Mortar Board's Proud History

Mortar Board began as the first-ever national organization honoring senior college women. Today, it has grown into a comprehensive honor society that selects first-rate members who exemplify the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and service.

The Eta Chapter of Mortar Board was founded in 1923 at Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University. Since that time our chapter has become the premier senior honors society at the university. Each year we invite the top students in each senior class to apply for membership. Students are chosen because they have demonstrated excellence in scholarship, leadership, and community service. We then extend membership to the top fifty applicants. As one of the oldest Mortar Board chapters in the country, the Eta Chapter has a long standing tradition of serving our campus and surrounding community. For our current volunteer events, please see Upcoming Events and/or Projects.

Before becoming a part of Mortar Board, Carnegie Mellon had a Senior women's honors society called "The Sphinx," which was created in 1922. This group was composed of twelve members from the Margaret Morrison Carnegie College and the College of Fine Arts (CFA). The members were chosen on the basis of activities, scholarship, and personality. At this time, there were eight other honorary societies, but they were all for men. The Sphinx's purpose was to bring the girls of Margaret Morrison and CFA "into closer harmony and to promote new ideas and activities which further the interest of girls on the campus." Only a year after forming, the Sphinx joined Mortar Board as the Eta chapter.

Our chapter has steadily grown over the years; starting with twelve founding members, we now invite fifty new members to join each year. We continue to be a group that emphasizes leadership, scholarship, and service. One of the most popular events that Mortar Board holds is the Turkey Fundraiser. It raises money for literacy programs in Pittsburgh by getting donations for a professor to dress in a turkey suit for a day.

Being an organization with 100% turnover each year allows for a constant flow of new ideas and the opportunity to pass inspiration down from class to class. The activities we do each year reflect the desires of the senior class, what they want to do to benefit the community, and how they can best enhance our campus.

Below are a few landmark dates in the ever-growing history of Mortar Board.

1915: A member of Mortar Board, a local honor society at The Ohio State University, met a member of Pi Sigma Chi from Swarthmore College on the campus of the University of Chicago. Each woman wore a small pin in the shape of a mortarboard. Through discussion, they realized each pin represented an honor society for women with similar values and procedures.

1918: Representatives from Cornell University, The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, Swarthmore College, and Syracuse University held the founding meeting on February 15 on the campus of Syracuse University. Each university chose to join the national organization but Syracuse. At this time the pin, motto and bylaws were adopted. The organization remained nameless.

1919: Although the organization had informally been called “Mortar Board” in numerous pieces of correspondence since the founding meeting, the name was not made official until the second national convention, held at The University of Michigan. It was decided that national officers would come from ranks of alumni.

1923: Official delegates of each chapter in attendance at the national convention determined that districts in Mortar Board should be established to help facilitate the growing size of the organization, now consisting of eighteen chapters.

1937: Mortar Board was invited to become a member of the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) . Mortar Board was the only organization composed entirely of women to be recognized by the ACHS at the time.

1955: Delegates from Mortar Board’s chapters voted to establish the Mortar Board Foundation Fund. The purpose was to create a means by which contributions might be able to advance the purposes of the organization.

1970: By decision from the delegates at the national conference, a National Office for Mortar Board was established. The National Office was to be located on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

1973: Mortar Board instituted an award to honor women who had made outstanding contributions to the status of women, consistent with the society’s ideals, known as the National Citation. The first citation was presented to Congresswoman Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan.

1975: The ramifications of Title IX, an act which prohibited gender discrimination within organizations on campuses that were recipients of federal funds, were taken into consideration and membership was opened to male students. The purpose of the organization at this time was amended to include “to promote and advance the status of women.”

1976: The purpose was revisited, and affirmed “to emphasize the advancement of the status of women” as well as “to promote equal opportunities among all people.”

1985: Mortar Board delegates initiated a national project to be selected biennially, with the first being organ donor awareness.

2002: Delegates voted to make a pro-literacy project, “Reading is Leading,” the permanent national project for Mortar Board.