The real, strong women who founded Alpha Chi Omega were music students at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
As musicians, our Founders included three pianists, a cellist/violinist/bassist, a composer and two singers. As collegians, they sought “friendship, artistic society and advancement of the ‘principles of true womanhood.”
Anna Allen Smith (1870–1933)
Interested in music from early childhood, Anna was the youngest student to do advanced work at DePauw’s School of Music, graduating at the age of 19. Anna was an accompanist, performer and teacher in the school for 10 years. She lived in Greencastle all her life, and the first Alpha Chi Omega convention took place at her home.
Olive Burnett Clark (1867–1956)
Olive (called “Ollie” by her friends) studied piano, violin, cello and double bass. She taught at DePauw for two years while carrying on her studies. In her junior year, she left school to take teaching positions in Anderson and Franklin, Indiana. “I have found no greater happiness in my life than in Alpha Chi Omega,” she said later in life. “All I have ventured to give toward the upbuilding and uplifting of our fraternity has been from the depths of my heart, and has been repaid in thousandfold by my girls.”
Bertha Deniston Cunningham (1869–1950)
When Bertha’s parents decided their musically advanced daughter should continue her studies at DePauw, she had to play for Dean Howe to determine just how advanced she was. She went on to become the envy of the school’s music students because of her composing skills. She also was an accomplished performer and successful teacher in the School of Music for 10 years. Hers is the only one of five original badges that exists today. It’s on display at Alpha Chi Omega headquarters.
Amy Dubois Reith (1868–1915)
Amy was only 15 when she entered DePauw. She studied both voice and pianoforte. She was known as “the little girl with the big voice,” and was selected to sing important roles in school productions. Amy had a quiet and straightforward manner, which belied her fondness for pulling pranks on her fraternity sisters. Her influence on the Fraternity endured long after she left to teach music in Kansas.
Nellie Gamble Childe (1867–1960)
Nellie studied piano from an early age and, after much deliberation, chose DePauw. She was described variously by her sisters as being gentle, energetic, earnest and friendly, leading a life of “quiet influence for good.” Later in life, she cultivated roses and loved to garden. She said that Alpha Chi Omega had a small beginning, but was built by loyal women with high standards who have achieved “marvelous results.”
Bessie Grooms Keenan (1866–1920)
Bessie began studying music as a young child and was an accomplished pianist by the time she entered DePauw. Near the end of her first year there, she strained the muscles of her left hand from over-practice and had to give up the ambition of her life. However, she gave much of her time to help build Alpha Chi Omega. Her daughter, Hannah, eventually became director of Alpha Chi’s central office, today known as headquarters.
Estelle Leonard (1860–1955)
Estelle entered DePauw hoping to make a living as a musician. Most of her time was spent practicing or studying. She also served as Dean Howe’s secretary for two years. Though she had serious goals and a “dignified appearance,” she was known for playing practical jokes on her colleagues. She graduated in 1891 and had a full career, teaching music, publishing piano compositions and reporting for the local newspaper. Long involved with Alpha Chi Omega, she attended more conventions than any other founder. She was described in our 1948 history as “distinctly modern in her ideas” and as having “developed independence, decision, and a rather bohemian attitude.”