Zeta Phi Eta
Zeta Phi Eta was the first professional Communications fraternity at Northwestern University for students of the School of Oratory (later the School of Communication). The organization began in 1893 when Edith deVore (’94) conceived the idea of a club exclusively for Oratory students. DeVore was joined by Molly Connor, Laurine Wright, Maude Newell, and Leila Little, and the group called itself the F.O.E. club, vowing to be a Friend of Each, Each Our Friend. The women held secret meetings before receiving formal approval for the Zeta Phi Eta sorority in 1894 from Dr. Cumnock, Dean of the School of Oratory.
Reflecting the organization’s status as a professional, rather than an honorary or social, society, the charter proclaims, “This society is to promote a greater excellence in oratorical and dramatic art, and to develop a social interest and a stronger friendship toward each other.” In 1908, the fraternity began to expand when a Zeta at Northwestern corresponded with a friend at Emerson College of Oratory who belonged to an organization with similar values and goals, Phi Eta Sigma. When the two chapters joined under the name of Zeta Phi Eta, Alpha chapter status was bestowed upon the Emerson organization. During the 1910s and 1920s, campus and alumnae chapters grew quickly at institutions around the country. At the 1919 convention, all life members were promised copies of CAMEO, the society’s national publication since 1913. CAMEO continues to be published quarterly.
While Evanston’s alumnae chapter activity declined in the 1940’s, activities were on the rise again by the mid-1950’s. In 1955, the Zeta Phi Eta Foundation was established to contribute to worthy speech and drama projects. One long-term project initiated by the Zeta alumnae in 1960 was a full-scale nationwide tape recording program for the blind. Another national project, Graduate Assistantship Opportunities, was designed to provide professional guidance to senior members of campus chapters upon entering graduate school. Zeta Phi Eta began including men in its membership in 1975.
Northwestern University’s Zeta Phi Eta alumnae include Winifred Ward, founder of the Children’s Theatre of Evanston, Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, Ernest Hemingway’s sister, and also Louise Starkey, Isobel Carothers, and Helen King, who starred as a trio of gossipy housewives on the 1930’s WGN radio program, “Clara, Lu and Em”.
Alumna Gertrude Bader (Speech 1934), who married Speech professor Robert Breen, was actively involved in Zeta Phi Eta since the 1930’s. Leaving Evanston in 1938 due to her husband’s tour of service in WWII, Gertrude Breen resumed active duties in Zeta Phi Eta in 1946, serving as a member of the National Council of Zeta, as National President during the 1970’s, and as Chairman of the Advisory Board during the 1980’s.