BETA PI THETA by Dr. Scott Fish
Elizabeth "Bessie" Louise Standifer Hall Rogers, circa 1950, Courtesy of Dr. Ward Oliver.
Miss Sarah Rogers, 1928 Executive Secretary of Beta Pi Theta and faculty advisor to chapter Theta Zeta. Courtesy of Coker College.
Beta Pi Theta was a French honorary founded in 1924 in Birmingham, Alabama at Howard College (1) (now Stamford University) by Elizabeth "Bessie" Louise Standifer (1900-1966). Born in Eufaula, Alabama, Standifer graduated from the University of Alabama with honors. While an undergraduate, Standifer was a standout student. She was the first female co-editor of the university yearbook, the Corolla, and was a member, leader and founder of many university honor societies, clubs and organizations; she was especially active in literary societies. Following graduation, she taught mathematics and chemistry at Phillips high school in Birmingham, Alabama, and her biographic profile in Thompson's History of Barbour County, Alabama indicates that she took additional coursework at Howard College. It is thus likely during this period in 1924 that she founded Beta Pi Theta, although the reasons for the foundation of a French literary society are still unknown. Beta Pi Theta's first chapters, all of which bear a two Greek-letter combination starting with Theta (including the chapter at Howard College), were installed in 1926. No Theta Alpha chapter has been found, and no chapter installed prior to 1926 has been discovered. Standifer served as the Executive Secretary of the Society from 1927-1928. (2)
Numerous yearbook sources call the organization a National Collegiate French Fraternity, French Honorary Fraternity, National Honorary Literary French Fraternity, and a national French honorary society. The official colors of the Society were royal purple, gold and white. The official emblem was the fleur-de-lis.
Trademarks were filed on March 23 and April 10, 1928 with the United States Patent Office by Executive Secretary Sarah Rogers of Coker College for Women (Hartsville, South Carolina) for the Society's quarterly newsletter What's Doing in Beta Pi Theta and its combination of Greek letters: ΒΠΘ. Sarah was a 1914 graduate of Coker College for Women (later Coker College) and taught French in Mississippi before working at Coker.
By 1935 Beta Pi Theta boasted thirty-five chapters in the United States while Pi Delta Phi had only eight. The Society held a national essay contest and awarded a scholarship to attend the summer French language school at Middlebury College in Vermont. The organization was, perhaps like other academic societies, mostly inactive during WWII and attempted to reactivate after the war. For reasons unknown, the society had ceased to function nationally by 1948. A few individual orphaned chapters operated independently, however, until 1960. Pi Delta Phi contacted many of the orphaned chapters in the 1950s and 60s and invited them to apply for affiliation.
Although no national records have been found, sources provide varying purposes for the organization:
"The purpose of this organization is to further the progress of French literature and culture in America, to encourage maintenance of the highest scholarship and literary standards, and to organize in universities and colleges representative men and women who will recognize and award merit in productive French literature." (The Key, Bowling Green State University yearbook (1936): 96.)
"The purpose of the fraternity is to advance the progress of French and things cultural–its members are always to be bodies of representative men and women whose general scholarship is of a grade above the general average, who uphold the highest ideals of a liberal education and who by their interest, ability and influence will maintain the high standards of Beta Pi Theta." ("Beta Pi Theta Reorganizing for this Year." The Florida Flambeau 12.3 (1926): 1)
"The purpose of Beta Pi Theta is to organize men and women who will by travel and study, conversation, interest, influence and ability advance the progress of French in America, and encourage the highest ideals of a liberal education." (Entre Nous, Samford University yearbook (1950): 180)
The purpose of Beta Pi Theta is "to advance the progress of literary French and things cultural in American...and to encourage consecration to social service and the highest ideals of a liberal education." (McKendrean Yearbook, McKendree University (1937): 25)
institution, location, installation date, Greek letters
Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan, 1926, Theta Beta
Baldwin Wallace University, Berea, Ohio
Baylor College for Women, Belton, Texas, 1931, Pi Eta
Baylor University, Waco, Texas, 1927, Theta Chi
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, 1936, Pi Xi
Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana
Coker College, Hartsville South Carolina, Theta Zeta
Dakota Weslayan University, Mitchell South Dakota, 1930, Pi Epsilon
Eureka College, Eureka, Illinois, 1926, Theta Delta
Florida State College for Women, Tallahassee, Florida, 1926, Theta Kappa
Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, Pi Delta
Howard College (now Samford University), Birmingham Alabama, 1926, Theta Nu
Iowa Wesleyan College, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Theta Gamma
Lindenwood College, St. Charles, Missouri, Theta Xi
Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia, 1930, Pi Zeta
McKendree University, Lebanon, Illinois, 1936, Pi Sigma
Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, 1929, Pi Gamma
Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi
Mount Union College, Alliance Ohio, 1937, Theta Omicron
Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, 1937
Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska, Theta Pi
Queens College, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1926, Theta Mu
Park College, Parkville, Missouri, 1926, Theta Eta
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York, 1928, Theta Iota
Shorter College, Roma, Georgia, Theta Theta
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, 1927, Theta Phi
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
University of Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Theta Sigma
University of Nebraska, Kearney, Nebraska, 1930, Pi Iota
University of Maine, Orono, Maine, 1928, Theta Tau
University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, 1929, Pi Beta
University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, Pi Nu
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Chattanooga Tennessee, 1930, Theta Sigma
West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1927, Theta Upsilon
Winthrop College, Rock Hill, South Carolina, 1930, Theta Omega
Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina, Theta Rho
(1) The Student Association of Southern Methodist University, The Rotunda (Dallas: South Methodist U, 1928) 267.
(2) Mattie Crocker Thomas Thompson, History of Barbour County (Alabama. Eufaula, AL: N.p., 1939) 125-127.