The honor society, Phi Kappa Phi, was formed at the University of Maine in 1897 through the efforts of senior student, Marcus L. Urann. It was Urann's belief that students needed to be more serious about their studies. Urann was convinced that the “high ranking scholar” could be looked up to as a role model as well as, or better than, athletes and members of social fraternities. His enthusiasm was so great that University President Abram Winegardner Harris charged Urann with the task of writing out a proposal for a constitution and bylaws.
Initially, ten of the highest-ranking seniors would be elected. Subsequently, only ten students from each class would be eligible for selection, and those ten must maintain a minimum of a ninety percent grade average for the entire four-year curriculum. Finally, as the result of Marcus Urann's diligent crusade, Lamda Sigma Eta Fraternity came into being.
After Urann’s graduation, President Harris undertook the continued promotion of the society. Harris envisioned a national society based on scholarship, and to that end, he began writing to other college heads, encouraging them to set up chapters of Lambda Sigma Eta. Initially, response was disappointing; only two presidents answered Harris’ letters: George Atherton of Pennsylvania State College, today Pennsylvania State University, and Charles Dabney of the University of Tennessee. The three men corresponded regularly in their zeal to attract interest in the society. During this period, the name of the society was changed from Lamda Sigma Eta to Phi Kappa Phi. By 1904, the University of Massachusetts had affiliated, in 1905, the University of Delaware came on board, and in 1911, Iowa State University.
In the spring of 1920, the Maryland State College of Agriculture was abuzz with optimism and anticipation of great things to come. In addition to enrollment having increased to 522 students, the governor had just merged the campus at College Park with the Baltimore professional schools to form the new University of Maryland. At the same time, various faculty members were discussing the establishment of an honor society at the university. Having such a group on campus, they believed, would help bring the University of Maryland into the mainstream academic community and dispel the notion that the school was solely focused on agriculture, with a slant towards military training. This group decided to petition Phi Kappa Phi to establish a chapter. Four of their members were, in fact, already associated with the society: Myron Creese, Devoe Mead, and Thomas Hardy Taliaferro, all elected while at Pennsylvania State University, and John Wentz, elected at North Dakota Agricultural College. Other faculty pushing for affiliation with Phi Kappa Phi were:
• Eugene Curtis Auchter, professor of horticulture
• Levin Bowland Broughton, professor of chemistry
• Harry Clifton Byrd, director of athletics
• Ernest Neal Cory, Maryland state entomologist
• Harold Cotterman, dean of education
• Harry Gwinner, professor of mechanical engineering
• Charles Frederick Kramer, Jr., assistant professor of modern languages
• Henry Barnett McDonnell, dean of chemistry
• Edna Belle McNaughton, professor of home economics
• Alfred Woods, University of Maryland President
• Percy White Zimmerman, dean of agriculture
Students elected to Phi Kappa Phi during the spring of 1920 included Edward Buckley Ady; James Hall Barton; Theodore Lemuel Bissell; Franklin Dronenbury Day; Thomas Victor Downin; Robert Troxell Knode; Algeo Newell Pratt; and William Joseph Sando. These students and the faculty listed above comprise the original, or charter, members of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society at the University of Maryland.
Phi Kappa Phi accepted the University of Maryland chapter, and inaugural ceremonies took place on June 12, 1920, at the home of Percy Zimmerman, dean of the school of agriculture. The ceremonies were performed by Elisha Conover of the University of Delaware.
The purpose of the society was, and remains today, to promote excellence in scholarship. Two admissions criteria in the early years stipulated that students must rank academically in the upper twenty-five percent of their class, plus maintaining above average university citizenship. Additionally, a "successful effort" must be evident in one or more of these fields of endeavor: athletics; literature; science; journalism; music, or membership in a student professional society. Academic deans proposed nominations based on the foregoing requirements. High scholastic achievement remains a major
criterion for admission to Phi Kappa Phi, and minimum required grade point averages have continued to rise throughout the chapter’s history.
Phi Kappa Phi is the only academic honor society at the University of Maryland that is recognized by the Association of College Honor Societies, and it is open to all students from all disciplines.
Through the years, Phi Kappa Phi has been involved in many special activities. The society sponsors public lectures, sends representatives to national conventions, and assists in the inauguration of new chapters at other colleges. The chapter has also hosted teas for “A” students to inspire continued efforts toward high scholarship.
Landmark events in the history of the Maryland chapter of Phi Kappa Phi include:
• election of the first graduate students, 1924
• first woman chapter president, Marie Mount,
dean of home economics, 1926
• expansion of the chapter to include all University of Maryland
System campuses and the election of the first University of
Maryland at Baltimore undergraduates in 1960
• serving as the host institution for the first Midtriennial
Regional Seminar, 1975
The University of Maryland chapter also enjoys the distinction of being the only chapter in the country to have successfully nominated a National Artist, Dr. Paul Traver in 1989, and a National Scholar, Dr. Rita Colwell in 1992.
The University of Maryland chapter of Phi Kappa Phi remains active today, building on its long history of support for outstanding academic achievement.