Today in History: Phi Beta Kappa

Gold medals for the honour and merit of literary achievement
Today in History–December 5–the Library of Congress features America’s first university honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, founded on this day in 1776 at the College of William and Mary. Six years prior, the Governor of Virginia had proclaimed the intention to “give, annually, two gold medals for the honour and merit of literary achievement” to students of the college. When the College of William and Mary closed during the Revolutionary War, Phi Beta Kappa expanded to Harvard and Yale. The organization later spread to colleges throughout New England and by the end of the nineteenth century, the once secretive, exclusively male social group opened to women and became a national honor society dedicated to fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Learn more by visiting the Today in History section, then click the links below to access related resources.

Honor Society Phi Beta Kappa Was Founded from America’s Library

Phi Beta Kappa speeches & books

Phi Beta Kappa historical newspaper coverage

Phi Beta Kappa 2006 web archive

Phi Beta Kappa website (current)

College of William & Mary primary source set

College of William & Mary historical newspaper coverage

College fraternity primary source set