On December 5, 1776, a group of young men, students of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, meeting in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg, formed the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which they dedicated to high purposes with eighteenth-century eloquence. The Phi Beta Kappa Handbook chronicles the early days of the Society in Virginia, and the fortunate establishment at Yale in 1780 and Harvard in 1781 of New England branches which ensured the perpetuation and propagation of the Society when the original chapter became inactive. During the following half century four more chapters were founded: at Dartmouth in 1787, Union in 1817, Bowdoin in 1825, and Brown in 1830. Then after a pause of fifteen years a slightly more rapid expansion began in 1845. By the end of the next half century of growth twenty-five chapters had been founded.
In 1875, the Society extended the privilege of membership to women. The need for closer unity and greater uniformity of practices led, in 1883, to the organization of the national body, the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. The name of the national body was changed in 1988 from the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and at present, there are over 240 chapters. Today, the Society not only encourages and promotes scholarship in the educational institutions of this country, but also champions freedom of teaching and inquiry and the liberal ideal in education.
In the Fall of 1985, University of Tulsa Phi Beta Kappa members petitioned that the University of Tulsa be considered as an institution worthy to be home of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In October 1988, delegates to the thirty-fifth Triennial Council voted to affirm the Senate recommendation that a charter to establish a chapter be awarded to Phi Beta Kappa members at The University of Tulsa. This chapter, Beta of Oklahoma, was installed at The University of Tulsa on May 4, 1989, at which time 16 new Phi Beta Kappa members were initiated. Besides the annual initiation ceremony, the University of Tulsa chapter sponsors Visiting Scholar Lectures, the Founder's Day Reception, and the John G. Gammie Symposium, named in honor of the late John G. Gammie, Professor of Religion, who did much to help establish our local chapter.
The present standard key, except for its smaller size and for the lower stem added by the branch at Yale, is substantially the same as the original medal of the Alpha of Virginia. On the obverse side, the medal bore the Greek letters, phi beta kappa, the initials of the Greek words, Philosophia Biou Kubernetes, which means "love of wisdom--the helmsman or guide of life." In the upper left corner, three stars symbolized the aims of the Society: Friendship, Morality, and Literature. A pointing hand in a lower corner symbolized aspiration. On the reverse side, the letters S P represented the second motto of the Society, Societas Philosophiae. Above the letters the name of the member was sometimes inscribed, and below them was engraved the date of the founding of Phi Beta Kappa: December 5, 1776.