Alpha Chi celebrates as its birthday an auspicious date, February 22, 1922. On that day representatives from five Texas institutions of higher learning met on the campus of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, for the purpose of organizing a scholarship society that would encompass all of the “Class A” colleges and universities in the state. The local chapters of the new organization, which was to be called the Scholarship Societies of Texas, were to be modeled after the honor society begun by President Charles M. Bishop at Southwestern in 1915.
Representatives from thirteen schools approved a constitution for the new organization a year later at the University of Texas at Austin. Six others mailed affirmative votes to the conference. The two principal founders of the state organization, Prof. John C. Granbery of Southwestern and Dean Harry Y. Benedict of the University of Texas, were chosen as president and secretary-treasurer, respectively. In annual elections Granbery was succeeded by several of the other founding sponsors, but Benedict continued to hold the secretary-treasurer’s job.
Interest in the Scholarship Societies of Texas spread to other states. At the 1926 meeting, applications were accepted from colleges in Arkansas and Louisiana, and the 1927 meeting at Fort Worth changed the name of the society to the Scholarship Societies of the South. Dean Alfred H. Nolle of Southwest Texas State College was chosen as president of the expanded group, and in 1928 he succeeded Benedict as secretary-treasurer. He held the post continuously through 1969, rendering distinguished leadership to the society under its various names for nearly five decades.
By 1934 the Scholarship Societies of the South comprised 31 chapters in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, but they had eyes on expansion. At the annual meeting, held that year at Texas Woman’s College in Denton, the Scholarship Societies of the South voted to become a national organization under the name Alpha Chi. A new constitution was adopted to facilitate that growth. However, with the exception of a school in Oklahoma, no real expansion was experienced until 1950, when Hastings College in Nebraska and Springfield International College in Massachusetts joined Alpha Chi.
In 1955, now with 36 active chapters, Alpha Chi created two regions to carry out its activities. It was not until 1958 that other states were added when South Carolina’s Lander College and Utah’s Westminster College joined the society. In the 1960s, however, the organization expanded rapidly, especially in the South and Midwest. By the end of 1971, Alpha Chi had installed chapter number 120 and restructured itself under a new constitution. Growth continued strong through the next 40 years, so that by 2016 chapter number 406 was approved, with about 300 still being active, organized into seven regions. At this time more than 500,000 members have been inducted into Alpha Chi since its beginning.
Harry Benedict, by then president of the University of Texas, became the first president of the newly renamed society in 1934, serving until his death in 1937. Prof. Paul J. Schwab of Trinity University served as president from 1949 until his death in 1966. Dr. Edwin W. Gaston, dean of Stephen F. Austin State University, himself a member of Alpha Chi while a student, became president in 1967. It was under his leadership, coupled with that of the vice president, Dr. Jesse G. Carnes of Trinity University, and the secretary-treasurer, Dr. Joseph E. Pryor, dean of Harding University, that the major growth of Alpha Chi took place. Dr. Pryor served in his office from 1970 to 1983, when a constitutional change created the office of executive director and he took that role. Upon his retirement at the end of 1993, he was succeeded by Dr. Dennis M. Organ, also of Harding University, who had been editor of the society’s publications since 1976. In 2012 Dr. Organ retired, and the Council selected Dr. Trisha Yarbrough, who had served as Region II Secretary-Treasurer from 1996 to 2008. In 2018 Lara Noah, who had served nearly two decades as the Society’s director of operations, was selected by the National Council to serve as the fourth executive director of Alpha Chi.
Serving as president since Dr. Gaston have been Dr. Robert Sledge of McMurry University, Dr. James Divelbiss of Westmar College, Dr. Gayle White of Southern Arkansas University, Dr. Sledge (second tenure), Dr. Patricia Williams of Sam Houston State University, Dr. Clark Youngblood of Grand Canyon University, Dr. Margaret FitzGerald of Pace University Westchester, and Dr. David Jones of Westminster College in Missouri.
In recent years Alpha Chi has emphasized expanding programs and benefits. A Chapter Grant Program was created to assist chapters in local, scholarly activities. Fundraising from donors and partnership royalties resulted in additional scholarships and fellowships, as well as the creation of cash prizes for the best student presentations at the national convention. In 2007 the Constitution was amended to allow the induction of graduate students. And by 2012 several corporate partnerships had been formed to offer additional benefits to Alpha Chi members.
Alpha Chi’s name is derived from the initial letters of the Greek words ALETHEIA, meaning TRUTH, and XAPAKTHP, meaning CHARACTER. In 1935 Alpha Chi adopted its official shield and key, colors, and song. The shield and key bear a lamp of learning and the initials AX in raised letters. The colors are emerald green and sapphire blue, signifying victory and truth. The motto of the organization is “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Lyrics for the official song, “Hail to Alpha Chi,” were written by a Southwest Texas State University student, J. M. Brandstetter, in 1935. Since Alpha Chi is not a secret organization, there are no hidden symbols and programs are open to the public.
For even more information about Alpha Chi, historian and author Dr. Robert Sledge’s book Scholarship and Character: Seventy-five Years of Alpha Chi can be purchased by contacting the national office.