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120 Years of Sororities at Illinois

Written by Leanna Barcelona

Around this time of year, 120 years ago, the first sororities (womens fraternities as they were known as at the time) were initiated at the University of Illinois. There is some controversy over which organization was the very first, based on charter approvals and initiation dates. In any event, Pi Beta Phi initiated nine charter members in the Zeta chapter at the university of Illinois. Kappa Alpha Theta, whose charter dates October 24, 1895, initiated thirteen members on November 9, 1895. Both of these chapters have formally written histories housed here in our archives.

Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, 1896. Found in Record Series 41/8/805
Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, 1896. Found in Record Series 41/8/805

Amelia Alpiner Stern, a charter member of Pi Beta Phi, is the author of their history. In the paper, she wrote:

Soon after the university opened in the fall of ‘94 a buzz was heard wherever groups of girls gathered and the air became charged with the idea of organizing purely social local groups which could later petition for membership in some national sorority…By the spring of 1895 the two groups had definitely outlined their purposes and one petitioned Pi Beta Phi and the other Kappa Alpha Theta.[1]

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A Homecoming History

Stadium Parade at Green and Wright Street, circa Nov. 11, 1921. Found in Record Series 39/2/20.
Stadium Parade at Green and Wright Street, circa Nov. 11, 1921. Found in Record Series 39/2/20.

Written by Leanna Barcelona

With Homecoming week in full swing, it is worthwhile to take a trip back in time and see where the idea of “homecoming” at the University of Illinois came from and what it was like in its first years.

Clarence Fiss Williams and W. Elmer Ekblaw (who also wore the hat of botanist on the Crocker Land expedition), two Illinois seniors, came up with the idea of homecoming in the spring of 1910 while sitting on the steps of the old YMCA pondering how they could give back to their alma mater before they graduated.[1]

In the 1910-11 Student Handbook, the University introduces the event to engage student enthusiasm:

On October 14, 15, and 16 of 1910 the first annual University of Illinois Fall Home Coming will be held. This will be the biggest gathering of the sons and daughters of the University and their friends ever drawn together. The University requests, almost demands, that all her alumni and alumnae return for this event.[2]

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The History of 501 E. Daniel and its Tenants

Acacia House, 501 E. Daniel, c. 1928. Found in Record Series 39/2/20.
Acacia House, 501 E. Daniel, c. 1928. Found in Record Series 39/2/20.

Written by Leanna Barcelona

Here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we have the number one graduate program in Library and Information Science. Many people are aware of this, but not as many know that the number one iSchool is housed in a former fraternity house.

Prior to the 1990s, 501 East Daniel Street belonged to the Heth chapter of Acacia, a historically masonic fraternity on campus. They acquired the property in 1914 and built an Old English country house with gables and a high-pitched roof. A little over thirty years later, they purchased a neighboring property as an annex, which later was combined with the original building for a larger structure in the 1970s. Rumor has it that the fraternity ran into some trouble and that is how the university acquired their house, but another tune claims there was a fire that damaged the house and the fraternity, unable to cover the entire costs of reconstruction, sold the building to the University. Acacia lived a nomadic life for several years, moving from old house to old house, until they bought the Phi Mu house at 302 East Armory in 2012, where they now reside.[1]

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#AskAnArchivist Day 2015 Summary

Written by Anna Trammell

Yesterday, October 1, was #AskAnArchivist Day when archivists all over the country respond to questions about their collections, the profession, and more on Twitter. Staff at the University of Illinois Archives and the Student Life and Culture Archives answered questions and shared some of their favorite items and images throughout the day. Here’s a recap of some of the questions we received:

What’s the most unusual donation we’ve received? Many student scrapbooks come to us with very unusual items in their pages. Archivist for Student Life and Culture Ellen Swain said she’s seen them with locks of hair, birthday cake, and cigars. Linda Stahnke Stepp and Bethany Anderson of the University Archives added that they’ve seen a slingshot, mouse pelts, and preserved insects!

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The Story of Orange and Blue


Black and Gold ribbon from Illinois Industrial University, (renamed UI in 1885), 1884
Black and Gold ribbon from Illinois Industrial University, 1884

Written by Ellen Swain

From its founding in 1867 until fall of 1894, the University of Illinois struggled to commit to school colors.

Professor Winton Solberg writes in his history of the University:

For years, uncertainty existed as to the University colors. Many different color combinations had gained recognition, with the Athletic Association making the selection. For a long time old gold and black were accepted, but they were common in other colleges and therefore not a distinguishing mark of Illinois. In the early 1890s, when the athletic coach was from Dartmouth, Dartmouth green was a favorite color. 1

In 1894, UI President Andrew Draper and students met the issue head-on.   Both felt that the University needed a “rallying point” for college activities. Furthermore, the new Engineering Hall was almost completed and the celebration required a colorful display. Continue reading “The Story of Orange and Blue”