59 - Coming Home for Convention

Collegiate delegates piled into their advisor’s car, ready for a cross-country road trip to the biannual Chi Omega Convention. Along the way, they’d discuss ideas for the impending school year and sing songs celebrating their love for the Fraternity. Through the tangling roads of West Virginia, the delegates crept nearer to their destination in White Sulphur Springs.

Eventually, the stately resort, whose gates stood tall as to announce each woman’s arrival, emerged over the hills. The reputation of The Greenbrier was well-known among the Fraternity, and collegiate Sisters had heard stories of The Greenbrier since their Initiation.

For hundreds of women each biennium, this arrival to The Greenbrier was their introduction to Chi Omega on a national scale… and what an introduction it was!

Iota Alpha/SMU delegates with their car at The Greenbrier

“Only a few hours at The Greenbrier and we were thinking of Chi Omega in the larger sense, realizing her bigness and getting a more accurate conception of our Fraternity as a national organization. We appreciate much more keenly than before the obligation of each of us as individuals to all Chi Omegas everywhere and our responsibility in upholding Chi Omega ideals seems greater, ” Columbus Alumnae Chapter, The Eleusis, 1924.

Convention Delegates and their modes of transportation to The Greenbrier

The Greenbrier was home to 21 Chi Omega Conventions from 1924-1978. Decades of Sisterhood dinners, business meetings, course-changing decisions, model Initiations, and education sessions were hosted in this world-renowned resort.

“What could be a more beautiful setting for a Chi Omega Convention than The Greenbrier? This hotel, with its stately white pillars set magnificently in the hills of West Virginia, was our first vivid impression of Convention. Beauty was found not only in the extensive landscaping of the surrounding grounds but also in the interior which was decorated throughout to create historic atmosphere,” Eleanor Hall, Tau Alpha/Ohio, The Eleusis, 1956.

Among the mountains of West Virginia, The Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark that has welcomed world-class guests since 1778. With a guest list that includes 27 of the country’s 45 Presidents, The Greenbrier has been a favorite destination of royalty, celebrities, business leaders, and of course Chi Omegas.

Various Greenbrier programs

All those who attended a national Chi Omega meeting here knew the estate fondly. The charm, the magnificence of structure and decoration, the service, and the fun all culminated together to form an experience valuable to all. Chi Omegas fondly referred to their visits to The Greenbrier as “coming home.”

“The wisdom of returning year after year to The Greenbrier was more clear to me than ever before. From the time one enters those stately gates there is a feeling of coming home. For Convention planners to know the exact space, facilities, and surroundings frees valuable time and energy in order for events to proceed purposefully, smoothly, and with inspiration,” Sally Gragg Winch, Theta Beta and Lafayette Alumnae Chapter, The Eleusis, 1856.

The Greenbrier program

The First Convention and Why Chi Omega Kept Coming Back

In 1924 Chi Omega’s first Greenbrier Convention took place. In the 1920s the cost of Convention was just nine dollars a day, which covered the delegates’ meals and room! What served as the beginning of a long Chi Omega tradition also marked the ending of another. Dr. Charles Richardson attended the 1924 Convention but died just a few months later due to a brief illness. The first Greenbrier Convention was his last Chi Omega event.

Dr. Richardson and the Governing Council at the 1924 Convention

Several years after Fraternity leadership and members fell in love with The Greenbrier, the location had to be adjusted swiftly to another nearby hotel in July 1944. Delegates gathered at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia due to The Greenbrier being used as a hospital for wounded veterans in World War II. The Convention went on as planned with several adaptations because of the war, but returned to The Greenbrier when the war was over.

The Homestead, site of Convention 1944 due to The Greenbrier being used as a war hospital

Even after functioning as a war hospital, The Greenbrier remained a fond friend of the Fraternity and kept up with the pre-war standards it set for itself. The Greenbrier was known for its exquisite service, and their above and beyond catering to Convention needs gave a solid foundation to a meeting that had much to accomplish. As Chi Omega holds herself to a level of excellence, The Greenbrier met us there year after year.

Tea time at the 1952 Convention at The Greenbrier

The Greenbrier impressed delegates with their elegant dinners and perfectly executed theatrics. One moment, in particular, was always a crowd favorite: dessert. Baked Alaska became the traditional staple for Conventions as The Greenbrier set the bar so high in their presentation. The Greenbrier staff served this dessert with sparklers atop and paraded out with unmatched showmanship. The tradition of baked Alaska was so loved, it continued even after the Fraternity’s national meetings stopped being held at The Greenbrier.

Baked Alaska paraded out at Convention 1956

During this time, Chi Omega Conventions were known for their night of “Revelry.” This was an evening for skits, songs, and laughter as collegians, alumnae, and even Governing Council members participated. The Greenbrier accommodated the fun evenings seamlessly, even supplying last-minute props from time to time!

Images of Revelry at Convention

Among crucial business meetings and educational training, Convention delegates also partook in the Earth Mother play, a nod to our Ritual at each Convention held at The Greenbrier and beyond.

“The Greenbrier is perfect for a Chi Omega Convention. Going to The Greenbrier is for Chi Omegas like making a trip home. Also, every department of The Greenbrier staff has an attitude of “welcome home.” This mutuality of feeling plus perfect facilities and efficiency contribute to the success of Convention.” Mary Love Collins, then S.H., The Eleusis, 1956.

Mary Love Collins, then S.H., with Convention delegates at The Greenbrier

“I have always known that Chi Omega is the very best fraternity in the world but I never really knew Chi Omega until I arrived at The Greenbrier, saw what big things Chi Omega is accomplishing, not only for herself but for the college and for the world, and what fine thinking citizens she is developing.” Zeta Beta/Arizona, The Eleusis, 1924

The Greenbrier today, photo courtesy of greenbrier.com