. 

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