The Early Years
No state university could claim more humble beginnings. On the windswept plain of sage and buffalo grass, a lone four-story brick structure rose incongruously to mark the campus of the University of Colorado. Two instructors, one of them the new president, and 44 students assembled in the fall of 1877. Among the goals restated each year by that first class, none was more urgent than a sidewalk to town to escape the sea of mud. The goal was finally realized for the first commencement.
By 1901, the campus had grown to a half-dozen buildings, including a “Cottage Number One for Women, with Boarding Table.” There were four national men’s fraternities and two women’s. A local group, the Althea Society, rejected by Kappa Kappa Gamma in an early petition, was inspired to two more years of work to meet requirements, and finally was so enthusiastically endorsed by Kappa’s Denver Alumnae Association that the usual inspection by the Grand Council was waived—the history of Beta Mu Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma had begun.
On April 5, 1901, 19 young women in long woolen skirts walked to the tiny train station on the prairie, nearly swooning with excitement as the train pulled in, bringing members of Sigma Chapter—Nebraska. Kappa’s Grand Secretary, May Whiting (Westermann), Sigma—Nebraska, was among the 20 who were to initiate Beta Mu’s charter members.
The other campus Greeks hosted an afternoon reception, and there was a banquet at the Brown Palace in Denver. Initiation was at the home of a new member with a Pi Beta Phi mother. In 1974, Nettie Schwer Freed, age 93, was Beta Mu’s only living charter member and she recalled clearly the events of the 1901 Installation. She explained how early meetings were held in her room at the cottage or at members’ homes. By 1905, the chapter was able to rent a house at 1221 University Avenue, which was to be the Kappa house for nearly two decades.
World War I Years
Fraternity houses became barracks and coeds volunteered daily hours of work. By commencement, 1918, all able-bodied male students had been called to arms and the class history was delivered for the first time by a woman, a Beta Mu.
Dreams of a permanent home began to take shape by 1920 when lots were purchased for the present house at 1134 University Avenue at a cost of $21,000. Mae Fry, at one time a member of the Colorado legislature, was president of the newly formed building committee.
Nearly every rush plan had been tried during Beta Mu’s first 25 years and, by the 1930s, it had become a complicated system of summer parties and formal calls preceding the fall week of teas and dinners. Expensive decorations, costumes and entertainment were required, and rivalry was bitter.
Increasing membership called for a house addition in 1939, a large recreation room, which brought new informality to the Colonial structure.
In 1939, Dr. Robert L. Stearns became the University’s sixth president and brought inspired leadership for 13 years. His Beta Mu family included wife (Amy Pitkin Stearns) and four daughters (Judith Stearns Caughey, Amy Stearns Goodell, Marion Stearns White and Barbara Stearns Wooten). Dr. Stearns was keynote speaker at the 1940 Sun Valley Convention, where Beta Mu proudly accepted the Standards Cup for the most outstanding chapter of the biennium.
World War II Years
Beta Mu instigated the equipping of all sorority houses as Red Cross relief stations, and limited social functions to buy war bonds. House decorations and homecoming floats were discarded in favor of patriotic decorations for the student union. Beta Mu sent gift boxes overseas and to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, and during the campus drive for supplies for war-torn Europeans, assembled the largest contribution.
Enrollment soared at the end of the war, and numbers forced a simpler rush—ice-water teas replaced elaborate entertaining.
By spring of 1956, Beta Mu won both the campus and Denver area Panhellenic Scholarship Cups. At the 1956 General Convention, Beta Mu was runner-up for pledge training, and two years later, won the top award. The 1956 Convention brought the chapter its finest honor—Eleanor Goodridge Campbell was elected Fraternity President.
By now, the chapter was providing room and board for its first foreign student, from Norway. Since then others from Sweden, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands have made Beta Mu their home for a year.
Beta Mu members continued to be leaders on campus, and prizes filled their trophy case. With 14 queens and attendants in one year, Kappa’s yearbook page was once titled “Home of Royalty.”
In the face of ever-crowded conditions, another house addition was made in 1962, which included 19 double bedrooms. Eighty-two members could now reside in the house.
The changing social climate affected by the war in Vietnam, new student lifestyles, and the end of restrictions on university housing created the chapter’s greatest challenge. Within five years, a decrease in chapter membership had caused a house maintenance problem. However, Beta Mu won the first Fraternity Appreciation Award at the 1960 General Convention.
For more chapter histories or to add details to your chapter’s history, log in at www.kappa.org and visit Kappapedia.
--Excerpted and edited for clarity and length from The History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, 1870–1976.