In1897, ten seniors at the University of Maine, envisioning a society whose membership would be open to the superior college student, regardless of academic discipline, were assisted by interested members of the faculty in organizing the Lambda Sigma Eta Society. A year or so later, the name was changed to the Morrill Society, in honor of the sponsor of the congressional act which provided for land-grant colleges. In 1900, the presidents of the University of Maine, the Pennsylvania State College (now the Penn State University), and the University of Tennessee pledged their support; and the society thus became national, with three chapters. It was renamed Phi Kappa Phi from the initial letters of the three classical greek words forming its adopted motto: philosophia krateito photon, ‘let the love of learning rule humanity.’ currently there are over 287 chapters of Phi Kappa Phi scattered from Maine to Hawaii and the Philippines, and from Alaska to Puerto Rico.
The badge of this society is a globe against the background of the sun, whose rays form an expansive corona and radiate in a number of symmetrical and equal concentrations from behind the globe. These signify equivalence among the varous branches of learning and represent dissemination of truth as light. Encircling the globe is a band containing the greek letters φkφ (“phi kappa phi”) and symoblizing a fraternal Bond which girds the earth and binds the lovers of wisdom in a common purpose. The seal of the society has at its center the badge. This in turn is surrounded by a crenelated line which represents the battlements
And walls of troy and which symbolizes a technological aspect of the ancient greek culture reflected by the society. In the space between this line and the periphery of the seal appear three stars just above the badge, one for each of the three original chapters. Just below the badge is the phrase “founded 1897.” The ribbon of the society is a meander pattern which is common in ancient greek art and thus symbolizes the classical features of the society.
The traditions of Phi Kappa Phi at Penn State are long-standing; as Penn State joined the Universities of Maine and Tennessee in 1900 to establish the society as a national society. Penn State University became the third chapter of the society. Among the charter members of our university’s chapter are: George W. Atherton, the seventh president of Penn State, William A. Buckhout, the first honorary doctorate recipient, I Thornton Osmond, who ushered physics into prominence, Harriet A. Mcelwain, history professor and president Atherton’s secretary, Fred Lewis Pattee, professor of english who authored Penn State’s Alma Mater, and Anna Redifer, to name only six of the original 24 C members at Penn State. Many of the buildings are named after these esteem individuals in recognition of their contribution to Penn State. Phi Kappa Phi holds the distinction of being the oldest honorary society that recognizes excellence in all recognized branches of academic endeavor at Penn State University.