Motar Board - National College Senior Honor Society


Mortar Board was the first national organization honoring senior college women. Today, it has grown into a comprehensive national college senior honor society that selects first-rate students in their junior year who exemplify the Ideals of scholarship, leadership and service. Here are some landmarks in the history of Mortar Board.

1915 - A member of Mortar Board, a local honor society at The Ohio State University, met a member of Pi Sigma Chi from Swarthmore College on the campus of the University of Chicago. Each woman wore a small pin in the shape of a mortarboard. Through discussion, they realized each pin represented an honor society for women with similar values and procedures.

1918 - Representatives from Cornell University, The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, Swarthmore College and Syracuse University held the founding meeting on February 15 on the campus of Syracuse University. At this time the pin, motto and Bylaws were adopted. The organization remained nameless.

1919 - Although the organization had informally been called "Mortar Board" in numerous pieces of correspondence since the founding meeting, the name was not made official until the second national convention, held at The University of Michigan. It was decided that national officers would come from ranks of alumni, and institutions would petition the Society to be considered for a chapter charter.

1923 - Official delegates of each chapter in attendance at the national conference at Swarthmore College determined that districts in Mortar Board should be established to help facilitate the growing size of the Society, which had grown to 18 chartered chapters. It was also agreed that campuses declared "first rate" by the American Association of University Women be permitted to petition Mortar Board for a charter.

1925 - The Mortar Board Quarterly (now called the Forum) was established by the delegates. 

1926 - The National Council was expanded to eight members and 35 chapters answered the roll call at the national conference. At this conference, the first national project of the Society was created when chapters were encouraged to provide "personnel work" (later called "vocational guidance") on campus. Mortar Boards chapters were charged with helping other students on campus determine their course in life after graduation. The deans of women on campuses nationwide welcomed this assistance from Mortar Board.

1930s - During the Great Depression many chapters' Minutes reflected the economic situation by recording projects like gathering and distributing clothing to needy college students, donating food and supporting scholarships. The effects of the Depression also had a serious impact on the Mortar Board students who graduated during this difficult period. The Mortar Board National Project of vocational assistance for graduates took on new meaning as the Depression deepened.

1937 - Mortar Board was invited to become a member of the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS). Mortar Board was the only organization composed entirely of women to be recognized by ACHS.

1941 - The first national fellowships in honor of retiring National President Katherine Wills Coleman were established at the national conference held in Buckhill Falls, Penn. Six months later, the United States was plunged into World War II, Mortar Board chapters became involved in many war related activities and projects. Grinnell College knitted sweaters for soldiers and made care packages. Illinois joined with the United Service Organization (USO) to invite servicemen to Sunday dinner, sponsored informal dances, and served as hostesses at the USO building. They also co-sponsored a fund raising Mardi Gras at the Union with the Red Cross to buy kits for soldiers going oversees. The University of Kansas and South Dakota State also were involved with Red Cross work. Ohio State members volunteered to help Draft Board 18 and were in charge of the students who helped with the gas-rationing program. West Virginia sold $648 worth of War Stamp corsages. DePauw discontinued its scholarship dinner because of food rationing and instead published the names of the honored persons in the paper. National President Coral Vanstrum Stevens reported that other chapters made blackout curtains and helped blood donors; some members acted as airplane spotters. One chapter was asked by its university to act as the committee to disseminate defense information for the entire campus.

1942 - The first African-American member joined Mortar Board at The Ohio State University, and the next year the National Council issued a statement that, "All candidates fulfilling the requirements of membership in Mortar Board . . . are eligible regardless of race, color or creed.

1943 - Mortar Board celebrated its 25th anniversary, and National President Stevens noted the society's accomplishments and challenges in a Quarterly article. She challenged members to be "leaders of women."

1949 - The Coral Vanstrum Stevens Gift Membership was established at the to honor the retiring national president who had guided the organization from 1941 to 1949 during World War II and the postwar period. The gift membership was awarded annually to a member in each chapter who otherwise would be financially unable to accept membership in Mortar Board. Now, the Jane K. Smith Gift Membership Fund is endowed to support the same aim. The 1949 convention delegates also initiated a national project for the "education of the campus for world government." This topic reflected the continuing concern with international events at the time (the United Nations was founded in 1945 and the Marshall Plan was initiated in 1946; the Korean war started in 1950). The delegates drafted a policy statement that chapters take responsibility "for bringing the facts of current international problems to the attention of the campus as a whole."

1955 - Delegates from Mortar Board's chapters voted to establish the Mortar Board National Foundation Fund to advance the purpose of the Society.

1964 - Starting in the early 1930s, Mortar Board had developed a close relationship with the National Association of Women Deans (later called the National Association for Women Deans Administrators and Counselors or NAWDAC). The National Council regularly sponsored a social gathering at NAW conferences and a close relationship became a tradition. National President Ruth Weimer (Mount) praised the continued support of the deans for offering their time and resources. The editor of the Quarterly asked deans of women to give their view of the "The Role of Mortar Board on Today's Campus." Their responses present a broad range of ideas, thoughts and suggestions. Virginia Frobes, dean at the University of Utah, wrote, "I resist strongly the possibility that Mortar Board is just another activity in which members ‘give service' and ‘do projects'." For this special group of women, Service should become a means, Leadership a tool, and Scholarship an attitude, which all combine to achieve the objective of becoming a truly educated woman." Nora Chaffin, dean at Vanderbilt, suggested, "… It is [Mortar Board members'] responsibility to invest their personal gifts and accomplishments in furthering the welfare of their school and contemporaries." Katherine Sherrill of Hood College advised that, "It is in the realm of ideas that Mortar Board can and must play its most important role." Christine Conaway, dean at Ohio State urged, "Don't underestimate your power as members of Mortar Board. As a group and as individuals you have a responsibility to interpret the role of women on your campus." Marna Brady, dean at the University of Florida reminded Mortar Board members, "Each campus is unique, and each chapter should best serve its own university within the outlines of Mortar Board's ideals." (Interestingly, during this period, the position of dean of women was sometimes replaced with a dean of students or a vice president who was often a man.)

1970s - The Quarterly was renamed to the Forum and presented in a different, and less costly format.

1970 - Delegates at national conference voted to establish a National Office. The National Office would be located on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, although that arrangement did not last long, and the National Office moved to an office building off campus.

1973 - Mortar Board instituted an award to honor women who had made outstanding contributions to the status of women, consistent with the society's Ideals, known as the National Citation. The first citation was presented to Congresswoman Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan for her role in steering the Equal Rights Amendment toward passage in the House of Representatives.

1975 - The ramifications of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, legislation that prohibited gender discrimination by organizations on campuses receiving federal funds, were taken into consideration. In a special national conference, held in October in Kansas City, membership was opened to men. The purpose of our Society was amended to include the words "to promote and advance the status of women."

1976 - The purpose was revisited, and affirmed "to emphasize the advancement of the status of women" as well as "to promote equal opportunities among all people."

1982 - Mortar Board Week was established by the delegates meeting in national conference. Each chapter was to promote Mortar Board's Ideals in February, during the week that coincided with our Society's founding.

1985 - Mortar Board delegates initiated a national project to be selected biennially, and the first of these was organ donor awareness.

1991 - The National Citation was given to President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at the national conference in Atlanta.

1993 - Mortar Board celebrated its 75th anniversary, and National President Kay MacKenzie urged chapters to update their local histories and to highlight their own founding date along with the national celebration. The National Foundation launched a campaign for a million dollar endowment.

1990s - Mortar Board chapters serve their campuses with interesting and innovative programs. In conjunction with their Mortar Board calendar project, the University of Louisville chapter held a "Curious Quotes Contest" where quotations from "famous and not-so-famous authors as well as original quotes" were solicited. Winners' names and their quotes were used throughout the calendar. New Mexico State chose a "Professor of the Month" and honored all winners at a reception at the end of the school year. Eastern Kentucky celebrated "Cultural Awareness Week" and received a grant from Mortar Board, Inc. to create "unity bracelets" to be worn during the week. Members braided black, white, brown, yellow and red bracelets representing the major races of the world. UCLA held "Cultural Diversity Day" where they brought high school students on campus to "address cultural issues concerning the development of dialogue and leadership in communities." The Mortar Board chapter at the University of Texas at El Paso inducted UTEP graduates Laura Bush, wife of the Governor, and her mother Jenna Welch as honorary members. The University of South Carolina elected Maya Angelou, presidential inaugural poet, as an honorary member in 1993 and she was given a National Citation. The University of California chapter organized a Student Community Service Center that offered assistance to students who wanted to organize community service projects and needed advice about raising money, office space, facilities, publicizing an event, or how to recruit volunteers. Northern Colorado sent birthday cards to residents of a nursing home. Texas Christian created a 36-page freshman handbook entitled, "Mortar Board Presents: What we wish we knew when we were freshmen" that included essays about college life written by chapter members. They marketed the booklet to parents of incoming freshmen. The Mary Washington College chapter helped sponsor a campus talk by Ralph Nader, a spokesperson for consumer issues and U.S. presidential candidate. Mortar Board members continued to be finalists in the Miss America contest with one active member from the Mississippi chapter and two alumni from South Carolina and Oklahoma competing.

Late 1990s - A new web page was developed and Mortar Board's Career Network was thriving. Strategic plan development occupied national leaders' time.

2002 - Delegates voted to make pro-literacy project "Reading is Leading" the permanent national project for Mortar Board.

2010 - The Mortar Board National Foundation reached the million dollar mark in endowed funds.