Mortar Board is a national honor society recognizing college seniors for their exemplary scholarship, leadership and service.
Mortar Board’s purpose is to:
- promote equal opportunities among all peoples,
- emphasize the advancement of the status of women,
- support the ideals of the college or university,
- advance a spirit of scholarship,
- recognize and encourage leadership,
- provide service,
- contribute to the self-awareness of its members, and
- establish the opportunity for a meaningful exchange of ideas as individuals and as a group.
Mission – Mortar Board, a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for their achievements in scholarship, leadership and service, provides opportunities for continued leadership development, promotes service to colleges and universities and encourages lifelong contributions to the global community. (Adopted July 1994)
Motto – Pi Sigma Alpha, letters that correspond to three Greek words representing the Ideals of Mortar Board: scholarship, service and leadership.
Symbol – A mortarboard, an ancient symbol of honor and distinction, represents the organization. Many early scholars adopted the clerical or monastic robes as a symbol, illustrating their devotion to learning.
Colors – Gold (representing achievement) and silver (symbolizing opportunity).
We Are Mortar Board
Leading the way for success since 1918
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.
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. At this time, the pin, motto and Bylaws were adopted. The organization remained nameless.
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, and institutions would petition the Society to be considered for a chapter charter.
Official delegates of each chapter in attendance at the national conference at Swarthmore College determined that districts in Mortar Board should be established to help facilitate the growing size of the Society, which had grown to 18 chartered chapters. It was also agreed that campuses declared "first-rate" by the American Association of University Women be permitted to petition Mortar Board for a charter.
The Mortar Board Quarterly (now called the Forum) was established by the delegates.
The National Council was expanded to eight members and 35 chapters answered the roll call at the national conference. At this conference, the first national project of the Society was created when chapters were encouraged to provide "personnel work" (later called "vocational guidance") on campus. Chapters were charged with helping other students on campus determine their course in life after graduation. The deans of women on campuses nationwide welcomed this assistance from Mortar Board.
During the Great Depression, many chapters' Minutes reflected the economic situation by recording projects like gathering and distributing clothing to needy college students, donating food and supporting scholarships. The effects of the Depression also had a serious impact on the Mortar Board students who graduated during this difficult period. The Mortar Board National Project of vocational assistance for graduates took on new meaning as the Depression deepened.
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 ACHS.
The first national fellowships in honor of retiring National President Katherine Wills Coleman were established at the national conference held in Buckhill Falls, Pa. Six months later, the United States was plunged into World War II, and Mortar Board chapters became involved in many war-related activities and projects.
The first African American member joined Mortar Board at The Ohio State University, and the next year, the National Council issued a statement that "All candidates fulfilling the requirements of membership in Mortar Board . . . are eligible regardless of race, color or creed."
Mortar Board celebrated its 25th anniversary, and National President Coral Vanstrum Stevens noted the Society's accomplishments and challenges in a Quarterly article. She challenged members to be "leaders of women."
The Coral Vanstrum Stevens Gift Membership was established to honor the retiring national president who guided the organization from 1941 to 1949 during World War II and the postwar period. The gift membership was awarded annually to a member in each chapter who otherwise would be financially unable to accept membership in Mortar Board.
Delegates from Mortar Board's chapters voted to establish the Mortar Board National Foundation Fund to advance the purpose of the Society.
Delegates at the national conference voted to establish a National Office. The National Office would be located on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, although that arrangement did not last long, and the National Office moved to a building off-campus.
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 for her role in steering the Equal Rights Amendment toward passage in the House of Representatives.
The society considered the ramifications of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, legislation that prohibited gender discrimination by organizations on campuses receiving federal funds. In a special national conference held in October in Kansas City, Mo., membership was opened to men. The purpose of our Society was amended to include the words "to promote and advance the status of women."
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."
Mortar Board Week was established by the delegates meeting at the national conference. Each chapter was to promote Mortar Board's Ideals in February during the week that coincided with our Society's founding.
Mortar Board delegates initiated a national project to be selected biennially, and the first of these was organ donor awareness.
The National Citation was given to President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at the national conference in Atlanta.
Mortar Board celebrated its 75th anniversary, and National President Kay MacKenzie urged chapters to update their local histories and highlight their own founding date with the national celebration. The National Foundation launched a campaign for a million-dollar endowment.
A new website was developed, and Mortar Board's Career Network was thriving. National leaders focused on developing a strategic plan for the Society’s future.
Delegates voted to make the pro-literacy project "Reading is Leading" the permanent national project for Mortar Board.
Mortar Board celebrated its Centennial, and the Mortar Board National Foundation’s Centennial Campaign received $1.4 million in contributions.
Mortar Board: A Century of Scholars, Chosen for Leadership, United to Serve
Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society has a unique place in the history of higher education and, indeed, in the history of the United States. In preparation for its centennial, volunteers poured over 50,000 photos, memos and files to prepare its first-ever history compilation. The result is a beautifully accurate, sometimes humorous and always enlightening portrayal of college life in the United States over the last 100 years.
Alan K. Simpson
UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING, 1997
Politician and veteran
UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO, 2011
THE UNIVERSITY OF TULSA, 1955
BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY, 1982
PURDUE UNIVERSITY, 1955
Former Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)
2004 National Citation Recipient
Actor and literacy advocate
1997 National Citation Recipient
Children's learning advocate and TV host
CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, 1996
CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, 1970
PURDUE UNIVERSITY, 2000
Former professional football player
UNIVERSITY OF DENVER, 1973
Former U.S. Secretary of State and educator
THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, 1995
Olympic Gold Medalist & WNBA basketball star and coach
OHIO UNIVERSITY, 1982
News anchor and local Emmy award winner in the Washington, D.C. area