Third Time’s the Charm!

A typical group of Trestrella initiates show off their “pledge” ribbons at the 1970 convention in French Lick.

A Phi Mu attending her third National Convention will immediately become acutely aware of an elite organization known as Trestrella. An inner circle of convention attendees was first proposed at the 1929 convention at Chatham, Massachusetts, by Nellie Hart Prince, Delta, Phi Mu’s second National President. Mary Robertson Dawson, Chi, one of the charter members of Trestrella “initiated” at that 1929 convention, later wrote about how it began:

 “Any Phi Mu who has ever attended a National Convention knows that when Nellie Hart Prince has an inspiration, something interesting is about to happen to those who had attended three or more conventions was accorded the privilege of hearing her plans and joining her in the new organization . . . . “A committee headed by Louise Frederick Hays, Alpha, drafted a set of bylaws so unique that their reading and adoption was a source of hilarity and pleasure. Within this august body mere alumnae visitors took precedence over active delegates, national officers forgot cares of state, increasing years lost their sting, old friendships were renewed, and the pure joys of a Phi Mu convention celebrated.”

The Initiation service was written by Julia Pickard Bailey, Xi, “quite unlike any of her past achievements as head of Phi Mu’s Secret Works Board,” according to Mary Dawson.

The name was taken from that of a petitioning group, a local sorority named Trestrella at Pennsylvania State College, which was accepted at that convention as the Beta Mu Chapter. The name Trestrella was derived from Spanish, meaning “three stars.” The “officers” took on Spanish titles, and the first elected were Nellie as El Commandante; Margaret Leigh Eidson, Kappa, another Past National President, as Capitan; and Mary Dawson as Ayundante. There were 24 charter members.

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For years Ruth Winters, Rho, embroidered the names of Trestrella initiates on the cloth they signed at each convention. At right is Dorothy Perkins Campbell, Epsilon Gamma.

At the following convention (1931), 12 more members were taken into this exclusive body which was quickly becoming known for its hilarious Initiations and pompous attitude toward the uninitiated.

In 1934 the Trestrella pin was introduced. It was in the shape of a small cloverleaf of green-gold, bearing three stars of silver. (It is now produced with gold stars on a black background.)

The new initiates provided novel entertainment in the form of a take-off of a National Convention session, as a feature of the banquet program, according to a story in the 1934 Phi Mu Star.

A 1936 Aglaia story reported that “The intriguing mysteries of Trestrella were revealed to 14 victims at a midnight Initiation,” and “there were no casualties from either the hilarious rites or the supper.”

By the early 1950s, the organization had become sufficiently important that it was decided a change in ritual was needed. A new one was conceived, based on some of the abandoned trivia of old Philomathean ritual.

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“Charter members” of Frustrella gathered at the Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan, in 1964 to hear of activities from planners Ellena Warner Dunbar and Everyl Snelson Parker (Alsberg), standing far right.

Loraine Bird Freear (Booth) (Cowherd), Phi, then National President, unearthed some of this information as she assisted in cleaning out the Executive Office in Evanston prior to the move to Memphis in 1954. Later, Zenobia Wooten Keller, Theta, Executive Office Director, recalled some of the stories she had heard of earlier Phi Mu Initiations, and she and Polly Freear used this material to devise a new Trestrella Initiation for the 1956 convention. Leona Hughes Hughes, Delta Delta, International Alumnae Director, assembled the Initiation equipment.

The Trestrella candidates were at first referred to as “goats,” just as the Philomathean uninitiated had been. And Trestrella adopted the Patron Saint of earlier Phi Mu years.

The first Philomatheans called themselves Blue Stockings and wore blue pledge ribbons, so this color was adopted for the Trestrella colors, though when it was first organized, green pledge ribbons were used. The term “bluestocking” refers to a woman with strong intellectual ability and literary interests. It comes from the blue stockings worn by members of an 18th century London literary society.

The total initiated membership of Trestrella topped 800 at the beginning of the 21st century. The usual “pledge class” numbers about 25 to 30, the largest through 2000 occurring in 1980 when 38 third-time convention attendees were accepted into membership.

Since it immediately preceded the 50th anniversary of Trestrella, the class initiated during the 1978 convention was named the “Golden Starlet” class. (The “goat” designation was dropped.) At the 1980 convention, Trestrella observed the completion of 50 years of supplying a lighter side to balance the serious nature of convention deliberations.

In 1996, National Council appointed a study committee to recommend “how to revise the concept, emphasize the history, eliminate the hazing and continue the fun and fellowship of Trestrella.” As a result, National Council required “no costumes, gimmicks or props,” and no collecting of “recommendations, signatures or money.” Because collegiate chapters were prohibited from hazing, any appearance of such action – even in fun – needed to be avoided, Council members felt.

Trestrella Fund-Raising

Beginning in the early 1980s, new Trestrella members collected donations for Phi Mu Foundation from convention attendees as a “class project.”

But with National Council’s admonition about collecting money, that tradition was dropped in 1996. Current members were asked to bring items with a Phi Mu theme for an auction held at the Trestrella gathering. Bidding became quite spirited for the donated items. In 2000 the auction raised $3,655 for Phi Mu Foundation.

Frustrella

A loosely organized group formed for the neglected husbands and other “frustrated” family members of busy Phi Mu delegates attending National Conventions was formed in 1964 and named “Frustrella.”

At the 1964 convention Ellena Warner Dunbar, Iota Sigma, Past National President, was in charge of scheduling events for family members attending convention with their Phi Mu relatives. In the spirit of fun so typical of Ellena, she suggested Frustrella.

Seventeen family members gathered with her in the solarium of the Grand Hotel and formed the “charter” membership. Two fun-loving Phi Mus, Marie “Ree” Carlson Jones, Zeta Iota, and Everyl “Jitter” Snelson Parker (Alsberg), Epsilon Gamma, presented a light-hearted program on what to do and what not to do while the family’s Phi Mu was in convention sessions.

There were no bylaws, no Initiation service and no formal organization – yet the name carried forward through the years. In later years, husbands of Phi Mu officers were given the responsibility of organizing activities for non-Phi Mu family members, especially the husbands. They scheduled tours, golf outings and breakfasts. Jerry Blackstock, husband of National President Margaret Owen Blackstock, Mu, was Frustrella chairman at the 1976 and 1978 conventions, and Clark Ketterman, husband of Phi Mu Foundation Treasurer Sylvia Dan Ketterman, Rho, took over those duties in 1980.

Since 1984 there have been fewer official Frustrella leaders or activities. Instead, information about recreational activities for family members has been available in kits and on bulletin boards. However, these offerings continue to be referred to as “Frustrella” events.

Source: Lamb, Annadell. C. The History of Phi Mu: The First 150 Years. The Grace Group, 2002. Print