8 - Our Sisterhood’s Greatest Storytellers

The role of Chi Omega National Archivist is one that is undoubtedly crucial in telling our story over the last 125 years. Without this Sister the stories of our members, our chapters, and our Sisterhood would become as fleeting as our college years. But, because of the work that has been done in this role, we are able to reference the evidence of our history and tell our most authentic stories. Our National Archivist increases our sense of identity and envelopes us in an understanding of our culture as Chi Omegas.

Jan Blackwell became S.K.A. in 1984 and as the story goes, she and other fraternity staff were going through boxes of files that had been moved from Grandin Road, our previous office, to our office in Carew Tower when she called for everyone to stop what they were doing. She was dissatisfied to see things were being thrown away, and she had the innate understanding that even though some of the documents might have looked unimportant at the time, they may serve an integral role as a historic reference later on. With her interest in genealogy, she had the eye for what was needed in order to preserve our history as an organization, and it was then she knew this was a passion of hers. The Governing Council could see that this was a job she not only was willing to do, but had the talent for too.

Jan was appointed as our first National Archivist in 1986 and worked with headquarters staff member Beth Stathos over the course of years going through the historic documents that illustrated our Chi Omega stories. Jan worked from her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, often shipping boxes of scanned materials back and forth. She would also frequently visit headquarters weeks at a time to sift through and archive countless documents and photos for hours on end.

After more than 20 years of service Jan was ready to step down as National Archivist. She had been working with Lyn Harris on a Firesides committee and the two had known each other for years before Jean Mrasek, the S.H. at the time, called Lyn to discuss the possibility of stepping into this new role. It was then that Lyn Harris was appointed as Chi Omega’s second National Archivist in 2006. Lyn’s merits included her time as a National Consultant, Director of Chapter Services, and serving as a member of recruitment, Convention, and Firesides teams. Because of this experience and her two notable history degrees she had a noble grasp on Chi Omega and the importance of preserving our history.

Lyn Harris presenting on the archives at Convention 2018 in her famously decorated collegiate button sweater.

Lyn still serves as our current National Archivist, speaking at chapter events, Conventions, and Firesides to bring the stories and history of Chi Omega to life for  collegiate and alumnae members. She works mostly from her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but travels often for Chi Omega functions, meetings, and Executive Headquarters visits.

Jan and Lyn both credit Ida Pace Purdue, editor of the Eleusis, for being the first archivist in Chi Omega. Ida kept record of our history, ritual, and chapter events from the beginning of the Eleusis in 1899 until 1904 and set the standard for what our Eleusis would be for decades to come. She also went on to serve as S.H. from 1904-1910.

Lyn Harris, left, and Jan Blackwell pictured together in 2010

Prior to 1906 Chi Omega did not have a rule that the badge may only be adorned with either pearls or diamonds, so Ida Pace Purdue had a badge that was embellished with rubies, which is extremely rare. At the 2006 convention Jan Blackwell was presented with a ruby badge that read Archivist Emeritus in acknowledgement of the work she had done for the fraternity and to honor the ruby badge that belonged to Ida Pace Purdue.

Jan Blackwell’s Archivist Emeritus badge

Lyn Harris also dons a ruby badge. Hers reads Archivist, as she continues to serve as our current National Archivist.

Lyn Harris’s Archivist badge

The National Archivist position is a volunteer role, one that requires a vast and profound knowledge of Chi Omega’s history and our organization as a whole. The passion that these Sisters have for our Chi Omega past, as well as for our current collegians and alumnae, is eminent in their storytelling and in their steadfast dedication to finding the truth and the documents needed to support it.

This passion is crucial as Chi Omega continues striving to illuminate the stories of our Sisterhood from its founding and for its future.