Thursday, May 23, 2024

Alpha Phi Beta Beta chapter receives state historic marker

October 13, 2023
<p>Former and current members of Alpha Phi Beta Beta with new historic marker. Photo by Frank J. Bunker. Photo courtesy of Melissa Bunker</p>

Former and current members of Alpha Phi Beta Beta with new historic marker. Photo by Frank J. Bunker. Photo courtesy of Melissa Bunker

MSU’s first sorority, Alpha Phi Beta Beta, was ordained by the state of Michigan with a historic marker at a dedication ceremony on Sept. 23. 

Although the sorority was established in 1922, its roots trace back to 1891, when a group of 17 women founded a literary society called The Feronian Society, named after the goddess Feronia.

At the time the literary society was founded, there were only about 30 women enrolled at Michigan Agricultural College — which later became Michigan State University — on a campus of 1,500 male students.

Associate Professor of history and member of the Michigan Historical Commission Delia Fernández-Jones said the effort of those 17 women was an act of “placemaking.”

“Placemaking includes how people make a place for themselves in spaces where they’re afforded little resources or capital,” Fernández-Jones said. 

Fernández-Jones said the historical marker helps to remind students at MSU that “universities were not always welcoming places to women,” and that the opportunities that exist today for women and other marginalized groups exist because those from past generations worked hard to make their presence known and acknowledged. 

“Opportunities are never just given," Fernández-Jones said. "People fought for these opportunities."

Alpha Phi Beta Beta alumnus Lorie Dietz, who was a member from 1975-1978 and currently serves on the housing corporation board that funds and supports the current chapter's house, said that by researching the history of the organization while applying for the historical marker, she learned about the opposition that the women who founded the Feronian Society faced. 

"The men didn’t want (the women) to have their own society," Dietz said. "They frankly didn’t want to have women on campus."

A yearbook from 1901 that Dietz provided to The State News features a letter from a member of the Feronian Society reflecting on the organization’s history and the hardships it faced: 

“There was no regular, nor suitable place of meeting, nor did there seem to be the slightest prospect of any, while perhaps hardest of all to bear, with at least outward equanimity, was the persistent fun made of the (Feronian Society) by the exclusive circles of Wells’ and Williams’ Halls." 

The group persisted for the next 30 years, until 1922, when the members of the Feronian Society formed the Beta Beta chapter of the Alpha Phi national greek organization. 

This change occurred a year after Michigan Agricultural College lifted its ban on greek organizations on campus. According to the MSU archives, part of the university’s decision to lift the ban was due to an increase in enrollment and a lack of on-campus living spaces. 

The Beta Beta chapter hosted a weekend-long celebration for its 100 year anniversary last year. Dietz, along with hundreds of other alumni, was in attendance for the celebration. 

Dietz said the event was an opportunity to appreciate the legacy of the women who started the Feronian Society. 

“What they did for multiple generations of women following them, it’s remarkable," Dietz said.

Dietz said that she and other alumni are planning to start a leadership and personal development program for Beta Beta chapter members because they, too "want to create that legacy for future generations." Dietz said the program will be launched in the coming year. 

Current Chapter President Kenzie Driscoll expressed gratitude for the women, like Dietz and the Feronians, who came before her. 

“One of the coolest parts about being an Alpha Phi at Michigan State is becoming a part of the rich history of the thousands of women who came before us, women who walked these very streets and this campus,” Driscoll said. “It's so cool to think about how traditions, times, and the world have changed around us, but the bond that unites us all is Alpha Phi.” 

Vice President of Membership Recruitment Faith Dallo said the house’s front lounge and study area is called ‘The Feronian’ as an homage to the founders of the Beta Beta chapter. 

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“The members of the Feronian Society were in search of support and sisterhood, which remains true of why our members join Alpha Phi today,” Dallo said.  

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