Beta Lambda’s Early Years
Katharine Lucinda Sharp, former Grand President and the first director of the library school at the University of Illinois, and Frances Simpson, a student at the new library school, wished there could be a Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Illinois. They both had been members of Kappa’s Upsilon Chapter at Northwestern University.
Secrecy about plans was maintained until 1899, when six students were approached. A second petition to university officials was heartily approved, covering material was sent to Kappa’s Grand Council, and the waiting period brought the group close in spirit. In the spring of 1899, a charter was granted to Beta Lambda Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma, with Installation on April 28.
Meetings were held in Miss Sharp’s home until the first chapter house was purchased in 1900. A 1902 move was made to 404 East John Street, Champaign. Meals could be served there, and in 1905, an addition was built to accommodate 18 girls.
The next few years saw a series of Kappa houses as membership increased. Records of 1913 show how each girl earned $10 for the newest house by making curtains, canning fruit, and “hiring out to family.” Two other moves were made before the chapter made its home at 1102 South Lincoln Ave., Urbana, in February of 1928. After remodeling and additions, the house accommodated 63.
In 1929, the Kappas were “blown out” of the house during a blizzard—a defective gasket on the furnace caused an explosion. A scarlet fever epidemic began with a Kappa—Valentine’s Day was celebrated in quarantine; all Kappas received candy.
In the 1930s, the Kappa boiler burst, the Mothers Club was formed and proceeds from the sale of holly wreaths helped purchase linen napkins for the house. Alumnae gave a silver pitcher on which the names of members with the most improved scholarship would be engraved. Active Lorama Wiese (Boggs) left for Hollywood after a scout saw her in a University of Illinois production. The chapter library was started with donations and alumna help. Radio tea dances were popular.
Wartime shortages were common and baskets were filled for needy families. Rag dolls were made for the YWCA Doll Show—Kappas won the show just before the Chicago fire. Bettie Teetor (Audron) was the first Beta Lambda to present a thesis before the Illinois Academy of Science.
Live music became a war casualty; a radio victrola was used instead. Red Cross and USO were popular with volunteers, and first aid was widely taught and practiced. The chapter newsletter was printed on newsprint due to the paper shortage.
The report on scholarship was not encouraging, and Beta Lambda was placed on social probation; rushing was allowed but no male-attended functions. Announcements: No dates in house before 4 p.m. … Girls are not to carry on conversations from the upstairs with boys who are downstairs … Quiet hours start when the sandwich man comes.
Many veterans were back on campus in 1948. The chapter’s 50th anniversary was marked by a two-day reunion. Beta Lambda received the Scholarship Improvement Award at the General Convention (1948).
Beta Lambda finally reached first place over 27 other chapters on campus with a 3.916 GPA on a 5-point system. Kappa dads contributed to the unfurnished dining room. The only living charter member, Lucy Willcox Wallace, presented a plaque to the chapter in memory of Katharine Sharp (1959). The pledge pin of Maude Straight (Carman), first Beta Lambda pledge, had been designed by Miss Sharp and the design adopted by the Fraternity.
Difficulties within the Fraternity system reflected a national trend; many houses decreased in membership, but Beta Lambda (nearly always) had a full house. Kappa and Phi Kappa Psi volunteered at Champaign County Nursing Home. Two fire engines rushed to the Kappa house (1966); firemen broke down the kitchen door—somebody had burned the supper!
Homecoming: The campus was surrounded by the National Guard and state police. Students were marching against the Cambodian involvement, Illiac, Kent State, and the death of Edgar Foults. Many of those same students were soon constructing house decorations and preparing for the return of alumni.
By 1970, each girl had her own phone number. (Champaign-Urbana was one of four communities in the U.S. having more telephones than people.) By 1972, each girl had her own door key. There was 24-hour university visitation and relaxation of alcohol regulations. Dress for dinner could include slacks but not blue jeans with holes or patches. No more closet space was needed for petticoats and formals, but still there were space problems. The dorm remained cold, but there was a new sun deck and a TV in the rec room.
Beta Lambda’s Centennial was held at Champaign Country Club. Kappa Pickers entertained at special events. An anonymous male caller phoned with a bomb threat—police found nothing (1971).
For more chapter histories or to add details to your chapter’s history, log in at www.kappa.org and visit Kappapedia.
--This information was excerpted and edited for length from The History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, 1870–1976.