Biographical or Historical Information
The Mortar Board chapter at Purdue University began with the creation of the SLS honor society in the fall of 1924. The ideals and goals of SLS were embodied in its name, the letters standing for Service, Leadership, and Scholarship. The seven senior women inducted into the organization in 1924 initially operated secretly and individually within the community to achieve these standards; the ultimate goal was to eventually secure affiliation with the National Mortar Board society. Beginning with the first class of inductees in the spring of 1925, SLS moved into the public sphere and began to operate as a cohesive unit. SLS restricted membership to senior women with a minimum grade average of 85, and they were initiated during May Day festivities of their junior year.
The focus within SLS was on providing opportunities for and recognition of leadership by women students and the support of their character development. From its inception, the group aligned itself with other women’s organizations and leaders on campus including the Women’s Athletic Association, the Young Women’s Christian Association, and the Dean of Women. During the spring of 1926, SLS members began to more actively pursue their proposal for acceptance into the National Mortar Board society. Members compiled a petition in scrapbook form to be presented by an SLS delegate at the National Mortar Board Conference in November of 1926. The book contains historical information about and photos of Purdue, SLS, and SLS members and alumnae. Also included in the book are several letters of support from regional Mortar Board chapters and prominent members of Purdue faculty.
After their petition was approved in the fall of 1926, SLS changed their name to the Mortar Board honor society. Membership was still restricted to senior women of high scholastic aptitude. Dean Carolyn Shoemaker was a faculty member of the society and supported their various endeavors in the early years, including the sponsorship of a women’s glee club at Purdue, Alpha Lambda Delta, and the Gold Peppers. In addition to providing support for other women’s groups on campus, Mortar Board hosted annual dances, teas, and breakfasts and engaged in volunteer work in the community. By the 1930s, they also began to donate scholarship funds to the Dean of Women to be distributed to deserving women students; these early awards served as a precursor for the better-known Mortar Board scholarships and fellowships.
Beginning in 1945, Mortar Board also contributed financially to the scholarship funds offered jointly by the Gold Peppers and Women’s Panhellenic Association. Mortar Board’s contributions to the various scholarship funds were collected through their annual calendar sales. By 1955, calendar sales were successful enough to enable Mortar Board to establish a separate scholarship fund in addition to the money contributed to the jointly awarded scholarships. A report compiled by the Mortar Board Scholarship Committee indicates that by 1971, the group had contributed over $100k to women pursuing their education. After the advent of Title IX legislation and the inclusion of male students in the club, the scholarships became available to men as well—but it does seem as though women students and Mortar Board members and alumni were given precedence.
In addition to their significant contributions to scholarship funds at Purdue University, the Barbara Cook Chapter of the Mortar Board Society sponsored a number of other efforts at the university: lecture series, health clinics, and informational books. In addition, the group sponsored long-lasting testaments to their presence such as various memorials to the Deans of Women and Amelia Earhart and a pond/sitting area at the Ag Hort Park in honor of their 50th anniversary.
The club operates today with a continued focus on the tenets of scholarship, leadership, and service. Annual calendar sales still fund numerous scholarship and fellowship opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
MSP 148, Mortar Board records, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries
Debris yearbooks, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University
Note written by Virginia Pleasant