One of the recently finished projects here at the Archives was the processing of a collection of scrapbooks and documents belonging to the home economics society Omicron Nu. This association is particularly important to
MSU because the first chapter began on our campus, and 2012 is their centennial anniversary!
Women were admitted to the Michigan Agricultural College as early as 1870, but the actual Women’s Program did not open until 1896. A little more than ten years after the department was established, the name was changed to Home Economics and an era of great expansion began for the program. Maude Gilchrist, Dean of Home Economics during this period from 1901 – 1913, realized the need to start an honors society to, “…recognize outstanding scholarship among Home Economics students,” in her own words. Working with the other faculty members of MSU, Gilchrist first established the Michigan Home Economics Association in May of 1911, and then, at the behest of faculty, students, and with the encouragement of President Snyder, the same group formed the society Omicron Nu the following April 23, 1912.
The idea for such a society was formally discussed only four months before the constitution was written and the officers elected. Gilchrist and Professor of Domestic Science Agnes Hunt Cade created early projects to grant international fellowships and support research, and they worked to support the establishment of Omicron Nu at other colleges and universities that had four-year Home Economics courses. Within three years, sister chapters had been established at eight different universities including the New York College of Teachers, Iowa State College, Perdue, the Kansas State Agricultural College, and the Universities of Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Kansas. By 1947, Omicron Nu had held 15 national conclaves and was active on 34 campuses nation-wide; by 1987, that number had increased to 49 active chapters and almost 63,000 inducted members.
The society has gone through a number of transformations since its beginnings at M.A.C., the largest of which occurred in February of 1990, when the two honors societies of Kappa Omicron Phi and Omicron Nu consolidated to form Kappa Omicron Nu. The purpose was for unity and solidarity between the organizations, as well as greater visibility of the society. The combined forces are certainly visible – at the time of their merger, the members numbered almost 95,000 and were present on over 100 campuses. Presently, Kappa Omicron Nu remains headquartered in the East Lansing Area, where they began 100 years ago. Tucked in that century’s worth of documents, was a small piece of paper with their motto attributed to Socrates: Know thyself.