A growing number of chapters – 55 were on the active collegiate chapter roll in the mid- 1930s – and the need to keep close national contact with each, led to the creation of the office of Field Secretary by unanimous vote of delegates to the 1936 National Convention.
The Field Secretary – it was thought only one was needed – was to be chosen by National Council from among the alumnae, and was to act as the national inspecting officer. It was to be a paid position, with the Field Secretary working out of the national headquarters.
In the earliest years of nationalization, every chapter was inspected regularly by the Grand President or another member of the Grand Council. This became an impossible task as the number of chapters increased. Province Presidents then were assigned to conduct the yearly inspections, with national officers filling in where necessary.
A proposal came from Louise Monning Elliott, Alpha, Past Grand President, about the time of the 1916 National Convention, that Phi Mu needed to allocate funds for an inspecting officer. Erna Fergusson, Xi, National Secretary, replied, “While such an arrangement would be ideal, we cannot at this time afford to ask for further contributions from the chapters.”
When the position was finally created in the mid-1930s, the Field Secretary was charged with traveling about the country to inspect both collegiate and alumnae chapters. In May 1937 National Council selected Meta Shaw (Coleman), of Valdosta, Georgia, an alumna of both Florida State University and University of Georgia, to serve as Phi Mu’s first Field Secretary. She began her work in September 1937, inspecting 38 chapters and visiting others throughout the school year.
Having a Field Secretary who was free to travel greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the collegiate department. First Vice President Gertrude Parsons Crehan remarked on its success: “It has given a greater continuity to inspections, for it has made possible a longer inspection whenever necessary, and the chapter has derived a better national viewpoint.”
Phi Mu’s second Field Secretary was Rena Cox (Ricker), Eta Beta. She was appointed in the spring of 1939, and during the 1939-40 school year she visited 35 chapters for inspections.
The 1943 National Convention (called a War Service Conference) passed legislation that would permit appointment of more than one Field Secretary at a time. It was not until 1951 —15 years after the position was established — that it was to be filled every year without interruption, although there were several promising starts.
The appointment of Diane Bostick, Alpha Zeta, in the fall of 1951, began the present uninterrupted line of Field Secretaries (later called Chapter Consultants).
Diane traveled for Phi Mu from September 12, 1951, until January 1954. Joining her on the road to Phi Mu chapters for the 1952-53 school year was Marilyn Larson (Morgan), Zeta Kappa. For the first time, Phi Mu had more than one Field Secretary on its staff at the same time.
Diane and Marilyn continued as Field Secretaries for the 1953-54 school year, until Diane’s resignation in January. Marilyn served four years altogether, longer than any other Field Secretary has ever served.
During her last year, Marilyn carried the title of Public Relations Field Secretary, with a large part of her time devoted to extension visits. Later she became National Extension Director.
While Marilyn had spent some of her time as an extension specialist, it was not until 1987 that a Chapter Consultant, Andrea Hazzard (Zahn), Upsilon, traveled exclusively for that department. Finance was another specialty field for which a Chapter Consultant traveled. The first was Beth Sprowles (Kornstein), Rho, in 1992.
A staff of four or five became customary until the early 1980s. Since then the number has held relatively steady at seven to nine, often with one Consultant assigned to each Area. When chapters were divided into only three large Areas in 2000, two Consultants were assigned to each Area. Others took general assignments.
Chapter Consultants have come from chapters large and small, old and new, and from all regions of the country.
In 1978 the Field Secretary title was changed to Chapter Consultant. This move was consistent with the term that already had become popular among other National Panhellenic Conference groups.
Training the Traveling Staff
The first training school for Field Secretaries was held in the Executive Office in Memphis in August 1958. The training schedule has varied since, sometimes conducted in conjunction with National Leadership Conferences or National Conventions. Each year for the most recent bienniums, the field staff have been brought into the Executive Office in the summer for briefing and to be equipped with the manuals, guidelines and report forms that are their tools.
By the mid-1990s each Chapter Consultant was equipped with her own personal laptop computer to take on her travels. This allowed her to make reports electronically and have workshop ideas, manuals, membership recruitment suggestions and other information for immediate use on chapter visits. The computers were made possible by a gift from Dr. Cathy Sessums, Kappa Epsilon.
Activities of Chapter Consultants are no longer centered solely on chapter inspections as they were when the post was created in 1936.
Much of the Chapter Consultants’ time is devoted not only to working with chapter officers but to programming, recruitment, colonizations and installations. All along the way they visit alumnae and work with Advisory Councils.
Many Chapter Consultants have gone on to assume Area positions and serve as national committee chairmen. Five served on National Council and one of those — Frances Dobernig Mitchelson, Alpha Rho, — became National President. Two became Executive Directors and two were appointed Aglaia Editor.
With bags packed and that laptop computer in hand, the Chapter Consultant is ready at any time of day or night to travel to the next chapter, willing to contend with make-shift accommodations, eager to enjoy the occasional luxury of a guest room, and prepared to stay up late to deal with a chapter crisis, finish reports or write encouraging letters to the chapter just visited.
In the midst of the swift pace of such a demanding life, there are fleeting moments to reflect in wonder at the fact that total strangers at the end of her trip can become the closest of friends and co-workers – true sisters in the most meaningful sense.
Source: Lamb, Annadell. C. The History of Phi Mu: The First 150 Years. The Grace Group, 2002. Print