The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi - Winter 2024

Page 30

The Day the Pi Phis Came to the White House By Historian and Archivist FRAN DESIMONE BECQUE, New York Alpha

Nearly 100 years ago, on April 11, 1924, more than 1,200 Pi Phis, including founders JENNIE HORNE TURNBULL and INEZ SMITH SOULE, posed for a picture on the White House lawn; the culmination of months of planning and a cherished memory for our sisterhood. It commemorated a unique occasion in the history of both Pi Beta Phi and the United States. First Lady GRACE GOODHUE COOLIDGE, a charter member of Vermont Beta at the University of Vermont, was honored by our Fraternity with an official portrait painted by Howard Chandler Christy. On that April afternoon, nearly 100 years ago, Pi Beta Phi presented the portrait to the United States—and it remains on display in the China Room in the East Wing of the White House.

The June 1924 issue of The Arrow credits Michigan Beta KATHARINE TOWER BARNES with setting in motion the plan to present a portrait of the First Lady to the nation. She wrote that the idea “just drifted into my mind one day last summer. It lay tucked away until November, when a small group of scattered Pi Beta Phis held a Cookie Shine with me in Concord, New Hampshire. Their enthusiasm prompted a letter to Massachusetts Alpha ANNA ROBINSON, a dear friend of Grace’s since their meeting at the 1901 Syracuse Convention, who suggested we show our love and appreciation of the signal honor that had come to Mrs. Coolidge by keeping a portrait of our First Lady of the Land always in the White House, so surely does she stand for gracious American womanhood.”

Below: The only woman without a hat in the picture is the First Lady (front row, center in white)—she was at her home and therefore did not wear a hat. The other women were visitors, and in 1924, one always wore a hat when visiting. Another notable Pi Phi, Grand President AMY BURNHAM ONKEN, Illinois Epsilon, had commissioned a new hat for the occasion, but it didn’t turn up in time for the event. She is stood beside the First Lady and instead wearing a borrowed hat from another attendee, and it appears by her expression this was a disappointment on an otherwise joyous day.


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