Although there are no longer Greek-letter sororities on the campus, Wesleyan College continues to proudly point out that it was the birthplace of the world’s two oldest fraternities for women – Phi Mu and Alpha Delta Pi.
To observe the 80th anniversary of the announcement of the Philomathean Society and to honor the memory of its Founders, members of the Macon Alumnae Association planted a grandiflora magnolia tree on the Wesleyan campus on March 4, 1932.
The first spade of dirt was turned by Bessie Reid Napier, Alpha, who had become a Philomathean in 1861 and who was at that time Phi Mu’s oldest living alumna and Wesleyan’s oldest living graduate. Now three stately magnolias provide a living memorial to Phi Mu’s three Founders as they grace the lawn next to the Wesleyan dining hall.
At its Centennial Commencement in 1936, Wesleyan College staged an anniversary celebration that brought back alumnae from 16 states to join in the festivities. There came also daughters of Phi Mu and Alpha Delta Pi.
A committee of Phi Mus had noted that the College grounds were not adequately marked to indicate what the handsome red Colonial brick buildings were. A gateway at the main entrance was decided upon as Phi Mu’s gift to Wesleyan, in recognition of the College’s 100th anniversary and in memory of Phi Mu’s Founders. The committee was headed by Lila May Chapman, Alpha, Phi Mu National Librarian and a trustee of Wesleyan College. Another Wesleyan trustee, Edith Stetson Coleman, Alpha, assisted her.
The Phi Mu gateway on Forsyth Road is a graceful structure of marble and red brick, harmonizing with the Colonial architecture of the College buildings.
The tall central columns, 12 feet high, have marble panels bearing the name “Wesleyan College,” and are surmounted by marble Grecian urns. The semicircular wall with coping of Georgia marble connects with smaller piers on which are bronze tablets, one descriptive of the College, the other of the Fraternity. Boxwood was planted to enhance the structure. (Original plans also called for a later planting of an avenue of trees down both sides of the roadway.)
The gateway was the design of W. Elliott Dunwoody Jr., a Macon architect. The bronze tablets were made by Dixie Bronze Co., Birmingham, Alabama. The cost, including floodlights to illuminate the gates, was $1,423.17.
Eighty-five Phi Mus, many of whom were former Philomatheans, were present on the afternoon of May 29, 1936, when Mary Redding Devant, Gamma Gamma, daughter of Founder Martha Hardaway Redding, pulled back the cord from which swung a silken curtain of rose and white, unveiling the Phi Mu panel. Also present was James Redding, of Macon, a son of the Founder. After talks by Lila May Chapman and National President Mary B. Merritt, Mu, the alumnae circled the gateway and recited together the Phi Mu Benediction.
A Second Gateway: A second gateway to Wesleyan College, dedicated in 2002, marked the 150th anniversaries of the founding of Phi Mu and Alpha Delta Pi. It graces the southernmost entrance on Forsyth Road.
The two fraternities decided to collaborate in commissioning a yet another gate. Funding came from the Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu foundations.
The design resembles that of the gateway that Phi Mu presented to the college years earlier. Built of red brick, it features capped pillars and a gracefully curving wall culminating in secondary pillars. The plaque on the right pillar identifies the college with the inscription, “Wesleyan College – 1836.” On the left pillar the plaque reads “Alpha Delta Pi 1851 — Phi Mu 1852.” Plantings and a decorative iron gate completed the new gateway.
Bronze Memorial Plaque
An impressive memorial tablet was placed in the original Philomathean meeting room at Old Wesleyan College on Founders’ Day, March 4, 1941. The tablet honored the three Founders of the Philomathean Society and marked Phi Mu’s most historic site. It was set into one wall of the room where the Philomathean Society’s meetings were held for many years.
The formal dedication ceremony was arranged by Macon Alumnae. Executive Secretary Zenobia Wooten Keller, Theta, represented National Council and presented the plaque from the Fraternity.
Within the next few years the plaque was incorporated into the furnishings of the restored Philomathean Hall at Wesleyan.
However, when Old Wesleyan was abandoned for the new campus and the Philomathean Room furnishings were relocated to the Cannonball House in Macon, Wesleyan officials insisted that the plaque stay with the College. It is displayed on a brick wall of a loggia leading to the Memorial Garden.
The large plaque is in the shape of the Phi Mu badge, and upon its face is inscribed the Greek letters.
Dining Hall Chandeliers
On the occasion of Phi Mu’s 100th anniversary, the Fraternity selected a special gift to Wesleyan College — three beautiful multi-branched chandeliers, to be placed in the Wesleyan dining hall.
The chandeliers are of hand-wrought brass, appropriate to the Colonial architecture of the Wesleyan buildings, enhancing the 30-foot high ceilings of the dining hall. They were designed by Steinmetz Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia and are adaptations of those which hung in the Council chamber of the Capitol in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The lights were turned on for the first time during the presentation ceremony at the opening dinner of the Fraternity’s Centennial Convention, held in Macon in 1952. The chandeliers are dedicated to the memory of Phi Mu’s three Founders.
Other Reminders of Phi Mu at Wesleyan
There are many reminders of Phi Mu on the Wesleyan campus in addition to the gateways, magnolias, plaque and chandeliers. Most are on display in the alumnae building.
One of the most impressive is a large wood cabinet with four tall glass doors and the word “Philomathean” carved across the top. The cabinet was moved from Old Wesleyan to the new campus.
The cabinet now holds the valuable Moon and Star pattern glass collection of Lila May Chapman, Alpha, who was Phi Mu’s Second Vice President in 1931-33 and later National Librarian.
Also on display at Wesleyan are Philomathean badges dating from 1856 to 1892, a small “Alpha” badge dated 1902 with Phi Mu Greek letters in the center instead of the traditional heart and hand, a song sheet of Phi Mu songs at the turn of the century, theme books and composition books of early Philomatheans, copies of the 1900 Wesleyan annual published by Philomatheans and group pictures of Philomatheans.
A rather curious piece is a three-inch square wooden box with the badge shape burned into the top and words on the four sides: “WFC” (for Wesleyan Female College), “Rip Rah Ree,” “Rackety-Yack!” and “Philomathean.”
The diploma granted to Mary Ann DuPont and signed by President O. L. Smith who had aided the Founders in forming their Society, hangs in the Wesleyan College library.
Honoring the memory of a Philomathean Society member, the Lucy Lester Willet Memorial Library is the center of much activity on the Wesleyan campus. Completed and dedicated in the spring of 1968, the library was made possible by a $220,000 gift from Lawrence Willet, of Atlanta, in memory of his mother, who was graduated from Wesleyan in 1881. She was a trustee of Wesleyan College from 1926 to 1929. A lovely oil portrait of Lucy hangs in the library bearing her name.
The Katharine P. Carnes Reading Room on the main floor of the library also is named for a member of Alpha Chapter. Graduated in 1913, Katharine Payne Carnes was Wesleyan’s librarian when the College moved into its new library building. She served in that capacity a total of 40 years.
Source: Lamb, Annadell. C. The History of Phi Mu: The First 150 Years. The Grace Group, 2002. Print