Omicron Nu Centennial

1 08 2012

Posing at the 15th National Conclave of Omicron Nu in 1941 are the society’s founders, left to right: Maude Gilchrist, “Miss Freyhoefer,” and Agnes Hunt Cade.

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

The girls of Omicron Nu’s Practice House pose for a photograph outside of the Union Building in 1925, which is under construction.

MSU because the first chapter began on our campus, and 2012 is their centennial anniversary!

This photograph from 1926 shows seven of the Omicron Nu housemates sliding down the staircase railing. The caption on the photograph reads, “labor saving device.”

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 housemates preserved the footprint (“His, her, or its mark”) of their cat Ambrosia , who makes multiple appearances in the Omicron Nu Practice House’s scrapbook.

This photograph shows a group of Omicron Nu girls nicknamed the “Half-Baked Band,” who are holding a variety of household objects in 1927.

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 Practice House women of Omicron Nu reunite for this photograph in 1928.

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.


The Women of West Circle

15 03 2011

In keeping with the theme of women at MSU, I thought it would be important to honor the women for whom the dorms of West Circle are named after.  The atmosphere of the West Circle community is beyond compare and the historical feel I get from walking from residence hall to residence hall makes me feel as though I have been transported back in time to the late 1940s when West Circle was the newest area on campus. Six buildings make up the complex, Williams, Yakeley, Gilchrist, Mayo, Campbell, and Landon Halls. Each hall is named after an important woman who contributed to MSU in some way.

Built in 1931, Mary Mayo Hall was the first West Circle residence hall. Mary Mayo was born and raised on a farm near Battle Creek, Michigan.  After graduating high school she became a district school teacher at age seventeen and married Civil War veteran Perry Mayo at age twenty. Mrs. Mayo would have two children, a daughter and a son.  She wished for her daughter to attend a collegiate institution; however she saw a lack of education for her daughter at MAC, because (at the time) a woman’s program did not exist. Mary Mayo became very active in the The Grange. In this organization, women were admitted as equals to men and therefore became a salvation and outlet of companionship for many farm women. Throughout her speeches and lectures with this group, she began to advocate for a creation of a women’s course and the building of a women’s dormitory at MAC. She believed that the current curriculum offered little to farm women and even less to city women. Mrs. Mayo’s persistence in pushing for a woman’s program was heard. In 1896 the women’s course was officially created and the new Women’s Building (Morrill Hall) was originally supposed to be named after her.

(Rumored Mary Mayo Ghost Story: It is a long standing folklore tale at MSU: Mary Mayo Hall is haunted by the ghost of Mary Mayo. As a third year resident of West Circle, I have heard numerous tall tales regarding these hauntings. Residents say that they can sometimes hear Mrs. Mayo walking throughout the first floor and sometimes even playing piano. One rumor states that Mary Mayo died in the building [even though she died 28 years before the building’s completion], another states that her daughter died in the building [also not true, for her daughter died before the building’s completion], and a third states that a young lady committed suicide on the haunted fourth floor [no record of this]. So is it haunted? Come visit and I’ll leave that to you to decide…)

Sarah Langdon Williams Hall was the second West Circle building to come along. Built in 1937, this dorm was dedicated to the wife of the college’s first president, Joseph Williams. Sarah and her husband were leaders in fighting against oppressed humanity, for the cause of woman suffrage, and for general civic and social reform. She lived in Michigan with her husband while he served as president as MAC, but after his death, she returned to her home city of Toledo, Ohio. While in Toledo, she founded and edited the Ballot Box, the official publication of the woman suffrage movement; she was also involved in the Toledo Woman’s Suffrage Association, the Toledo New Century Club (of which she was a founder), and the Toledo University of Arts and Trades. She was also a well known friend of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Mrs. Williams also served on the Civil War battle fields as a nurse and was mother to three children.

Campbell Hall was the next dorm to be completed in West Circle. Built in 1937 as well, this building was named after Louise Hathaway Campbell. Mrs. Campbell was a state leader in the Home Economics Extension Service and was appointed to the Dean of Women position in 1923. She came to Michigan after working in Iowa and North Dakota where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in the State Agricultural College at Fargo. She was an enthusiastic person and an outstanding leader. While serving as the Dean of Women she expanded the Division of Home Economics by creating a faculty of four associate professors, three assistant professors, six instructors, and ten house mothers.  She re-organized the curriculum and divided the courses into different groups such as Foods and Nutrition, Institutional Management, Clothing, Textiles and Related Arts, and Vocational. Mrs. Campbell also broadened the division with the establishment of a graduate and research department.

In 1947, Yakeley Hall was built. Named after Elida Yakeley, this hall was, and still remains, a female only dormitory. Ms. Yakeley was MSU’s first registrar. She was very personable and easy to talk to. Throughout her thirty years working as a registrar, she personally knew every student that registered within the University – granted, at the time there were only 500 students enrolled. Ms. Yakeley stated that her job was very easy and a painless process (unlike today’s system). There were only three courses available: agriculture, engineering, and the women’s course. She would also figure out a way to streamline the enrollment process which would prove to help the department for many years to come.

Landon has the next building erected in West Circle. Linda Eoline Landon Hall was built in 1948 and named for possibly one of the most influential and well liked women in this history of MSU. Linda Landon served as the school librarian for 41 years from 1891 to 1932. She loved her job and the students immensely and the school loved her back. She was born in Niles, Michigan in 1886 and would marry Rufus Landon. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class and became an instructor at Kalamazoo public schools. She was originally an English teacher at MAC, making her the first woman instructor on the campus.  She eventually became the school librarian and did wonderful things during her tenure. As the librarian, the library doubled in size, quadrupled the amount of books, and the number of students who benefited by her instructions and kind suggestions grew exponentially. Every individual that graduated during the last 30 years of her term would always have a personal reminder of Mrs. Landon in their diploma for it was she who affixed the ribbons to them. The 1912 Wolverine was dedicated in her honor. It stated: “No person at MAC more deserves the honor of the dedication of the year’s Wolverine than does that amiable, pleasant little lady in black who more than anyone else has been tutoring thousands of students in the art of appreciating, loving, and valuing these true friends in life – books”.

The other hall built in 1948 was Gilchrist Hall named for Maude Gilchrist. *Maude Gilchrist became the Dean of Women in the summer of 1901. She brought with her a wide educational background and vast teaching experience. She received a Bachelor’s of Science from Iowa State Teachers College; spent three years at Wellesley College, where she tutored freshmen in mathematics; spent a year in Germany at the University of Goettingen; and received a M.A. from the University of Michigan. She also spent a summer at Iowa Agricultural College studying prairie plants under Dr. Charles Bessey; a summer at the Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory; and took two winter courses in economic botany at Harvard University under Dr. George Goodale. Prior to MAC, she spent three years as an instructor at Iowa State Teachers College, ten years teaching botany at Wellesley, and four years as Dean at the Illinois Women’s College. She taught ethics and the history of education, as well as the occasional section on botany, when needed. During her 12 years at MAC, enrollment in the Women’s Course increased more than 125 per cent and the curriculum was advanced to a higher level.

*Taken from the University Archives and Historical Collections online exhibit

I am very proud to be a resident of West Circle. The residence halls were named after great women who contributed a lot to MSU and the buildings will forever stand as a reminder of their great achievements!