History of Delta Chi Chapter

“In the spring (of 1975), Grand Council voted to colonize the University of Virginia and sent ‘an urgent message’ to all (alumnae) chapters, saying, in part, ‘We must rely on your bringing to our attention those girls from your areas who could make good members…’” [1] That is how each of us came to be contacted by a Charlottesville Theta alumna after someone from home had written a recommendation to Theta for us. Some of us had never heard of Kappa Alpha Theta.  Some were Theta legacies, and some of us were legacies to other sororities.  It was hard being in the fourth class of women at the University; we were not fully welcomed by some in the community, and so when the opportunity arose to meet like-minded women to start a new group on the Grounds, we all said yes.

Not many of us knew anyone else. There were twelve of us who signed the original petition for charter:  Marinda Elliott and Dorothy “Sissy” Best, Dallas; Margot Kepper, New Orleans; Meg Jemison and Terry Maguire, Memphis; Mary “Capey” Bear, Charlottesville; Frances Humphreys, Charleston, SC;  Betty Grey Waring, Dunnsville, VA; Margaret Ann Sawyer, Lynchburg, VA; Mary Jo Freeman, Nashville; and Ellen Witscher and Lynn Yerges, St. Louis.  This group of twelve pledged to Kappa Alpha Theta in April 1975, but we had a long way to go before the University would accept us as a fully installed chapter of the national sorority.  We chose the name Delta Chi since that was to be our Theta chapter name. 

We came together in a Preston Square apartment that served as our headquarters.  There were two groups that colonized before us:  Zeta Tau Alpha, the first sorority UVA, served the women Education and Nursing students who attended the University when it was still all male. They recolonized in 1974.  Delta Delta Delta came in September 1975 (they also had a headquarters apartment in Preston Square).  Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma were colonizing in 1975-76 as well. 

Theta sent Tori Butler, who had recently graduated from Albion College in Michigan, to be our resident counselor—someone to teach us how to be Thetas.  We elected officers and held meetings, all according to the Theta bylaws.  Ellen Witscher was elected President.  We arranged and attended many meetings with the Dean of Women and the InterSorority Council to bring Delta Chi chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta to the Grounds.  The Dean was not particularly helpful or encouraging, but we persevered.  We were required to become a local colony for one year before the University would recognize us as a national group.  We became involved in university and community projects to prove our worthiness.  In the fall, 1975, we had an informal rush and gained three upper-class members:  Jean Hudson, Philadelphia; Anne Macon, Richmond; and Lynn Peddy, Baltimore.  Thereafter the InterSorority Council organized a formal rush for all sororities in January, where the fledging sororities held formal rush parties in “borrowed” fraternity houses.  This was our first experience at the multiple parties and late night meetings that current members recognize as “rush”.  Through clever skits and visible enthusiasm, we recruited fourteen new members: Claudia Beebe, Muncie, IN; Barbara Bernard, McLean VA; Anne Colmery, Jacksonville, FL; Jan deRegt, Alexandria, VA; Mary Gambel, New Orleans; Susan Novak, Philadelphia,  Betsy Woelfel, Wilkes-Barre;  Andy Price, Kimball Price and Terri Vetter, Richmond; Anne Palasthy, Martinsville, VA;  Carla Peyton, Fort Lauderdale; Susan Pierson, West Orange, NJ;  and Betsy Vandeventer, Virginia Beach.

The group of 28 (sadly, one could not be initiated due to her grades) was initiated in a grand Installation Weekend on April 3, 1976.  In addition to these initiates, we had two transfers into our chapter, Cheryl Hannon, and Jan Joness, who had been initiated at other schools.  Theta took an unprecedented step of initiating two local women who had connections to Theta: Mrs. George Spence, whose daughter was a Theta at Vanderbilt; and Edie Hofstead Cabaniss of Richmond, whose mother, Ellen Bowers Hofstead, was a former Grand President of Theta.  Mrs. Spence lived in Charlottesville and was a beloved member who generously gave her time and gracious support to the chapter.  She served as the Permanent Alumnae Secretary for many years.

According to a report filed at the National office, our installation was a glorious spring weekend, “a dream of almost two years come true”.  The installation team was headed by Marty White, Grand President, and included other Theta national officers:  Sue Supple, Betty Lambert, Marge McAdams, Lloydette Hoof, CDP District XVII, Carol Brewer, ADP District XVII, and Grace Colwell, Colony Advisor.  Representatives of other chapters in the District, Gamma Mu, Maryland; Delta Xi, University of North Carolina; and Beta Lambda, William & Mary assisted.    They helped set up the initiation service at St. Paul’s Church.   We were pledged on Friday night and celebrated afterward at the apartment.  We received pledging gifts for the chapter and ourselves.  A punch bowl was opened, and Delta Xi sent a beautiful silver hors d’oeuvres tray. Beta Lambda sent an engraved pewter plate.  Each Delta Chi initiate received a Theta Kite pin cushion (more like a small pillow, I still have mine) made by Grace Colwell.  Sue Supple presented Lynn Yerges with a crested necklace as the outstanding pledge; this gift to the chapter was to be awarded each year to the outstanding pledge.  Quite an honor!

One hundred ten attended the installation/initiation banquet at the Ramada Inn.  This included all those listed above as well as a few parents and Theta relatives.  It was quite an event, capped off by it being Grand President Marty White’s birthday.

The installation team was surprised to see Beta Bridge the next morning.  It was painted black with gold lettering: “Kappa Alpha Theta is here to Stay — April 3, 1976”.  New Thetas had painted the bridge in the dark of night—or rather a very early morning!

Sunday afternoon brought the Model Chapter Meeting. All officers were installed.  Mary Jo Freeman became the new President of Delta Chi Chapter, pinned with the new “old” President’s pin, which had been the president’s pin at George Washington University. This was presented to us by the Washington Alumnae Chapter. A celebration tea followed at Newcomb Hall and although all the Deans were invited, none attended; there were only a very few from the University who came.

That brings us to our 40th Anniversary Reunion celebration and recognition of Delta Chi’s gift to the Rotunda restoration fund, held October 13-15, 2017.  Delta Chi members donated the largest single gift from a group toward the restoration.  One million dollars strong, Delta Chi members continue to show their loyalty to Theta and to the University. How exciting it was for us charter members who could attend, to visit the house, see the old and new composites (side by side!) and learn of the daily lives of current Thetas at UVA. It was gratifying to hear from the many Thetas who pledged in the early 1980’s that they did not realize Theta was a new sorority at that time. It all seemed so organized, so grounded. Current and alumnae members wanted to hear the history of the chapter’s founding and so we were elected to dig deep in our memory banks to write this document. The hard work was well worth it. It’s fun to meet someone new and realize we share a connection through Theta.

My best memory of the reunion weekend though is this: what a thrill it was for us to have several of these women say, “You were the founders?  Wow!’ followed by a heartfelt “Thank you — Theta was such a great part of my time at UVA”.  Nothing could make us prouder. 

Ellen Witscher Trovillion and Lynn Yerges Buhl

Many thanks to Gretchen Brown, Membership Coordinator, and Noraleen Young, Staff Archivist, national office for Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, for providing historical documents used to jog our memories!

[1] Wilson, Carol Green We Who Wear Kites * The Story of Kappa Alpha Theta * Vol. II * Twenty Years of Growth: 1956-1976.  Published 1976