By Liz Johns, Delta Omicron, National Archivist
History Rewritten: Revisiting What was Lost “God cannot alter the past, though historians can.” - Samuel Butler, “Prose Observations.” Historians play one of the most important roles in society: as the
for Helen Cookston Devor, Kappa and Omega, to create a record of
power in shaping the understanding of the past which affects
Brief History,” 1930, page 23).
people who create the official record of events, they maintain great the lives of people for years to come. The historian synthesizes
primary source materials to create the official historical record, and inevitably, something is always left out. When this happens, those leftover pieces of information become lost. We forget they were
part of the original story and eventually, as collective memory fades, newer generations never even knew they existed.
Such is the challenge for each of Tri Sigma’s historians.
Tri Sigma’s first history, “A Brief History of Sigma Sigma Sigma,”
was written in 1917 by Bess Brower Willis, Gamma and Omega. And
it truly was brief - less than 30 pages with short bios of the Founders, abbreviated descriptions of chapters and information on the few
conventions. This was revised in 1930 by Historian Dorothy Willis
Whitman, Omicron and Omega, who added significant passages but
still kept the booklet to about the same size. It was not until the 1940s that Tri Sigma started to develop the more in-depth historical record we are familiar with today. In 1945, Edna Conway Schmidt, Xi and
Omega, was appointed as a traveling journalist to visit locations and people important to Tri Sigma’s history. Schmidt visited each of the
living Founders, many of the first national officers and women from the early chapters and took detailed notes during each visit.
The notes and documents Schmidt obtained in 1945 were
used extensively by Susanne Stinson, Omicron and Omega, for the
every member initiated into the sorority over the past 20 years (“A
Now, we are tackling the eighth edition of Tri Sigma’s historical
account and we do not want to lose these tidbits of our story. As we work through the massive amount of forgotten documents in our
sorority’s archives, we hope to bring back some of the history that
has been lost and draw clearer connections between our past and
our bright future. We will need your help: We will want your stories,
your opinions and your perspectives to help bring Tri Sigma history to a new generation. Over the next year we will be reaching out to you, as Schmidt did over 60 years ago, to help tell the Tri Sigma story. The inside cover of the third edition presents a poem that serves as a reminder as we go through this journey:
on the page that is left for you
that you will be written
for the future to remember
Caring calls for commitment When we give, we receive.
For questions regarding the National Archives or Tri Sigma’s history, contact us at email@example.com.
writing of “The Years Remembered of Sigma Sigma Sigma 1898-
1953.” The introduction of this books admits that “chosen facts from it will be found in the body of this volume” (page ix). The writers had to make decisions on what information to include and what to leave out. “The Years Remembered” was published in two more editions and a supplement covering Tri Sigma’s history through 1970.
The fourth edition got a new title, “The Path from Farmville,” and
changed from a thematic history to a chronological telling. Today, we have seven editions of Tri Sigma history, but in each edition, more
and more is cut out to allow room for the amazing new stories to tell. But as those details are lost, we lose the little pieces of interesting
Sigma trivia. From our current edition, we know that the membership card system was established during the 1917 Convention in
Chicago, Illinois. But what we miss is that it took only four months
42 the TRIANGLE | spring 2018
Edna Conway Schmidt, Xi and Omega, Historian 1945-1947, embarked on “A Sentimental Journey” to interview the living Founders and other early members, creating one of the most important collection of documents related to Tri Sigma’s early history.