History

PBK Association of Boston

The Boston Association held its first meeting on October 30th, 2001 and was officially chartered at the 40th triennial council. Over the years PBK Boston has hosted a variety of programs, showcasing not only local scholars but also lecturers from the National PBK Traveling Scholars Program, as well as social and networking events. The Association continues to develop a diverse membership base and fosters the PBK motto, “love of learning is the guide of life,” through its activities.

The National PBK Society

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and the most distinguished of all collegiate honorary societies. For more than two hundred years, election to membership has been a recognition of academic excellence achieved in the course of completing an education in the liberal arts and sciences at the undergraduate level. The objectives of humane learning encouraged by Phi Beta Kappa include intellectual honesty and tolerance, a broad range of intellectual interests, and a lifelong commitment to the pursuit of learning.

Phi Beta Kappa was founded as a literary and debating society on December 5, 1776, by five students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1780, Yale College and Harvard College received the second and third chapters. It was the first American society to have a Greek letter name, and in its first meeting, the chapter adopted the emblem of the organization, the Phi Beta Kappa key. The Society name comes from the first letters of its Greek motto, (roughly) Philosophia Biou Kuburnetes Love of learning, the Helmsman of Life. Among the earliest members, more than one fourth served with revolutionary forces in the American Revolution, several were instrumental in framing and bringing about the ratification of the American Constitution, and one of the early members, John Marshall, became first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Phi Beta Kappa has changed substantially in its aims, membership, and organization. Originally a secret society, all secrecy was eliminated in the 1830s. In its early days a social club similar to today’s fraternities, it developed over the course of the nineteenth century into an academic honor society existing to recognize excellence in liberal learning and admitting members only after they meet the highest academic standards. For many decades a males only organization, women began to be admitted in 1875, when the chapter at the University of Vermont admitted two women to membership, a step regarded by many at the time as revolutionary.

Today there are about 255 Phi Beta Kappa chapters on American college and university campuses, along with over fifty associated alumni organizations which promote the liberal arts and sciences through lectures, scholarships, and awards recognizing the academic achievement of high school and college students. The organization has almost a half million living members. A list of past and present members reads like a Who’s Who of American society.

More information about the Phi Beta Kappa Society can be found at their website.