17 - Ida Pace Purdue, an Unsung Hero

In the words of Dr. Richardson, “If it had not been for the wisdom, energy, loyalty and fine literary ability of Ida Pace Purdue, it is likely that Chi Omega would not have survived.”

An indomitable woman, pushing Chi Omega away from norms and what was known at the time, Ida Pace Purdue challenged Chi Omega to become stronger and more evolved than ever.

Ida was born 150 years ago today on January 4, 1869 in Boone County, Arkansas, and would become the oldest of six children. Her love for education was jolted from an early age in a positive direction by her father. Her dedication and willpower was obvious from a young age when she began attending half days of school, required to return home after lunch.  She often fought the idea of having to leave school at mid day and even took it upon herself one afternoon to return unaccompanied at just five years old, simply because she wasn’t ready to stop learning yet. This small, but mighty girl was just a glimpse of the strong woman that would launch Chi Omega onto the national stage years later.

Ida Pace Purdue c. 1894

Ida attended private school for her early education and was known as a natural student. Her continued interest in education followed her to her years on campus and beyond. She received her degree in English from the University of Arkansas, where she was initiated into Psi on April 18, 1896, just a little more than a year after Chi Omega’s Founding.

Ida Pace Purdue, pictured center, number nine, with her Psi Chapter in 1896.

She served as G.H. and worked for progress in obtaining better advantages for women at the University of Arkansas, resulting in the establishment of an art department and later the building of a dormitory for women.  She also became a charter member of Phi Beta Kappa on her campus upon its founding in 1932. Her journey in education then took her to pursue a graduate degree in English at Cornell University and then the University of Chicago, followed by quickly becoming a beloved professor of English at the University of Arkansas.

Much like she did in the classroom, Ida felt truly at home in the Fraternity and because of this she developed a loyalty to Chi Omega that never faded. She saw the possibility of cooperation among women that would begin during college days and would continue to be effective in many ways in later years. She saw that Chi Omega had the opportunity to make contributions to the university, as well as the nation. At that time existing fraternities only had limited extension and she knew Chi Omega was meant to be so much more than the standardized limits.

Ida Pace Purdue with her Psi Chapter in 1898.

Psi Sisters Ida and Jobelle Holcombe originated the idea of The Eleusis, and the first issue was published in June 1899. The distinctive design and concepts of The Eleusis were worked on by Ida. She laid the foundation for The Eleusis today and set the standard for what it would be for decades to come. As she began her role as the first editor of The Eleusis, Chi Omega was only fours year old and had just three chapters. A few years later a magazine writer commented, “We admire the courage of a young society in maintaining such a creditable magazine.”

She has been credited for being the first archivist in Chi Omega by current National Archivist Lyn Harris and past National Archivist Jan Blackwell, as she kept the detailed record of our history, ritual, and chapter events from the beginning of The Eleusis, as its first editor, in 1899 until 1904.

Ida continued in this role until she became the fourth National President of Chi Omega at the St. Louis Convention in 1904. Her years dedicated to the Fraternity through The Eleusis as well as assisting in the installation of Chi Omega Chapters made her the woman with the grit and vision needed for this position.

Ida Pace Purdue pictured with the 1904-1906 Governing Council.

In her role as S.H., the 1906 Washington D.C. Convention took place, and on June 26, 1906, a reception was held by President Teddy Roosevelt at the White House for all Chi Omegas in attendance. Ida introduced each delegate to the President, and he responded with a handshake and a comment about each woman’s home state.

Convention 1906 attendees in Washington D.C.

Ida is well known for her distinctive ruby badge, and today this rare design signifies the badge of the Chi Omega National Archivist. Prior to 1906, various stones were chosen for individual badges. It was a vote of the 1906 Convention, one that Ida herself presided over as S.H., that regulated the size of the badge and the stones to diamonds or pearls. The Archivist badge today contains rubies, as a tribute to Ida’s legacy as our first editor of The Eleusis and as our first unofficial archivist.

In 1908, upon her reelection, Ida made a case for needing to set a structured national policy of Chi Omega. She explained, “Established customs will give a feeling of security, of self-confidence, and of dignity that will be reflected in the life of each member.”

Ida Pace Purdue during her term as S.H. 1904-1910

As they most always did, her words resonated with her Chi Omega peers.

In 1909, just one year later, The Manual of Chi Omega came to fruition and was dedicated to, “Ida Pace Purdue, whose untiring service, wise judgement, and ennobling influences, through ten successful years, have contributed more than any other one cause to Chi Omega’s growth.”

Along with her vision for setting structure for the Fraternity, Ida had the vision for Chi Omega to be truly national. She is credited with contributing greatly to the expansion of Chi Omega to reach the corners of the nation. She played an active role in Installations of chapters throughout her whole Chi Omega life, even before her time as S.H. Between 1904 and 1910 the poised her guidance pushed forward the installation of 11 chapters, an impressive feat considering the restrictive level of communication and travel at the time, especially for women.

By 1910 the constitution, manual and Ritual had been developed and fine tuned, all insignia standardized, and 24 chapters installed in all areas of the country. This served as a true testament to her vision for growth and ability to set up a standard structure for the success of the Fraternity.

Her involvement in the growth of Chi Omega continued long after her term as S.H. In 1921, the Los Angeles Alumnae Chapter was actively engaged in social service work, and when the University of California was ready to develop into a branch with regular collegiate courses Chi Omega was the first fraternity to enter.  Ida was living in Los Angeles at the time and those involved in the project knew she was the woman needed to make the progress they were set on. She installed the Gamma Beta Chapter alongside her alumnae Sisters in 1923 and was continuously consulted on the progress of this chapter, even being the first to break ground in preparation for the building of their chapter home. This was neither the beginning nor the end of her steadfast journey of installing Chi Omega Chapters across the nation.

Ida Pace Purdue installed Gamma Beta/UCLA on April 14, 1923. Here she is seen at the groundbreaking for the chapter house in 1929.

Well known for her wisdom, Ida was consulted about Chi Omega throughout her life and earnestly adored by those who knew her. Mary Love Collins, who served as S.H. from 1910-1952, held Ida at high esteem, even referring to Ida, Mattie Craighill Nicholas, who served as the editor of The Eleusis following Ida Pace Purdue, and herself as Chi Omega’s “triumvirates.”

Mary Love Collins flanked by, left, Mattie Craighill Nicholas and, right, Ida Pace Purdue, who was attending Convention for the last time.  Inset is a rare picture of Mattie Craighill as an undergraduate.

Among all of her professional and personal achievements, Ida was also a dedicated mother and wife. Her husband worked as a state geologist and passed away 1917. Both of her sons went on to be successful in their respective careers. Her ability to balance motherhood, and eventually single motherhood, to two boys alongside her lifelong dedication to Chi Omega was a triumph difficult to fathom. She also dedicated herself to her church and countless women’s organizations in the various cities she lived throughout her life. She joined the Omega Chapter on January 21, 1958.

Ida Pace Purdue’s lasting impact on Chi Omega was summarized eloquently in a 1920 issue of The Eleusis that stated, “During these early years hers was the mind and heart that shaped the policies and hers the guiding hand that put into effective execution the wisely laid plans of the Fraternity. In obtaining her able and devoted services the Fraternity was peculiarly fortunate. Without her it is quite possible that there would have been no Chi Omega, far flung and virile, as we know it today.”