The Ohio State University and Kappa Kappa Gamma have something special in common—both were founded in 1870! (And KKG Headquarters is just a few miles from the OSU campus.)
It seems only fitting that 18 years later, our Beta Nu Chapter was the first women’s fraternity chapter established at Ohio State. A Columbus newspaper dated October 12, 1888, reported: “The organization was perfected at the residence of Miss Bell Slade on Hamilton Avenue … ‘Nu’ is the name of the chapter and the pin is a small enameled gold key inlaid with stones. The ladies believe they have good prospects for a flourishing chapter.”
The “Nu” was changed to Beta Nu by a vote of the 1890 General Convention to distinguish the chapter from the Nu of Franklin College, Indiana, which had lived briefly from 1879 to 1894.
Housing and World War I
In 1916, a small apartment was rented and furniture was donated by Columbus-area alumnae. During World War I, male students who had not joined the service were required, as members of the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), to live in temporary barracks erected on campus. Rather than close the Phi Gamma Delta house, the president offered it to the Kappas.
Many girls left school to fill positions left open by men who had enlisted, and others were on call for nurses’ training. Beta Nu and the Columbus Alumnae Association collected clothing for chapter member Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Dispensaire in France in addition to rolling bandages and knitting socks. The chapter pledged $500 to the YWCA, raising money by making and selling sandwiches to the fraternities after Monday night meetings, and other fundraising projects.
After the war, the Kappas and Delta Gammas leased and shared an apartment at 16th Avenue and High Street. In 1920, a six-room apartment was rented at 24 15th Avenue. The Beta Nu Building Associations was formed in 1921, and in September of 1922 a house was purchased for $12,360 at 90 13th Avenue, the first to be owned by a women’s fraternity at Ohio State. It was occupied by eight members and a housemother.
With the increase in the number of out-of-town girls, a larger house was purchased in 1926 at 84 15th Avenue, the street that had always been known as “the gate to the campus.” The purchase price of $30,000 was raised with the help of a loan from the Fraternity. Ten actives and a housemother used its one family-sized bathroom. A third floor with a chapter room and smaller rooms for Initiation was considered to be “posh,” although fainting in the heat of Initiation was standard procedure.
In 1936, “ … with the mortgage reduced and the income increased,” to quote from the January 1937 Banta’s Greek Exchange, the work of remodeling this former family home into a sorority house was accomplished. Once again, Kappa was first with a “real” sorority house. An addition provided housing for 15 members, larger bathroom facilities, a housemother’s suite with a bath, a large living room, larger kitchen and dining facilities, a basement chapter room, and in tune with the times, a parking lot in the rear.
World War II Years
Class ranks were disrupted as men entered branches of the armed forces or were drafted into the service. Many coeds chose to enlist, also, as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service-Navy), WASPS (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots), and WACS (Women’s Army Corps.) Some, like Jane Emig (Ford) who served with the Red Cross in Burma and India, were sent overseas. The chapter house buzzed with excitement whenever a member on official leave returned for a visit.
Beta Nus filled their extra-curricular hours with letter-writing to friends and sweethearts in the service, knitting items in drab green, which was requested by the government, tending Victory Gardens, which sprang up in unlikely places in a civilian attempt to replace rationed and hard-to-get food items. Several Kappas participated on the War Entertainment Board, an organization of collegians who wrote and produced, and danced in a variety show that entertained ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program), Navy V-12, and Lockbourne Airbase trainees. Others were active in SWAVes (a branch of the Student War Bond Board), which sold war stamps, registered blood donors, and sponsored classes for nurses’ aid and first aid.
College women wore knee-length skirts and “sloppy Joe” sweaters, many of which had been spirited away from the closets of absent service-bound brothers and boyfriends. Not only did coeds borrow men’s clothing, they also took over as officers of organizations that traditionally had been headed by men. The 1944 Makio (yearbook) asked, “Will they (the women) be willing to turn things back to the men when they return?”
Kappa actives and alumnae also volunteered at USO (United Service Organization) canteens and the Kappa Service Women’s Centers in Chittenden Hotel. It was one of 14 Kappa-sponsored centers across the U.S. Kappa projects supported the Nora Waln Fund for bombed-out families in England, and Columbus women spent countless hours creating baby clothes for layettes, which were sent to Norway through the fund.
More growing pains brought about the purchase of an old house at 55 East 15th Avenue to be used for an annex until money could be raised to build the Kappa “dream house” on the new site. A goal of $30,000 was set by the alumnae association and the struggle began. Through rummage sales, bake sales, bridge and bingo parties, redemption of state sales, tax stamps, the compilation of a Beta Nu Directory, and many other projects, they reached their goal! A loan from Hazel Zeller Nesbitt gave a boost to the project. The interest was donated to the chapter later. Construction started in 1950 and the house was ready in the fall of 1952 at a cost of $225,000, including furnishing and landscaping. The house at 84 East 15th Avenue was sold to Zeta Tau Alpha for $57,000.
Clara O. Pierce stands at the top of Beta Nu’s list of outstanding members. She served as Executive Secretary (now known as Executive Director) from January 1, 1929, until January 1, 1969. The Gracious Living Award is given in her honor at Fraternity General Conventions and a memorial scholarship for graduate study was established in her name.
-- excerpted from The History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, 1870-1976.