Louisa Wylie Boisen, eldest daughter of Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie, was one of the earliest female students at Indiana University, graduating in 1871. She was also an early member of I.U.s Beta chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, the first Greek-letter women’s fraternity, founded on January 27, 1870 at DePauw University. Louisa’s daughter, Marie Boisen Bradley, her granddaughter, Louise Bradley, and her niece Rebecca (Reba) Wylie were also Thetas while attending I.U. Sometime in the 1920s, Louisa wrote “A Theta Grandmother Reminisces.” We offer here an excerpt from that piece.
“I was a product of the Female Seminary Era! The first school I attended was Mrs. McFerson’s Ladies’ Seminary in Bloomington, Indiana, I being about six years old at the time I entered; the second, Rev. Dr. Scott’s Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio; the third, Glendale Female Seminary in Glendale, Ohio. After I was graduated from Glendale I planned to teach—that, and marriage being pretty much the only fields open to women. But the Civil War came along, and all was chaos. There was war work of all sorts to be done in our town, a brother died in the war, and I was needed at home. After it was all over, I went to Princeton, Indiana to teach. Although my school was only an elementary one, I had many men in my classes, splendid fellows who had enlisted as mere lads at Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers and had come back determined to go on with their educations.
In 1868, a wonderful thing happened. Indiana University opened her doors to women! My father was professor of Physics and Chemistry there and I had always secretly longed to take some of the courses. So in the fall of 1869 I entered the Sophomore Class. It was a strange transition from my Female Seminary days! Many of the men were much incensed at this petticoat invasion of territory that had been sacred to them since 1820; others welcomed our coming and showed a brotherly, and sometimes even warmer, interest in our welfare and progress. Out of the seven girls who were graduated in 1871, three married fellow students—proof positive that they did not all hate us!
But the leaven was at work and wonders did not cease. In the spring of 1870, Minnie Hannaman came to me in great excitement. She said that the girls who had founded Kappa Alpha Theta, the new Greek letter fraternity at De Pauw wanted us to have a chapter at Indiana, and they were coming down to talk to us about it the very next day. They would meet us in her room. She was going to ask Lizzie Harbison and Lizzie Hunter to come too. Oh, wasn’t it just wonderful, and wouldn’t I come?
Of course I went, and I met our founders. Bettie Locke did most of the talking. I can remember her splendid vitality, her magnetism and enthusiasm as if it were yesterday! And still, I let the chance to become one of Beta’s charter members pass me by. Sometimes I try to think that, because I was older than the other girls, I was simply more conservative; again, I feel it was just a plain case of Cold Feet! It seemed to me that co-education was still on trial, and that we should first prove our right to it. Besides that, the men’s fraternities were just then giving a good deal of trouble—I heard a lot about that from my father—and I feared the advent of a women’s fraternity would not be welcomed by either trustees or faculty. Fortunately for Beta Chapter the three other girls did not share my conservative views. As history shows, they went right ahead, just the same, and Beta Chapter was established in May, 1870. The weeks slipped by, and things went serenely on; everybody was happy, trustees, faculty, boys, girls. I realized that I had been unduly apprehensive and I was proud to have the Kite—at that time about an inch and a half long—pinned on me. I was proud again when my daughter became a Theta in 1896, and my granddaughter in 1927!
It would undoubtedly amuse you of today to know the elaborage secrecy of our meetings in the old times. We were in very truth a secret society. Even the time and place of our meetins were shrouded in the blackest secrecy. The whispered word would go rount–”Tonight, 7:30, Min’s”–and if by chance or hard work some inquisitive outsider should discover the appoinged hour and place, well, we would just fool him by changing.
I did not know the joy of being an active Theta long, for I was graduated in 1871, the second class at Indiana to graduate women.”