National History of Omicron Delta Kappa

Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society, was founded December 3, 1914, at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, by fifteen student and faculty leaders. In the tradition of the idealism and leadership of George Washington and Robert E. Lee, the founders formulated the idea that leadership of exceptional quality and versatility in college should be recognized, that representatives in all phases of college life should cooperate in worthwhile endeavors and that outstanding students, faculty and administration members should meet on a basis of mutual interest, understanding, and helpfulness.

The motives which guided the founders sprang from a desire to bring together in one body, for the general good of the institution, all leaders in the various phases of college activities. They were convinced that such an honor society, properly conducted, would offer maximum opportunities and experiences for the campus. It would also serve as a cooperative effort for more effective leadership and service in the purposes, interests, and needs of the institution, and for the maintenance and improvement of the unity and democracy of learning and citizenship responsibilities.

portrait of founding members

The Founders

The inception of the movement which eventually resulted in the establishment of Omicron Delta Kappa was due to:

  • J. Carl Fisher, business manager of the student magazine, leader in social and speech activities, and student instructor in physics.

He associated with himself two other members of the student body:

  • Rupert Nelson Latture, Delta Upsilon, Phi Beta Kappa, president of the Young Men’s Christian Association, social leader, and student instructor in French;
  • and William Moseley Brown, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Phi Beta Kappa, debater, literary and social leader, student instructor in German and past president of the Young Men’s Christian Association.

These three men met together on many occasions. They consulted frequently with:

  • Dr. Henry Louis Smith, Phi Delta Theta, Phi Beta Kappa, president of the University;
  • Dr. De la Warr Benjamin Easter, Kappa Sigma, Phi Beta Kappa, Professor of Romance Languages;
  • and Professor David Carlisle Humphreys, Phi Gamma Delta, Dean of the School of Engineering.

These faculty members thought very highly of the proposal to establish a new kind of honor society and become members of the group of founders.

After a careful survey and study of campus life and activities as they existed at Washington and Lee in 1913-14, the main outline of the purpose and plan for establishing Omicron Delta Kappa was worked out. New members were selected and invited from time to time until the list of founders included, in addition to those already mentioned, the following:

  • James Edwin Bear, Beta Theta Pi, editor of the student magazine and leader in social and religious affairs;
  • Carl Shaffer Davidson, Kappa Sigma and instructor in Civil Engineering;
  • Edward Parks Davis, Kappa Sigma, manager of the glee club and all-around athlete;
  • Edward A. Donahue, Phi Kappa Sigma and captain of football and baseball;
  • Philip Pendleton Gibson, Pi Kappa Alpha, president of student government and editor of the student newspaper;
  • Thomas McPheeters Glasgow, Phi Delta Theta, orator and athlete;
  • John Eppes Martin, Alpha Chi Rho, business manager of the college annual and student instructor in English;
  • William Caulfield Raftery, Phi Kappa Sigma, all-around athlete and social leader;
  • and John Purver Richardson, Jr., Sigma Chi, officer in student government and student instructor in biology.

Hearty approval was given to the proposal to establish this leadership honor society by the administration and faculty of Washington and Lee. A number of meetings were held for the purpose of perfecting the pattern and details of organization. Most of these gatherings took place in Reid and Washington Halls. The first public announcement of the establishment of Omicron Delta Kappa was made in the Ring-tum Phi, student newspaper of Washington and Lee University, on January 12, 1915.

The first regularly elected faculty member was Dr. James Lewis Howe, Professor of Chemistry and later Dean of Washington and Lee University. The first regularly elected member honoris causa was Dr. John Halliday Latane, Professor of History at the Johns Hopkins University. They were initiated into membership on April 30, 1915, along with nine student leaders.

The Growth of an Idea

Omicron Delta Kappa, or “ODK” as it is popularly known, functioned in a most admirable way from the very outset. At first there was no thought of immediate extension to other institutions, but it was apparent that Omicron Delta Kappa, if properly conducted, would prove beneficial to any college campus where it might be established. Almost spontaneously, requests for charters were received from local groups at the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Davidson College. By 1917 there were four Circles of Omicron Delta Kappa. These groups, impressed with the ODK Idea, together formed the National Society.

It is a significant fact that Omicron Delta Kappa was the first college honor society of a national scope to accord recognition and honor for meritorious leadership and service in extracurricular activities and to encourage the development of general campus citizenship. It is to be noted that the Society has always had a strong secondary membership requirement of scholarship, although its prime requisites for membership are character and meritorious attainments in all-around leadership in college and university life.

During World War I, the Society remained intact under the administration of Dr. D.B. Easter, its first National President, who was assisted by several of the older faculty members while most of the younger members were serving their country in the Army and Navy.

After the War each of the four Circles of Omicron Delta Kappa continued its work as though there had been no interruption whatsoever. As a result of able faculty leadership, the Society was ready for the remarkable growth and development witnessed in American colleges and universities in the ensuing years. The ODK Idea is an expanding one which has taken firm root in over 300 colleges and universities.

During World War II, faculty and administration members of the Society again filled in the gap left by student members who entered the armed services and assumed full responsibility for carrying on the Society during the war period.

The genius of the founders in providing for voting faculty and administration membership as a part of The ODK Idea has given wise counsel and continuity that is so necessary to the Circle organization at all times. This has been especially true during the two war emergency periods in the Society’s history.

Women in ODK

During the first sixty years of existence, the Society initiated only men. At the 1970 and 1972 National Conventions, The University of Alabama Circle introduced an amendment to the National Constitution to admit women into the Society. The Special Committee on the Possible Role of Women in ??K met in January 1973 and recommended changes to the National Constitution that would abolish segregation based on gender within the Society. On March 12, 1974, the ODK National Convention convened in New Orleans and approved the initiation of women.

On that date, the first women members were officially recognized by the Society. They were: Newark College of Engineering Circle (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) – Carolyn Julia Kucinski and Diane Christine Ragosa; University of South Florida Circle – Laurel Teverbaugh Beeman, Robbie Lynn Cooney, Maria Dolores del Valle, Roxane R. Dow, Constance Hill Mabry, Catherine Ann Rohrbacher, Karen Diane Janzer, Linda Ann Touten, Martha Gwyn Van Deman and Cathy Sue Welch.

Cheryl M. Hogle was elected as the first female National President at the Convention in Knoxville, Tennessee on February 28, 1998. After serving four terms as a Faculty Province Director and two terms as National Vice President for Extension, she was elected by unanimous vote of the Convention.

Sally Jones Hill was the first woman awarded the Laurel Crowned Circle Award July 12, 2003.

Incorporation of the Society

On March 22, 1992, the National Convention passed a resolution authorizing the incorporation of the Society. On July 1, 1992, the Omicron Delta Kappa Society was merged into the corporation, the Omicron Delta Kappa Society, Inc.


* Content adapted from the Omicron Delta Kappa National Website.