'Phi Beta Kappa: the History of the American Scholar' exhibited

April 12, 2007

"Phi Beta Kappa: the History of the American Scholar," an exhibit of images and resources from the Penn State University Archives and the Phi Beta Kappa Society, is on display through May 11 in the Pattee Library main exhibit area.

The nation's oldest and most widely known academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa was founded by five students, during the American Revolution at the College of William and Mary on Dec. 5, 1776. Today an invitation to membership is a reflection of an individual's outstanding achievement, acknowledged by employers and academic institutions alike. Counted among its members are Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote the American Scholar essay; many former U.S. presidents, including John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Bill Clinton; former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt; poet Nikki Giovanni; actress Glenn Close; director Francis Ford Coppola; composer Stephen Sondheim; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; researcher Jonas Salk; quarterback Peyton Manning; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; Weezer front-man Rivers Cuomo; among many others.

For more than two and a quarter centuries, Phi Beta Kappa has embraced the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. Its Greek initials are the motto, "Love of learning is the guide to life."

Although laptops have replaced quill pens and instant messaging has replaced the town crier, the ideas symbolized on Phi Beta Kappa's distinctive gold key, still lay the foundations of personal freedom, scientific inquiry, liberty of conscience and creative endeavor. Its mission is to foster and recognize excellence in undergraduate liberal arts and sciences.

Today there are 270 chapters and more than half-million living members. Penn State founded a chapter in 1937, after a rigorous application process that included school visits and requirements to clearly demonstrate support of the liberal arts and academic freedom. Only about 10 percent of arts and sciences graduates of Phi Beta Kappa institutions are invited to become members.

For information, contact the University Libraries' Public Relations and Marketing Office at (814) 863-4240.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009