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 publication 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.

 

Purpose

 

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)

 

Chapters Found

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

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.