The first chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi’s history began in 1897 at Barnard College in New York City. Barnard was the first college in New York, and one of the first in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education that was available to men. Affiliated with Columbia University since 1900, Barnard is one of the oldest women’s colleges in the world.
Barnard’s class of 1898 included four particularly amazing women who were destined to leave a great legacy on both their college and on a new fraternity. Stella George Stern Perry, Jessie Wallace Hughan, Helen St. Clair Mullan and Elizabeth Heywood Wyman were four firm friends determined that their friendship should last a lifetime. In their junior year, on December 23, 1896, the four climbed the stairs in a small gallery of the old Columbia College Library which led to an old and seldom used room. Seated on broad window seats and with sunlight streaming gently through the windows and snow lightly drifting outside, the four pledged each other. Several days later, on January 2, 1897, Alpha Omicron Pi was formally organized at the home of Helen St. Clair. Soon afterward, the four pledged AOII’s first initiate to AOII’s Alpha Chapter, Ann Richardson Hall.
The beginning of national expansion for the young Fraternity occurred quickly with the installation of Pi Chapter on September 8, 1897 at Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (now Tulane University). Nu Chapter at New York University and Omicron Chapter at the University of Tennessee quickly followed. Over the next 120+ years, targeted and impressive growth of collegiate and alumnae chapters continued. Despite several wars, the Great Depression, the women’s suffrage movement and the social unrest of the 1960’s, AOII has remained true to its values. Founder Stella Perry once wrote, “that which makes our bond is promise certain of success. Let us follow our ensign devotedly, utterly and bravely. For our purpose cannot fail.”
In 2021 AOII began a digital history project with HistoryIT, a company dedicated to preserving the history of organizations through digital archives. To celebrate our 125th anniversary on January 2, 2022, we will be adding information to this timeline in five stages, every few months, through June 2022 to salute 125 of the most significant milestones in our Fraternity’s history. Every three months or so, we hope to draw you back to the site by adding the next set of 25 milestones and more extras to the timeline. It is our hope this timeline helps you embrace and celebrate the rich history of Alpha Omicron Pi!
Stella George Stern Perry
Stella was well-known for her literary talents. She was the first president of Alpha Chapter, the first National President of AOII and was elected Historian of AOII for life. Most of the information we have about the early history of the fraternity is due to Stella’s writings. Artistic, dramatic and idealistic, she gave AOII’s Ritual simplicity and tolerance. Her work was well done, as AOII’s Ritual is unchanged since 1897.
Helen St. Clair Mullan
A true scholar with a keen mind, Helen was destined to become a great lawyer. She was the organizational genius of the group and gave AOII its Constitution and Bylaws. As AOII’s third National President, she installed many early chapters and promoted expansion. She was the mother of two daughters who was also prominent in New York education, serving on the Board of Education and as a Trustee of Barnard College. Helen was also a gifted musician.
Elizabeth Heywood Wyman
Bess, as she was usually called, was outstanding in education, social welfare and as a writer. Bess was the 13th National President of AOII. Prior to that she spent five years as AOII’s first Registrar and established AOII’s Central Office. She was always helping others. Her quiet confident manner came from an inner strength. Bess gave AOII sympathetic understanding, kindness, gentleness and conscientious leadership.
Jessie Wallace Hughan
Jessie distinguished herself as a teacher and writer. She was a gallant crusader for any cause she felt was just. She was a true philanthropist and a dynamic leader. Jessie gave AOII depth and sincerity.