• TitlePhi Sigma Collection RG 1000.11
  • PublisherCollege Archives & Special Collections at Columbia College Chicago
  • LanguageEnglish
  • RepositoryCollege Archives & Special Collections at Columbia College Chicago
  • OriginationPhi Sigma
  • Physical Description11.0 Cubic Feet 4 record boxes, 16 flat boxes, 1 oversize box Forms of Material: administrative records; Audiocassettes; color negatives; Correspondence; Creative writing; journals (periodicals); minutes (administrative records); Newspaper Clippings; Photographs; Poetry; reports; videotapes
  • Date1878-2012
  • AbstractPhi Sigma is a social organization which was founded in 1878 in Chicago, Illinois. This group is dedicated to public speaking and is the second oldest, continuously running organization of its kind in Illinois. This collection honors Columbia College Chicago's early curricula in oratory arts and it speaks to Columbia's mission and curricula today. The collection strength of the Phi Sigma Manuscript Collection consists of writings created by members, such as the Critics' Reports, Minutes, Presentation Papers, and their periodical "The Voice of Phi Sigma." The entire collection dates from 1878 to 2012 in 11.0 cubic feet.

On April 5, 1878, six young men, Gerald H. Beard, W. (William) Harrington Beard, Robert Jeneson, John W. Mabbs, C. (Charles) Herbert Small, and Henry B. Wilson, formed a literary society in Chicago, Illinois. Their first meeting was held at the Beard Brothers Book Store on 453 West Madison Street (now 1308 W. Madison St., between Ada and Throop Sts.). "In the corner of that store on a bench, two chairs, a stool and a keg (I think there was a keg - empty keg) the old Phi Sigma started!" (W. Harrington Beard). Initially, the group struggled with naming itself and members simply referred to themselves as the “Class.” By March 1879, the name “Phi Sigma” was chosen as the Greek name for “Knowledge Seekers.”

The group formed with the purpose to “devise ways to aid in the study of literature and history and to afford an opportunity for practice in debate.” During its first few months, members devoted themselves to serious study, critique, and presentations. As time went on, the weekly “degenerated into a good deal of boys frolic.” As a result, Mr. Beard proposed a disbandment of the group in January 1879. However, this proposal was “voted down and with a promise to do better in the future.”

In February 1882, William Hulin proposed admitting female members to Phi Sigma. At the March 21, 1882 meeting, six women joined the group: Jennie H. Allen, Frederica Beard, Vivien Cowles, Minnie Hanley, May G. Harsha, and Alice G. Hinchliffe.

Phi Sigma regularly published a compilation of papers call “The Voice of the Phi Sigma,” or “The Voice,” and presented them at meetings. The first volume was issued on June 10, 1879 and every two weeks thereafter. Since the members of Phi Sigma dedicated themselves to "mental improvement," "The Voice" served as an outlet for debate, information, news, and study. An editor was picked by the Chairman (later, the President) of the organization four weeks prior to the release of the issue. Topics covered in “The Voice” spanned many subjects such as History, English Language and Literature, Travel, Current Events, Philosophy, Religion, Inventions, etc. Many issues also include announcements about members and "squibs" sections that include jokes, riddles, word puzzles, and quotations. Over time, the publications recurred less often and by 1900, “The Voice” was issued annually.

Although study was the priority of Phi Sigma, the group became a strong social organization as well. Many early members married one another and they held annual picnics in Lake Forest, Illinois. The Phi Sigma Camping Club was incorporated in 1891 after several members ventured to Twin Lakes, Wisconsin in July 1890 to visit Dr. Walter May Fitch’s cottage. Phi Sigmites have also held many annual banquets for New Year’s celebrations and anniversaries of the group.

Members and guests continue to gather monthly from October to May at the home of one of the members. A talk is featured at each meeting, presented by a group member, focused on a theme selected at the beginning of the season. There is discussion of the topic after each talk. Phi Sigma today continues in accordance with its long traditions first established in that Chicago bookstore. The May meeting traditionally has its members engaged in an outing, a party, or a field trip to wrap up the class or season of that particular year.

The Phi Sigma Collection dates from 1878 to 2012 in 11.0 cubic feet. The collection strength of the Phi Sigma Manuscript Collection consists of writings created by members, such as the Critics’ Reports, Minutes, Presentation Papers, and their periodical “The Voice of Phi Sigma.”

The collection also includes records about the history of the organization, some of its founding documents, records about anniversary celebrations, rosters of members, meeting minutes, annual programs, records and photographs from their 1890 Camping Club, records for events and outings, publicity materials, financial records, and multimedia materials.

This collection has been arranged into fourteen series:

Series 1: History of Phi Sigma, 1898-2001 Series 2: Founding Documents, 1879-1896, 1986 Series 3: Anniversaries, 1888-1978 Series 4: Membership and Minutes, 1879-2012 Series 5: Programs, 1888-2012 Series 6: Critics’ Reports, 1878-1896 Series 7: Presentation Papers, 1892-2010 Series 8: Writings, 1880s, 2003-2005 Series 9: Camping Club, 1890-1891 Series 10: May Outing/Party, 1923-2006 Series 11: Publicity, 1979-2006 Series 12: Financial, 1885-2000 Series 13: Multimedia, 1989-1996 Series 14: The Voice of Phi Sigma, 1879-2012

The first twelve and the fourteenth series have been arranged by subject, and materials within the Multimedia series (13) have been separated and arranged by format. Within each series, items have been arranged chronologically. In exception, the Resignations, Applications, and Member Obituaries in the Membership and Minutes series have been arranged alphabetically by surname.

Phi Sigma Collection, College Archives & Special Collections, Columbia College Chicago

Gerald H. Beard Papers. Divintiy School Library, Yale University Library

Harrington Beard House. Landmark Building, Heritage Preservation Commission, Minneapolis, MN

Chicago Literary Club Records. 1874-1960, Midwest Manuscript Collection, The Newberry Library

Materials available for research. Certain folders and student records have limited access.

Materials are the property of Columbia College Chicago. Intellectual property rights of work belong to the original creators.

Access to digitized objects within this collection can be found at DigitalCommons.

Phi Sigma donated the collection to the College Archives on April 8, 2011

  • Subject
    • Social groups -- Illinois -- Chicago
    • Speeches, addresses, etc.
    • writing
    • educating
  • Geographic CoverageChicago (Ill.)
  • Names
    • Phi Sigma
    • Beard, W. Harrington (William Harrington)
    • Beard, Gerald H. (Gerald Harrington)