If Jobelle Holcombe were walking the halls of the Executive Headquarters with us today, she would be perplexed by our technology we so seamlessly integrate into our lives and would certainly question most of the trendy fashion choices made by our collegians. But, what she would be wholly assured of is the camaraderie of friendship, standards of excellence, and enduring purposes still as alive as they were nearly 125 years ago.
A Chi Omega Founder, Jobelle Holcombe was born February 5, 1877, to Belle and Joseph Holcomb, the first mayor of Springdale, Arkansas, with the lesser-known spelling of her family name as Jobelle Holcomb. Her family removed the “e” on their last name at an unknown point in time for an unknown reason, but Jobelle was adamant about restoring her English ancestors’ true spelling of the family name. She eventually chose to alter the spelling, an early display of her lifelong independence and personal conviction. The discrepancy can be noted throughout our Chi Omega history.
Jobelle was a freshman at the University of Arkansas and just 18 years old when Chi Omega was founded. She was described by the university yearbook as “the brightest young lady in school.” At her young age, she, along with Dr. Richardson, Ina May, Jean, and Allie, dreamt up what we know now to be national in scope and operating at a level of excellence they most likely could not have even fathomed in 1895.
Jobelle’s contributions did not end after laying the initial groundwork with her fellow Founders, rather they had just begun. She went on to serve as Psi’s first G.H. and in turn, the Fraternity’s first G.H. The women did not participate in the standardized slating as collegians do today, but instead drew names from a hat! Although it’s not known if this method of chance was used in her proceeding positions, Jobelle also went on to serve as G.K.A. and G.M. before graduating in 1898.
“We began discussing the meaning of our organization,” said Jobelle. “We often spoke of the womanly ideal which meant that each one of us would strive to be the best woman that she could think of.”
Just one year after Jobelle contributed to the Founding of Chi Omega, Cener Holcombe, Jobelle’s biological sister became the first legacy Initiated into Chi Omega on April 18, 1896.
After graduation, Jobelle began her life’s work of teaching. She taught in the public school system, then in the preparatory department of the University of Arkansas. Her professional endeavors did not keep her from Chi Omega but rather more seamlessly aligned her with her passion for enlightening women. In her early years after college, she acted as the first business manager of The Eleusis from 1899 to 1900, helping to spread communication among chapters.
In 1906 Jobelle attended Cornell University to pursue a graduate degree while serving a term as S.T.B. from 1906-1908. She installed Zeta Chapter at the University of Colorado and served as Chi Omega’s delegate to the Inter-Sorority Conference. Jobelle is credited with proposing the name be changed to the National Panhellenic Conference and went on to serve from 1906-1910.
Jobelle’s degrees, a B.A. from University of Arkansas and M.A. from Cornell University, are displayed proudly at the Executive Headquarters. In contrast to the progress we witness today, a woman receiving a bachelor’s degree in her time was rare. A woman earning her master’s degree was most often unheard of.
After finishing her graduate program, Jobelle went on to be an English professor at the University of Arkansas, a founding member of the university’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1932, Dean of Women, and the first woman to receive the honor of “Doctor of Laws” from the University. Holcombe Hall, a residence hall on the University of Arkansas campus, is named in honor of her lifelong dedication to the school.
In 1928 when Psi broke ground to build their chapter house, Jobelle was there to turn the first shovel of dirt. At that time, she was an associate professor of English at the university.
In 1945, 50 years after the Founding, Jobelle retired from teaching as a full professor, the first woman to ever achieve that rank at the University of Arkansas. That same year she was officially initiated by Psi. She and Jean Vincenheller are the only two Founders to have ever gone through Initiation.
After her retirement from the University of Arkansas, Jobelle continued her education taking various classes at schools across the country and teaching occasionally. She also continued her unwavering devotion to Chi Omega’s success, visiting chapters and making appearances at various celebrations of Sisterhood.
Recently Lyn Harris, National Archivist, uncovered a recording of Jobelle speaking to collegians at Psi’s Fall Eleusinia in 1957. As illustrated in the photos from the event, the women were captivated by this legendary Sister being present and sharing her insightful counts of Chi Omega’s history.
The official ring of Chi Omega, designed by Founder Ina May Boles, is only worn by Founders or members of the Supreme Governing Council. Housed in the archives at the Executive Headquarters, Jobelle’s ring is elegantly displayed for visitors to see.
With every archival finding, we learn more of Jobelle’s indelible impact on Chi Omega. Through her life dedicated to education and the elevation of women, Jobelle never married or had children. She joined the Omega Chapter on July 26, 1962, and her funeral took place in the heart of the campus she gave so much of herself to.
With every decade that passes, the Fraternity’s love and admiration for Jobelle only grows.
A Founder. The first G.H. An educator. A champion of collegiate women.