The Phi Beta Kappa Society

The Phi Beta Kappa Society (PBK) was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary; it is now the oldest and most distinguished honors society in the United States. Since its founding in 1776, PBK has pursued its mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences for undergraduate students. Each year, about one in one hundred college juniors or seniors, nationwide, is invited to join Phi Beta Kappa. Members are inducted at their college or university chapters, and membership is life-long. After graduating, members can also join Phi Beta Kappa alumni associations in their communities.

The Society’s distinctive emblem, a golden key, is widely recognized as a symbol of supreme academic achievement.

Each year, PBK elects over 15,000 new members from 286 chapters across the United States. PBK also has over 50 local associations through the country, which support its ideals through academic, social, and community-based programs.

For more information, visit the national Phi Beta Kappa Society website!

PBK South Atlantic District

The Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 286 chapters and more than 50 associations are grouped into geographic districts, making up its legislative body, the Triennial Council, which confers every 3 years. At the Triennial Council meetings, district senators are nominated and elected to promote PBK’s goals in each district.

The DC Area Phi Beta Kappa Association (DCPBK) belongs to the PBK South Atlantic District, which includes chapters and associations in D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

A Brief History of the PBK Districts

The history of establishing Districts goes way back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1922, the PBK Triennial Council adopted a bylaw dividing the United States into five Districts, each being represented by a District Senator. The idea behind the establishment of five Districts, each one with an elected District Senator, was to create a fairer chartering system for colleges and universities across the United States because in the early 20th century, the majority of Phi Beta Kappa chapters was only to be found along the East Coast of the US. This was the beginning of the election of District Senators, who – regardless of the numbers of chapters in their region further West – had an equal voice with their East Coast colleagues in voting on Phi Beta Kappa matters.

However, as Oscar M. Voorhees, Secretary of Phi Beta Kappa and historian, wrote in The History of Phi Beta Kappa, published in 1945: “The effort to integrate the increasing number of Phi Beta Kappa chapters by grouping them in districts had succeeded only partially, as District meetings could be held only in connection with meetings of the Council.” The original five were later increased to seven. Richard Nelson Current, also a historian, gives us an illuminating history of the creation of the Districts in his 1990 book Phi Beta Kappa in American Life.

Today, some Districts have succeeded better than others to achieve the kind of communication that serves Phi Beta Kappa best. Other Districts, and ours is no exception, suffer from the far flung geographical separation of chapters and associations. It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to work closely together. However, our South Atlantic District, which stretches from Washington, D.C. all the way down to Florida, is trying.