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Records of Zeta Phi Eta

Identifier: 31/6/70

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Scope and Contents

This series, filling three boxes in addition to one larger box containing two scrapbooks, spans the dates 1890-1992, with the bulk of the material dating between 1965 and 1985. It consists of historical material related to the Northwestern University chapter as well as materials relating to the national leadership of Zeta Phi Eta, and includes both campus and nationwide alumnae chapters.

The series begins with a National History of Zeta Phi Eta, published in 1937, and notes written in preparation of a speech spanning the history of the organization. These handwritten notes share several of the same anecdotes, such as the teasing label of the founders by their 1893 classmates as "Freaks of Elocutionists" and distinctive references to founders Laurine Wright and Maude Newell as "a feminine Mark Twain," and "the campus beauty". The Bylaws, enacted at National Conventions of 1931, 1987 and 1989, contain information about mottoes, emblems, rituals, membership clauses, officer duties, dues, publications and conventions. The first and second Beta Chapter directories [Northwestern University] list members of Zeta Phi Eta from 1894-1924. Booklets on fraternity rituals, initiation, and memorial services span the years 1958-1982. One orientation manual from 1988 is also included. Zeta Phi Eta songs, undated, appear to have been published in the late 1960s or 1970s, but return to themes and lyrics from the time of Zeta Phi Eta's founding.

Clippings span the years 1927-1981. Early clippings document dramatic and philanthropic pursuits, as well as marriages and deaths of chapter members nationwide. Those clippings from 1961 to 1981 focus on the Zeta-initiated national project to tape-record books for the blind. Minutes for Special Zeta Phi Eta National Council Meetings, interim meetings and conventions date between 1957 and 1993. These records contain debates on magazine subscriptions, chapter status and convention topics like the creation of new positions and election of new officers.

In the correspondence files, letters from Dean Robert Cumnock to the founders and early members of Zeta Phi Eta highlight his role as mentor to the School of Oratory's first professional fraternity. General correspondence from 1979-1992 is conducted mainly between Fannie Hicklin, a national president of the period, Gertrude Breen, immediate past president and Chairman of the Advisory Board, and the leaders of other chapters, including Mary "Corky" Wheeler of the Southern California Chapter.

Chapter business is conducted in the letters of Zeta Phi Eta officers over the years 1971-1987. Other correspondence between chapters involves chapter visits, regional director's duties (especially in regard to chapter visits), leadership school workshops, votes on charters for recognition or disbanding, national conventions, and letters to National Council. In the mid-to-late 1980s, inter-chapter communication floundered, reflecting a larger trend as Greek organizations under attack struggled to retain members and remain fiscally sound. A possible merger with Women in Communications (WICI) was discussed and researched in 1984 and 1985 while letters flew between chapters in 1986 and 1987 concerning the inability of the national president to fulfill her duties.

Financial reports on Zeta Phi Eta span the years 1970-1983. Also included are annual reports from 1972, 1985, and 1988 concerning the Not for Profit Corporation act and a 1981 donation to Northwestern's Theatre and Interpretation Center.

Among other membership records, a Beta directory lists members during the span of years from 1979-1984 and includes information on "How to Keep Members." Many files focus on Zeta Phi members' philanthropic and thespian involvement, as evidenced by a script of the ‘Polly Pockets’ play, James and the Giant Peach, performed by Beta Chapter, and plays from the Convention of 1964.

Two of the longest ongoing projects were the national project to tape-record books for the blind and a series of cookbooks sold nationally by the fraternity. Materials gathered for the tape-recording project include all publications relating to Zeta Phi Eta involvement, ratings of voice quality, taping auditions, types of machines used by Zeta volunteers, and the acceptance or rejection of tape-recorded books by the Library of Congress. The four folders on Zeta Phi Eta cookbooks relate to national publication and sales by various chapters between the years of 1974-1982.

Other publications include Southern California Chapter Mailings, 1980 to 1988, describing local professional and social activities, and Chapter Yearbook Publications from Oklahoma City and Madison, Wisconsin, 1981-1984, providing names of actives and alumnae, mention of award nominees, and positions held in the fraternity.

A scrapbook titled "Zeta Phi Eta Alumnae Chapter" documents the Chicago chapter from its beginnings in 1893 to 1936. The scrapbook, containing photographs, announcements, and clippings from newspapers and issues of the Cameo, features the accomplishments of alumnae, including Winifred Ward, Gertrude Breen, and Marcelline Hemingway Stanford.


  • 1893-1992


Conditions Governing Access

Boxes 1-3 of this collection are stored off-site and require two business days advance notice for retrieval. This collection is stored off-site and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is stored at a remote campus location and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.


4.00 Boxes

Language of Materials



Zeta Phi Eta, the first professional Communications fraternity at Northwestern University for students of the School of Oratory (later the School of Communication), was founded in 1893 and continues today as a national professional organization. Records in this collection span the years 1890-1992, with the bulk of the material dating between 1965 and1985, and include historical material related to the Northwestern University chapter as well as materials relating to the national leadership.


The records of Zeta Phi Eta are organized into the following series: history; correspondence; financial records; membership records; programs and public activities; publications; and a scrapbook.

Method of Acquisition

The Records of Zeta Phi Eta are made up of three donations to the University Archives. Accession Numbers 90-34 and 90-49 were donated on April 4 and May 22, 1990, by Robert Breen, and Accession Number 92-117 was donated by Lynn Miller on September 23, 1992.

Related Materials

The University Archives Serials Collection includes an almost complete run of the Cameo (1913-1999), call # 55/00/17. Gertrude Breen's papers, contained in the Robert and Gertrude Breen Papers, Series 20/42, reflect her long-time involvement in the organization.

Separated Materials

One cubic foot of duplicate materials was discarded. One scrapbook, commemorating the addition of the Alpha Upsilon campus chapter (University of Missouri at Kansas City), was sent to the National Headquarters in Malden, MA.

Processing Information

Kate MacLean, Fall 2001

Guide to the Records of Zeta Phi Eta
Kate MacLean
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US