Phi Beta Kappa. Alpha of Illinois (Northwestern University)
On September 5, 1889, the National Council of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation's oldest scholastic society, founded in 1776, granted the charter to establish the Alpha of Illinois chapter at Northwestern University. Nine members of other Phi Beta Kappa chapters, who were then at Northwestern, petitioned for the charter. The new chapter held its first meeting on February 18, 1890, soon adopted a constitution and a set of by-laws, and initiated qualified Northwestern alumni from the classes graduated since 1860.
The charter members elected the chapter's first student members in 1890, although women were not admitted until the next year. Original admission standards required Phi Beta Kappa members only to be within a certain top percentage of the graduating class, but a minimum grade point average was added to the requirement in 1919. The selection process has since changed many times, yet all members must still be liberal arts students.
The Alpha of Illinois chapter held annual meetings to elect, members and officers. The chapter also selected alumni and honorary members, the latter including many N.U. presidents and professors. A major event at these meetings was the annual oration, and the chapter has hosted such guest orators as Frederick Jackson Turner and Jane Addams.
The Northwestern University Phi Beta Kappa chapter continued to be very active through the 1960s, although since 1970 the chapter's visibility and activities program has significantly diminished.