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Phi Beta Kappa

Beta of Washington
Whitman College - Walla Walla, Washington

Phi Beta Kappa key

Phi Beta Kappa was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. For more than 200 years, the Society has pursued its mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, and its distinctive emblem, a golden key, is widely recognized as a symbol of academic distinction.

The original Phi Beta Kappa Society at William and Mary had an active life of only four years, ending when the approach of Cornwallis' army forced the college to close its doors. During this brief period 50 members were admitted, 77 meetings were held (during which members debated such topics as "The cause and origin of Society", "Whether anything is more dangerous to Civile Liberty in a Free State than a standing army in time of Peace", and "Whether Theatrical Exhibitions are advantageous to States or ye Contrary"), and charters were granted for two new chapters. The Alpha of Connecticut was established at Yale on November 13, 1780, and the Alpha of Massachusetts at Harvard on September 5, 1781. By 1883 25 chapters had been chartered; women were first admitted, by the Alpha at the University of Vermont, in 1875.

Nationwide, there are now 290 chapters, with a living membership of more than half a million. In addition to chapters sheltered by colleges or universities, there are also more than 50 active alumni Associations (including the Puget Sound Association in Washington State and the Oregon Association).

Whitman's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established in 1920. Each spring we elect and initiate new members, usually about 10% of the senior class and up to 2% of the junior class. In order to gain election you must have excelled in a broad range of courses in the arts and sciences. By accepting election, you acknowledge your devotion to intellectual pursuits and the goals of a liberal education.

In addition to the election of new members, Whitman's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, with generous assistance from the President's office, hosts a luncheon with a guest speaker each year during Commencement weekend honoring new members and their families. Most years we are also able to bring to campus a speaker from the Phi Beta Kappa Society's panel of Visiting Scholars. The Visiting Scholar program enables chapters to invite distinguished scholars from a broad range of fields to their campuses for a two-day visit; Scholars participate in classes and give a public lecture. In recent years Whitman's Phi Beta Kappa chapter has hosted paleontologist Jack Horner, Dante scholar Rachel Jacoff, astronomer Eric Chaisson, Princeton classicist Elaine Fantham, and Chicago historian of religion Wendy Doniger.

For more information, contact Andrea Dobson, chapter Secretary-Treasurer.

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