20 - Frances Eshbach Kinney

“It became very popular and it kept me very busy. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Frances E. Kinney of her acquired hobby that eventually amounted to her hand-painting over 35,000 Chi Omega Symphonies.

Frances Eshbach Kinney was born on November, 11, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Glenside, a suburb of Philadelphia. Little did she know then, that she would create a great legacy in Chi Omega rooted in her desire to give back and support her Sisters.

Fran’s Chi Omega story began when she joined Xi Chapter at Northwestern in 1944, becoming an initiate in 1945. Fran’s father Dean Ovid Eshbach of Northwestern Technological Institute was a guest at a Chi Omega event in April 1945 when Fran was a newly initiated Sister.

Dean Ovid Eshbach, Fran’s father, speaking at a Chi Omega event in April 1945

While pursuing her undergraduate degree in physics, Fran served as the chapter’s G.K.A. After graduation, she went on to receive her master’s degree in physics from Northwestern University in 1949. Upon graduating from Northwestern, she continued to passionately pursue opportunities in her field by teaching physics at Connecticut College.

Just a few short years later, in 1955 Fran was conducting physics research at Northwestern and joined Xi Chapter’s House Corporation Board and advisory board as a “junior member.” Throughout her time in these roles she coordinated the additions of the sun porch and the fourth floor to the house, and it was during this time that Fran began hand-painting her now-famous versions of the Chi Omega Symphony, originally written by Ethel Switzer Howard.

Fran knew of another alumnae group that published the Chi Omega Symphony, but she noticed it wasn’t hand-painted, so she decided to elevate the idea.

Fran has worked from her home to paint and mail all of the hand-painted Symphonies she creates. She explains that an order would come in with some chapters ordering 20 at a time. She says that back then, there were not a lot of options for advertising projects like this, so in a strategic plan to market her artistic creations, she would put her name and address on the back of each envelope as she sent out orders. “That’s the way I would spread the word. And it spread!” Fran says.

In addition to her personal touch of adding her name and address to the backs of each envelope she used to mail the hand-painted Symphony, the Symphonies were also featured in The Eleusis from time to time.

From 1956-1960, she averaged 500 Symphonies a year. She recalls charging $1 a piece, with all proceeds going directly to the Xi Chapter House Corporation Board. From 1983-1984, she painted and sent 1,645 copies and by that point, she was charging $2 for each Symphony. She estimates that she has painted 35,000 Symphonies over the years and explains that she even has record of the thousands and thousands of Symphony orders that came in over the years. As time progressed and in Fran’s later years, her daughter, who is an artist, helped paint some of them to fulfill all the orders.

One of Frances Eshbach Kinney’s hand-painted Chi Omega Symphonies

After she married her husband Byron Kinney, Fran worked at Northwestern conducting research for the head of the physics department until her son was born in 1956. Her research was in infrared spectroscopy; she was searching for strong infrared waves. And she found one! This was a major discovery in her field at the time.

Fran raised her children, then went back to work in the 1970s, working as a church administrator for about 15 years. In those early years she managed to raise two children while remaining highly involved in Chi Omega. After 21 years of service on Chi Omega’s advisory and house corporation boards, Fran retired in 1976. However, she continued to paint symphonies. She even came out of advisory and house corporation retirement to help Xi Chapter celebrate its 100th anniversary, further showcasing her lifelong dedication to Chi Omega’s Sisterhood.

Frances Eshbach Kinney, left, and Fran’s Xi Chapter Sister Wynn Mason Taylor, right. Wynn’s mother, Claudine Mason, was a longtime advisor to Xi Chapter, Dean at Northwestern, Governing Council member, and President’s Award recipient.

“I have memories of calling Fran when I served as GM to place orders for Symphonies. Now, as an alumna, I’ve had the privilege to know her as a friend. She still organizes a luncheon for the “Golden Owls” of the North Shore and is a frequent attendee at the annual Claudine V. Mason Scholarship Tea at Xi Chapter, where an award named for Fran recognizing outstanding alumnae service to Xi Chapter is presented. I still have my copy of the Symphony, painted by Fran all those years ago, on my desk at my office!” says Carrie Von Hoff, Xi/Northwestern University Alumna.

Chi Omega Alumna and Malinda Jolley Mortin Woman of Achievement Jane Hirt, Kappa/University of Nebraska – Lincoln, reached out to longtime friend Fran and asked her a few questions.

What inspired you to paint the Symphony as a fundraiser for the House Corporation?

“I didn’t think of it as a fundraiser. When I was a pledge, I still remember how totally impressed I was when the president stood up in front of that little pledge class and quoted the Chi Omega Symphony by heart. That impressed me so much. Right from the beginning, I fell in love with the Symphony.”

Were you a painter before you started painting the Symphony?

“No. My daughter is an artist, and I enjoyed art, but I was not a painter. I am just a very precise physicist. It was a relaxing thing to do.”

What is one thing you want to tell Chi Omegas who are collegians today?

“Lead a life that is diversified. Not totally professional, not totally family, but something that broadens your scope. I enjoyed the two professions that I had very much. But I also enjoyed just being a family person. Because when you’re just with family, you volunteer, and I did a lot of volunteering. I would encourage them to be very wide open.”