Phi Beta Kappa, 1929 and Radoslav Tsanoff

Sometimes something turns up that is interesting enough to keep even though I don’t have any clear idea of what I’m going to do with it. These pictures from the installation of Rice as the Texas Beta Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1929 are an example. I found them several years ago and liked them enough to sit down and scan them, but then I just let them sit on my hard drive while I waited for . . . something.

Here are the installers, a frightening looking bunch. From left to right they are the historian Henry Osborn Taylor, who gave the address, Oscar Voorhees, the General Secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, and Dr. William J. Battie from the Texas Alpha Chapter at the University of Texas:

PBK Installers 1929

And here’s the entire gathering:

PBK Installation of Beta Chapter of Texas 1929

What brings this to mind today is Box 1 of the PBK collection, which I noticed on a shelf this afternoon while I was looking for something else. The first folders hold the correspondence surrounding the decision to grant Rice a chapter, which was not without controversy. The first issue that arose was whether a technical institute had enough focus on the liberal arts. The organization was quite doubtful about this, citing their earlier denial of a chapter to MIT, but Radoslav Tsanoff, who led the effort, fairly easily convinced them that Rice’s offerings in the humanities were adequate.

Once this first objection was met, a surprising second question was carefully raised: why so many women?

New Phi Beta Kappa question 1927

Tsanoff’s reply is a straightforward and simple statement of fact. It is also a lovely commentary about what ought to lie at the heart of the house of intellect.

(Don’t worry about the overtyping at the top–the important part begins after.)

New Phi Beta Kappa explanation 1927

Bonus: Speaking of the Texas Alpha Chapter, I saw a decidedly strange sight this afternoon out on the loading dock behind the Mechanical Engineering Building. These are three volumes of the University of Texas yearbook, the Cactus, with assorted trash:

2015-04-28 17.08.13

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17 Responses to Phi Beta Kappa, 1929 and Radoslav Tsanoff

  1. almadenmike says:

    A young Dr. Tsanoff is standing tall in the second photo. From the right side, he’s the first person wearing academic robes and a mortarboard.

  2. Matt Noall says:

    I find it interesting that the female student population was about 1/3rd in 1929; if memory serves, it was still about that in 1974. I gather now that it is closer to 1/2 (0.5 for all you decimal fanatics). I wonder if other institutions have the same history? Interesting to examine what that might say about changing society at large.

    • almadenmike says:

      When I was an undergrad (’66-’70), “the ratio” was said to be (and felt like it was) about 4:1. I suspect that the advent soon thereafter of co-ed dorms allow the fraction of women to increase, but it would be interesting to see the actual stats over the years.

      • Melissa Kean says:

        Those stats are actually pretty easily gotten, at least through the 1960s. I’m out of town until Monday but I’ll add this to the growing list of things I’ve promised to look up when I have a chance . . .

  3. Katherine Eggert says:

    I’m enjoying imagining that in 1927, Tsanoff had his exceptionally bright eight- (or so) year-old daughter in mind — the future Rice alum, professor, and dean Katherine Tsanoff Brown — when he answered PBK’s “don’t you have too many women?” question.

  4. Melissa Kean says:

    He had an amazing wife also. I’ll write about her soon.

  5. marmer01 says:

    Of course the question of women in the engineering or architecture schools isn’t even mentioned; it’s like no one could imagine it. This was true for a long time; my lovely high school English teacher, Rice ’63, wanted to be an engineer but “women couldn’t be engineers.” I’m not sure if that came from her family (her dad was an engineer) or from society in general. Or Rice…

  6. mmdlarue says:

    I don’t think we should sell Rice short, though. It was undoubtedly the most progressive institution in the state prior to WWII, certainly with regards to women. My great aunt Archa Flagg Roberts (’30) went on to a successful career as a stockbroker, when women stockbrokers were rare, and her Rice education also served my grandmother very well as an insurance agent. Not only did it give these women first rate intellectual discipline, but Rice also helped give these women the sense that they could succeed (and at something other than being a schoolteacher).

  7. Pat Campbell says:

    A friend of mine, Patsy Chappelear was only the fifth woman to graduate from Rice with an engineering degree. And that was in 1954. Nice article about her and John Chappelear in this chron link:

  8. Kathy says:

    “this condition”…like he was afraid it might be contagious?

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