By Kylie Towers Smith, Simpson, Archivist/Museums Director
Everyone knows you can easily place your badge above your heart by setting your thumb at the base of your throat with fingers splayed, and then pinning the badge between your pinky and ring finger. Or is it between the ring finger and middle finger? Wait, right hand or left hand?
It doesn’t matter since everyone knows it should be on the layer of clothing closest to your heart, and no one is going to see my badge below this vest I’m wearing. And I wouldn’t dare wear my Order of Omega pin above my Kappa pin. Some even insist the downfall of society started when fraternity women began wearing their badges on a lapel. Come to think of it, it’s a good thing International Badge Day doesn’t happen on casual Friday, or I couldn’t even participate while wearing jeans!
The adoption of our membership badge was one of the first acts of the Founders. In fact, the new group was not announced until October 13, 1870, for the young students were awaiting the arrival of their new pins. Since then, nearly everything about the badge has changed with two exceptions – it is still golden and it is still shaped like a key. It may be that “On the heart of each sister lies one key that binds us…” but how and where it’s made, embellishments, and placement have all changed with the times, with the economy, and with fashion.
The stories vary relating to Kappa’s early history, including the details surrounding the badge. According to Founders Lou Stevenson and Anna Willits, Anna Willits’ mother suggested “A key to lock your secrets up.” Regardless of the original suggestion, these first members intended the opposite. As students of classical studies, with an interest in the arts, they devoted their meetings to literature and debate. They actually chose the key to “unlock the hidden mysteries in Science, Literature and Art.”
The first keys were long, flat, handmade pins which were worn in the hair, at least on dress occasions. Lou Bennett’s family jeweler in Pittsburgh, John Stevenson, made the pins— though Anna Willits wrote that they secured a local jeweler to make the pin.
In 1870, the Constitution stated that the Treasurer would have the duty to “procure badges,” and it was the duty of the members to keep them.
By 1873, the Constitution has only a description of the membership pin and no specific instructions on when or how to wear it.
In 1873, Epsilon Chapter questioned the size of the badge, suggesting a change to half the size. Alpha replied: “The badge cannot be changed in any way and must be secured from the contracting firm in the East.”
The Constitution of 1876 specifies black enamel for letters and requires the engraving of the owner’s name and chapter on the back of the badge. Some members at this time were having their names engraved on the front over the ward (the square shaped end above AΩO), while others did not have their names put on the pin at all.
By 1877, Delta Chapter at Indiana had the custom of requiring a certain scholastic average to wear the badge (85% for preparatory students and 90% for members in college).
In the 1880s and 1890s, chapter photos show members wearing their badges with the handle up and the bit angled down; nearly always on the left hand side.
In the 1920s as hemlines rose and waistlines dropped, so did badge placement and occasionally members wore their badges below the bust line.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s, when women’s fashion began to include more casual options, that the dictate of only wearing the badge with dress clothes spread as though it were spoken by our Founders.
In a search of all of the Fraternity documents through the years, the only instruction on how or when to wear the badge is in the case of official mourning. Whether to observe the death of a chapter member or a Fraternity officer, mourning periods were specific lengths of time and included instructions on how to wear black ribbons around, behind, above, or below the badge.
While our official documents don’t designate just how, when, or where to wear your badge, just ask a sister and she’ll likely recite any number of “regulations” that have been passed down through the years. Our badge is the outward symbol of all that we hold dear in Kappa Kappa Gamma. If the noble purposes of our sisterhood are in your heart and on your mind, you can’t go wrong when you pin your key on for International Badge Day.