Kay Smith Larson
History Chairman 2002-2010 January 2009
Have any of the United States first ladies been Kappas? Yes, Lucy Ware Webb Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes, president from 1877 to 1881, and Lou Henry Hoover, wife of Herbert Hoover, president from 1929 to 1933, were both Kappas.
On December 1, 1880, Lucy Webb Hayes accepted the invitation of Rho Chapter, Ohio Wesleyan, to become an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity. Her secretary wrote that “Mrs. Hayes requests me to say … that she most cordially appreciates the honor which you desire to confer upon her in selecting her for a membership in Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity of Monmouth, Ill., and she accepts with pleasure.”
The early appearance of honorary membership indicates the need that the chapters felt for the support, moral and material that alumnae currently give. Because chapter alumnae were not much older than the collegians, early chapters for a brief time looked outside the Fraternity for counsel and financial support by initiating honorary members, women whose selection generally was based on social standing and prestige locally. The last honorary member was initiated in 1884, and this membership category was abolished in 1896. Most of the honorary members were like patronesses. Between 1874 and 1884, ten chapters initiated 28 honorary members. There is no record that the Fraternity Council took the initiative in proposing any honorary member. This was a chapter privilege.
“Lou Henry Hoover, Stanford, was the first woman to graduate from Stanford with a degree in geology. She was born in 1874 in Waterloo, Iowa, and met her husband when they were both attending Stanford University. They married in 1899 and moved to China where she was a partner in her husband’s engineering work.”
Lou was a sophomore and not yet a Kappa when Lucy Evelyn Wight, St. Lawrence, Grand President 1890-1892, went to Stanford for graduate study. The two women became close friends. Evelyn Wight became Stanford’s first dean of women, and Lou Henry was initiated in 1896 when the Stanford chapter was four years old.
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She became national president of the Girl Scouts in 1922. She moved into the White House just before that black October day when the New York Stock Exchange crashed in 1929. The same year “she was the first first lady to broadcast a radio address to the nation from the White House. Recognizing the growing power of radio, she used it to encourage self-reliance and promote charitable assistance to the needy. She was also the first to abandon two White House social traditions: ‘calling’ on wives of cabinet members and government officials and the annual New Year’s Day receptions at the White House.”
We take pride in these Kappas, each of whom served the country as first lady. “In the honors of one, we shall all be proud!”
Based on information from Smithsonian Q & A: Presidential Families, 2006, Edith Petersilia Mayo, George Washington.