Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest Greek letter society in the United States, was founded December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary. The intent of its founders was to have an organization that discussed the concerns of a fledgling nation and promoted a congenial brotherhood of select young men.
Phi Beta Kappa was initially a secret society requiring an oath. However, in the first four years of its existence, the cloak of secrecy was abandoned. During those four years the organization elected fifty male members. In 1780, the College of William and Mary was forced to close down due to the invading British Army. After this event, Phi Beta Kappa began to file chapters at other universities. It was not until 1875 that individual chapters allowed female members. In 1883, when Phi Beta Kappa became a national organization, all chapters were open to women.
The charter of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of North Dakota was granted in 1913. In the spring of 1914, the chapter was officially installed. Phi Beta Kappa promotes academic achievement and potential members must demonstrate high academic ability and meet stringent grade point requirements. In addition to seeking members, Phi Beta Kappa launched such intellectual mediums as the Visiting Scholars Program, in which it sought to broaden the knowledge of all university students.
The bulk of the Phi Beta Kappa Collection is its membership, financial, correspondence, Triennial Council, and publication records. Membership materials, 1914-1993, include letters of invitation into the organization and letters of acceptance from selected students. There is also correspondence dealing with the spring and fall elections when new members are chosen. Membership lists include the names of potential members, accepted members, and grade point averages. Also included are newspaper clippings of new members, order forms for Phi Beta Kappa keys, membership receipts, membership file cards, and, in some cases, actual membership certificates.
The financial records date from 1914 to 1986. The Treasurer's Report lists the chapter's financial condition year by year from 1914 to 1967. The financial records, 1914-1965, contain, for the most part, receipts for registration fees and Phi Kappa Key receipts. The financial records from 1966 to 1986 contain a far greater number of receipts, including bank statements, deposit slips, and limited tax information.
The correspondence files, 1907-1992, include correspondence dealing with the formation of the chapter, university correspondence, and correspondence from the national office; also included is correspondence with the chapter secretary, the majority of which is with the national office.
The Triennial Council Records include correspondence relating to selection of delegates, location of meetings, financial considerations, and delegate's manuals.
Phi Beta Kappa publications include the Phi Beta Kappa Key (Chester Fritz Library holds hard bound volumes of the Key, 1910-1931), the Phi Beta Kappa Bulletin, which documents meetings of the organization on a national level, and the Key Reporter, the national newsletter.