In 1895, a vision manifested by five brilliant minds came to life, bearing the name Chi Omega. Dr. Charles Richardson, Jean Vincenheller, Jobelle Holcombe, Christina May Boles, and Alice Cary Simonds constructed the secrets, symbolism, and ritual that laid the foundation for this female fraternal organization. These four women valued knowledge, integrity, courage, culture, intelligence and aspired for the unity of women who shared their passions and pursuits.
Across the country, a plethora of women followed their movement, seeking the promise of enrichment of character and community that Chi Omega brought to its members. Eventually, more chapters formed, making Chi Omega the largest Greek women’s organization in the world. Now, we look to the house in Fayetteville, Arkansas as the physical manifestation of the founders’ ambitions.
125 years after the sorority’s founding, we wonder: if the walls of 940 West Maple Street could talk, what would they share with us today?
Certainly, they would recall the original bricks that built the home in 1928 and earned the status as a historic landmark at the University of Arkansas. Fixed at the top of “The Hill,” the house could tell about the time it was the only Greek house on Maple Street. These walls mourned the passing of Dr. Richardson and Alice Simonds, the two founders who did not see the Psi Chapter come to life. Nevertheless, those same walls knew Jean, Jobelle, and Christina in all their livelihood and had the privilege of hosting the initiations of Jobelle in 1945 and Jean in 1951. Psi celebrates the accomplishments of all five women, along with the accomplishments of the chapter, proudly exhibiting their prominence in our Founders’ Library.
With numerous artifacts nailed to these walls, visitors of the Psi house can witness the exponential growth of the fraternity. On the walls hang composite pictures of the Psi Chapter’s 3,000 initiated members, growing from the fourteen original members to the 115 pledge sisters in the class of 2019. Black and white photographs commemorate the events hosted by early members, some featuring Chi Omega’s Greek Theatre that was constructed at the university in 1930. These walls even display the progression of our first badge made from dental gold to our most current member pin.
Psi’s walls could confirm or deny the urban legends of the house. Only they know if Jobelle’s spirit still roams the halls and if anyone actually climbed out of the front window to go on a date! The walls could tell how many women scattered their names on bunk bed boards and hidden desk drawers. The red couch room would share the details of the peaceful protest that occurred when members objected to disposing of the red couch by sitting on it, in hopes to preserve the memories in the new house for years to come. We would hope to hear about the first chapter meeting held behind its doors—although the walls would protect the secrets whispered amongst its members. The walls could sing the words to Shades after listening to the verses time and time again. Perhaps, if the walls could talk, we would know exactly why our founders chose “Psi” as the name of the Mother Chapter.
Hearing the stories of the house’s early days, we would learn about the 45 women that first called Psi their home. The walls could know how many people have climbed our staircase over the past 90 years. Preserving the original house, continuous updates and expansions allowed for greater opportunity. After many renovations, Psi now houses over 90 young women year after year. Possibly, those walls could explain the amazing chaos of living in an attic: whether you lived in a room with ten, twelve, or sixteen girls, all can testify that it is an incomparable experience that fosters life-long friendships. The attic walls would tell about all clothes borrowed, movies watched, and laughs shared. From two girls to three girls,to six girls, those bedrooms hold memories that will always be cherished by its occupants. With nail polish parties and pre-function pampering, even the bathroom walls could speak on the prevalence of sweet sisterhood shared within the Psi house.
Yet, the house is more than a museum or residence: it is a place that provides community and comfort for all of its members. The walls echo the resounding yays of recruitment week and the music of bid day dance parties. The kitchen overflows with inviting smells and conversations at Chicken Finger Fridays, and the red couch room could only describe our popcorn-filled T.V. binges. The sun-deck has heard the praises of beautiful weather and the groans of unforeseen sunburns. From late nights to early mornings, the walls of our study spaces would attest to the multitude of hours that young women devoted to their academics. We would be told of the piano playing, picture taking, and secret sharing from the walls of our formal, while our front foyer has heard every “hi” and “bye” as women have come and gone through our front door for almost a century.
If the walls of Psi could talk, they would have much to say. Yet, as Psi member and former S.H. Winnie Hopkins Bowker stated in 1926, “we must not restrict Chi Omega to the small sphere of our respective chapter.” While the Psi Chapter is the embodiment of Chi Omega’s founding, it is not the epitome of the organization. Indeed, Chi Omega is neither a singular house nor person. Built by four young women and a local dentist, Chi Omega is the sisterhood of over 362,000 members at 181 collegiate chapters and 246 alumnae chapters. Our former National Archivist Jan Boyd Blackwell best encapsulates our legacy: “Chi Omega is a home wherever you are. Yesterday—today—and tomorrow—for all generations.” Today, on its 125th anniversary, we celebrate Chi Omega as the solidarity of purposeful and promising women across the world, and steadfast sisterhood for 125 years to come.