Preserving our Past for the Future

As members of Phi Mu, each of us has a special place in our hearts for Wesleyan College and the city of Macon, Georgia.

It was home for a brief while to our Founders, Mary Ann DuPont Lines, Mary Myrick Daniel and Martha Hardaway Redding, as they pursued a higher education at the first institution in the world chartered to grant college degrees for women. To just make the trip to Macon from their hometowns must have been an incredible feat itself! Mary Ann had the longest journey to Macon from Florida; it’s assumed her family brought her by covered wagon, taking several weeks to make the trip to Georgia.

We’re incredibly fortunate that within in our organization, many volunteers have dedicated their time to preserving Phi Mu’s rich history, especially Annadell Craig Lamb, ∆A; Mary Jane Bennett Johnson, ΓΔ; and Edith Brady, ΓΓ. Through their efforts, Phi Mu has a well-documented history through two history books, and is preserving relics in the Philomathean Room in the Cannonball House in Macon and the Heritage Museum at Phi Mu National Headquarters in Peachtree City. But … you may not realize that another Phi Mu sister is playing a pretty special role at Wesleyan College right now, helping to preserve their history, and that of the Philomathean and Adelphean Societies.

Meet Wesleyan College Archivist Virginia Blake, Pi.

Upon graduation from the University of Maine, Virginia Blake attended graduate school at the University of South Carolina where she began her studies of Library and Information Science. During her first year at USC, she began a graduate assistantship with the South Carolina Political Collections, which archives materials and oral histories documenting South Carolina government and political activities at the local, state, and national levels, primarily since World War II. This experience piqued Virginia’s interest in archives and historic preservation, and led to her career as the official Archivist of Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia … known fondly to Phi Mus everywhere as the birthplace of the Philomathean Society.

We had the chance to meet with Virginia during a recent visit to Wesleyan, and asked her a few questions about what it’s like to work at a place that’s not only rich in its own history, but also so deeply connected to her Phi Mu sisterhood.

PMF:     Wesleyan College is special to Phi Mu because it is where we were founded over 160 years ago … but why is Wesleyan College special to you, and how has being a Phi Mu influenced the work you do?

VB:         I really love working with the students. Working at an institution that was the very first chartered to award women college degrees is incredible. As I was learning more about the traditions and history here at Wesleyan, it was easy to see why women choose this school. And being a Phi Mu makes this experience even more special, allowing me to understand the importance behind many of Wesleyan’s long-held traditions. Phi Mu certainly plays a part in Wesleyan’s history and I truly feel like it’s something that needs to be preserved and shared.

PMF:     The mission of the Phi Mu Foundation states that historic preservation is one of the key supporting factors in the lifetime development of women. How has the Phi Mu left an impact on Wesleyan College?

VB:         For Phi Mu’s founders to be among those who received degrees here in the 1850s is a big deal! We should absolutely be sharing that information with our members to make sure they understand that not only was Phi Mu founded at Wesleyan, but our Founders were pioneers of their time. We’re constantly having Phi Mu visitors to Wesleyan, and I always like reminding them of that special piece of information.

PMF:     Wesleyan College is an all-women’s college, and is home to the oldest female fraternal organizations. How does the rich history of this campus reflect its current status and traditions?

VB:         Wesleyan is very focused on sisterhood and their traditions are important to them. The women here take classes on sisterhood and spend time studying issues that are impacting females around the world. Although there are no sororities on campus, many traditions that began with the Philomathean and Adelphean Societies (like having big and little sisters) are still relevant to today’s Wesleyan student.

PMF:     What insight would you lend to our members about the value of historical preservation, how keeping our history alive affects our membership and the importance of forming connections between all members?

VB:         I would encourage everyone to spend some time to get to know their own personal history. For Phi Mu sisters, it’s important for us to know where and how our sisterhood started. To think our organization started with just three women on a small college campus in Georgia and now has turned into something that has connected hundreds of thousands of women is fascinating! Passing down our history is a language that translates across many generations; it keeps our values intact, and also reminds us of the many reasons why we joined Phi Mu in the first place.