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History Header - Founders

History of Pi Beta Phi

Pi Beta Phi was founded on April 28, 1867, at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. Our 12 founders had the vision to form the first secret society for women patterned after men’s groups at a time when only five state universities admitted women. These courageous women set the stage for a thriving organization continuing to enrich the lives of many during their collegiate years and beyond.

Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women distinguishes itself in the fraternity and sorority world by leading the way as one of the first of seven founding members of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Pi Phi was also the first to organize a national philanthropic project, form an alumnae department and establish an Alumnae Advisory Committee (AAC) for each collegiate chapter.

Today, Pi Beta Phi continues to encourage women to develop meaningful relationships as they reach for their personal goals. Collegiate membership in Pi Beta Phi and the relationships it yields help members adjust to college life by providing a sense of belonging, mutual support and leadership development. As an alumna, members are part of a network of sisterhood and friendship of more than 200,000 sisters worldwide. To view the Pi Beta Phi Timeline, click here.

Meet the Founders

The founders of Pi Beta Phi created the Fraternity to cultivate sincere friendship, establish real-life objectives and promote happiness.

  • Jennie Nicol, M.D. (1845–1881) 
Jennie was a pioneer among physicians; she was one of the first women to study medicine.
  • Libbie Brook Gaddis (1850–1933) 
The youngest founder, she established Pi Beta Phi’s second chapter at Iowa Wesleyan College.
  • Clara Brownlee Hutchinson (1850–1931)
 Gentle and shy, she was Emma Brownlee’s younger sister. In challenging circumstances, she showed an admirable strength of character.
  • Ada Bruen Grier (1848–1924)
 A teacher and minister’s wife, she formed friendships in Pi Phi that lasted her entire lifetime. Her son, the Rev. James Harper Grier, became president of Monmouth College.
  • Emma Brownlee Kilgore (1848–1925) 
A true leader and Pi Beta Phi’s first president, she was the only founder to live continuously in Monmouth, Illinois. The Fraternity coat of arms is derived from the Brownlee family crest.
  • Fannie Thomson (1848–1868)
 Radiating happiness, with a beautiful voice, in her short year of membership she was a faithful and enthusiastic member. The first Pi Beta Phi Convention was held at her house in Oquawka, Illinois, in August of 1867.
  • Margaret Campbell (1846–1939) 
Pi Beta Phi’s first treasurer and a promoter of philanthropic work.
  • Jennie Horne Turnbull (1846–1932) 
Quiet and charming, she planned her life around her work as a minister’s wife and Pi Beta Phi. Jennie was a charter member of the Philadelphia Alumnae Club and had Illinois Alpha granddaughters.
  • Rosa Moore (1849–1934)
 Generous and sensitive to the needs of others, she spent her days in social work and missionary endeavors.
  • Nancy Black Wallace (1845–1918) 
Pi Beta Phi’s first secretary and an enthusiastic extensionist. She installed the third chapter of I.C. Sorosis at the Seminary in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
  • Inez Smith Soule (1846–1939)
 Independent, beautiful and known for her keen wit, she established a long Pi Phi legacy through a Pi Phi daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
  • Fannie Whitenack Libbey (1848-1941)
 It was in her home that the groundwork was laid for Pi Beta Phi. She always remained young at heart and found great joy in meeting with the women of Pi Beta Phi. 


Symbols are an important part of the understanding and appreciation of the Fraternity, serving as outward signs of unspoken ideals that all Pi Phis share.


The Badge

The badge of I.C. Sorosis, which was chosen by the founders in 1867, consisted of a golden arrow with the letters "IC" on its wings. When the name of the Fraternity was changed to Pi Beta Phi, the Greek letters replaced the "IC" on the wings. At the 1934 Yellowstone Convention, the convention body voted to limit the links in the chain of the badge to 12 — one for each founder. 

Upon initiation, a member is given a gold-filled arrow badge. If she wishes, she may order a replacement 10k gold badge from Herff Jones, the official Pi Beta Phi jeweler. Only initiated members of Pi Beta Phi wear the golden arrow badge. It is worn over the heart with the tip of the arrow pointed up.

Crest PNG  

The Crest

The crest, or coat of arms, of Pi Beta Phi is a lozenge blazoned with the Brownlee family crest. An eagle is displayed in the middle, on top of which is the seal of Monmouth College, where Pi Phi was founded. The blazing sun, with the Latin word meaning light LUX in the center, is on the eagle's chest. In the eagle's right talon is the monogram "IC," and the left talon holds the arrow of Pi Beta Phi.

The lozenge signifies that the coat of arms represents a women's organization; the eagle, by holding the "IC" in one talon and Pi Beta Phi arrow in the other, signifies the absolute identity between I.C. Sorosis and Pi Beta Phi Fraternity. The coat of arms was adopted as the official Fraternity crest at the 1912 Evanston Convention.


The Carnation

Adopted at the 1890 Galesburg Convention, the wine carnation became the official flower, with these words: "The roots of the flower are the founders, for from them the whole plant grew ... the stem represents the Grand Council. It gives to us what was received from the roots. It gives us height and strength ... the leaves of our flower are the alumnae. They stand nearest the stem and assist it in its work.

They are in communication with the world and breathe in for us the best of the world's ideals ... the petals are red for the girls are loyal. As it is the rich, wine color that makes the flower attractive, it, too, is the warm fervent loyalty of its members making Pi Beta Phi beautiful in the eyes of everyone. The pistil is the spirit, and the stamens are ideals of Pi Beta Phi. The petals stand closely united around these to defend and protect them.

New Member Pin  

The New Member Pin

The new member pin is an arrowhead of Roman gold mounted with the Greek letter B (Beta) in burnished gold.


The Angel

Fraternity history tells of songs about Pi Phi angels becoming popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s with skits depicting Pi Phis as angels often used during recruitment. Angel collections are popular among many Pi Phis. The founders did not choose the angel as a Fraternity symbol; however, it is a worthy unofficial symbol of Pi Beta Phi.


Colors and Motto

The colors of the Fraternity, wine and silver blue, and the Greek motto, Pi Beta Phi, were adopted at the 1882 Burlington Convention.


To view the Pi Beta Phi Timeline, click here.