Dynamic creativity, coupled with vision and courage, is not confined to the college and university administrations of the current decade. In the early 1920’s, Dean Thyrsa Amos of the University of Pittsburgh, had the kind of imagination and foresight from which came the National Society of Cwens to give recognition to sophomore women outstanding in scholarship and leadership. Some 50 years and 36 chapters later, during which time the Society added dimension and meaning to the lives of hundreds of sophomore women in the colleges and universities where chapters were located, another aspect has been recognized.
The Lambda Sigma Society, whose membership includes sophomore men as well, has now supplanted Cwens. This is in keeping with the national progressive philosophy and with the stipulations mandated by Title IX. In the changeover, however, the specific significance of the heritage from which Lambda Sigma Society was created continues to be meaningful and viable.
Since the history of Cwens is indelibly linked with the history of Lambda Sigma Society, it is appropriate that Lambda Sigma members be acquainted with how the founding of Cwens came about.
Dean Amos felt keenly the need for an organization designed to recognize outstanding sophomore women on the University of Pittsburgh campus, just as the already established Society of Druids gave recognition to the University’s outstanding men. Accordingly, she spoke informally early in November 1922 with some sophomore women whose highly enthusiastic reactions encouraged her to proceed with her plans. Invitations were issued, and on November 7, 1922, twelve sophomore women, in positions of campus leadership, responded and met at Heinz House. The spontaneity of their enthusiasm was evident; they immediately decided to organize a society which would foster activities for all freshmen and sophomore women and to “select for membership in the spring those freshman women who displayed the finest Pitt spirit, showed good scholarship and expressed interest in activities through fine participation in them.” Committees were formed and the organization became a reality. After considerable discussion, the name Cwens, signifying “lady” or “queen” in Anglo-Saxon, was chosen. The emblem selected was a golden crown resting upon a scepter. The purposes proposed included fostering activities and scholarship for freshman women, promoting good fellowship and leadership and giving reinforcement to the campus groups responsible for carrying out rules and regulations. The Bylaws, formulated late that same year, became the model for the chapters to follow. This first chapter was, henceforth, to be known as Alpha chapter.
Dean Amos was indeed a woman with both energy and vision. Her presidency of the National Association of Deans of Women and of the Pennsylvania Association of Deans of Women which she founded, established the friendships and contacts which were later to promote interest in this new Society of Cwens. In April 1925, the Dean of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with the assistance of the Mortar Board chapter there, formed the second group of Cwens, to be known as Beta Chapter, with 17 charter members. Miami Cwens offered to host an “intercollegiate conference of sophomore activities groups” in order that such groups in other colleges and universities might consider membership in this new Society. The Dean at the University of Missouri was contacted by Dean Amos, also in 1925, and 19 sophomore women there became the third (Gamma) chapter. (This chapter, however, for reasons history does not record, was active only for a short period.)
With the three enthusiastic chapters at Pittsburgh, Miami, and Missouri, the Society of Cwens held a conference “on the need and place of an honorary society for sophomore women”, May 25-26, 1925, on the Miami campus.
In the opening session, delegates voted unanimously to form a national society and to call that society Cwens. Also by unanimous vote, delegates adopted officially both the insignia and the colors of Cwens at the University of Pittsburgh: “the insignia shall be a small gold pin consisting of a crown resting upon a scepter with a small garnet in the head of the scepter. The colors shall be crimson and silver, signifying, respectively courage and restraint. The garnet shall symbolize valor.” Committees were appointed to draft bylaws and to develop an appropriate ritual based on the Alpha and Beta chapters’ rituals.
The first president to serve this new national society was appropriately a member of Alpha chapter. The conference adopted a rough draft of a constitution, voted to secure a national charter, and assessed each member one dollar to cover such costs.
Expansion was discussed, the vote being to limit the establishment of chapters to four-year colleges and universities having a chapter of Mortar Board and/or whose (women) graduates could qualify for membership in the American Association of University Women. Invitations to become Cwens were limited to ten percent of the women of the freshman class.
The securing of a charter was now paramount if the Society was to be duly recognized as a national organization. On November 6, 1925, the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania certified that no other registered group bore the “aforesaid title (Cwens).” The petition was submitted, and on June 16, 1926, Judge James B. Drew approved the certificate of incorporation, and the charter of the National Society of Cwens was recorded in the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County.
Cwen officers were designated by Anglo-Saxon titles. National conventions held biennially and rotated among the colleges and universities having Cwen chapters also used the Anglo-Saxon title – Witan. The Society’s publication, sent to all member chapters, was called The Tid. In later years, and alternating with the Witan, conferences were held involving only the presidents of each chapter.
The 1972 Witan, meeting in Pittsburgh on the Duquesne University campus, observed the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of Cwens, climaxed by the Feast in the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus. This ceremony, contained in the Cwen book of rituals known as the Hydan-Bok, was one of the traditions which Cwen members have cherished over the years. Thousands of talented freshman women, during the fifty years Cwens flourished, were given recognition by selection into the membership of the Society. They, in turn, ably served their respective colleges and universities through their leadership, scholarship, and concern for others, as well as promoting of the interests of their college or university in every way possible.
Then came the years 1975 and 1976 when the Title IX Education Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1972 made mandatory the abolishment of single-sex organizations in institutions of higher learning. The chapter presidents, meeting in conference in October 1975, gave authority to the National Executive Board to disband the National Society of Cwens should no viable alternative be found to sustain it, and to formulate plans for a national sophomore honor society for both men and women. After investigating all channels for retaining Cwens in its current structure, the National Board disbanded the National Society of Cwens, and on March 6, 1976, founded Lambda Sigma Society.
The Society’s fundamental purposes remain the same: fostering leadership, scholarship, fellowship, and service, as well as promoting and serving in every way possible the interests of the colleges and universities in which the chapters are located. Lambda Sigma will continue to play a significant and meaningful role in the lives of its members and the campus communities those members serve.
— Dean Ruth W. Knights Advisory Dean to Cwens and Lambda Sigma from Allegheny College
— Jane Price Harmon, National President, 1997