122 - A Gathering Place for All

On August 22, 2020, thousands of people will pour into the Chi Omega Greek Theatre for Bid Day as women anxiously grip their bids. After what seems like an eternity, a countdown begins. The cheers that erupt next can be heard billowing throughout campus as bids are opened to see the name of the new group they will call home. Hundreds of women become the newest members of sorority life at the University of Arkansas, and the Chi Omega Greek Theatre hosts it all as the sweet memories of college days are created for so many.

The Chi Omega Greek Theatre featured in the September 1946 issue of National Geographic

For 90 years, the Greek Theatre has been a space for memories to be made by all who walk its steps. For Chi Omega, Fayetteville had always been where our memories began, so it only made sense that we would give back to the community that invested so much in the young fraternity.

In 1910, at the Sixth Biennial Convention of Chi Omega, a committee of the four living Founders, headed by then-retiring National President Ida Pace Purdue, was appointed to explore and oversee the building of a Founders’ Hall in the style of a Greek temple. Rejected as unfeasible by that group due to cost, later Convention participants pressed on for the development of a structure at the University of Arkansas.

In 1930, plans were ready to be put into place. With complete cooperation and assistance from the university, and after extensive guidance and planning from a leading architectural firm, the Chi Omega Greek Theatre was constructed in record time – less than four months.

Sketch draft of the Chi Omega Greek Theatre

The Theatre is a near replica of the one of Dionysus, built 2,400 years ago at the foot of the Acropolis at Athens. Around the frieze joining the 14 columns, representing the 14 original members, are the words “Knowledge,” “Integrity,” “Courage,” “Culture,” and “Intelligence.” These words are emblematic of the best qualities of womanhood 

“Knowledge” featured around the frieze of the Chi Omega Greek Theatre

On the front of the 80-foot stage, on five large foundation stones, are the names of Chi Omega’s five Founders. A 70-foot semi-circle of grass lies between the orchestra pit and the terraced, near-white concrete seats, divided by five aisles.

The Theatre was designed to accommodate an audience of 3,000, but during World War II, its largest crowd ever recorded, upwards of 6,000, assembled for a concert by the Army Air Corps Band.

Sketch draft of the Chi Omega Greek Theatre

Dr. Richardson’s considered opinion was that the gift should be an expression of gratitude to the university from Chi Omega rather than merely a memorial to our own Founders. Thus, the bronze tablet of dedication bears the following inscription: “Given to the University of Arkansas by Chi Omega as an expression of appreciation for its founding and as a symbol of its devotion to the human struggle for enlightenment.”

The Theatre was dedicated following the Convention of 1930. The University of Arkansas President Dr. J.C. Futrall spoke and notable Sisters including Ida Pace Purdue, Psi/Arkansas, and Mary Love Collins, Delta/Dickinson, were in attendance for the momentous occasion.

Fayetteville newspaper announcing the dedication of the Chi Omega Greek Theatre on June 28, 1930
Chi Omega Greek Theatre dedication ceremony, June 28, 1930

In 1992 it was added to the United States Registry of Historic Places, and just a few years later in 1995, 1,200 collegians and alumnae made the pilgrimage to the Theatre to celebrate Chi Omega’s Centennial. Many festivities were held for Sisters and friends, and all were reunited back on the campus where it all began.

Chi Omega Centennial celebration at the Chi Omega Greek Theatre in 1995

The University of Arkansas and Chi Omega have remained committed to maintaining the Theatre and its grounds, and several restorations have been completed over the years. Due to its nine decades of use, enjoyment, and inspiration, this partnership is vital to ensure the Theatre remains in pristine condition for all Sisters, friends, and community members to enjoy.

The S.H. appoints a Greek Theatre Preservation Chair each biennium. For years, Betty Askew, Psi/Arkansas, held the position. Her Convention report was a highlight!! More recently it has been Sandra Connor, Psi/Arkansas, followed by Jane Rogers, Psi/Arkansas. 

The Chi Omega Greek Theatre today

The Chi Omega Greek Theatre hosts University of Arkansas Bid Day annually

The only structure of its kind built by a fraternal organization and one of few such theatres in the country, the Greek Theatre has symbolized the enduring values of Chi Omega. Dr. Richardson’s original plan for the Theatre remains constant, for it has become one of the most distinctive and well-utilized facilities on the Fayetteville campus. Through its use as a popular entertainment, education, athletic and recreational venue, the Theatre serves to place our Fraternity foremost in the minds of all who use it and enjoy its beauty.