Eleanor V.V. Bennet
Eleanor V.V. Bennet, Pi Deuteron Chapter, UC Berkeley (1874-1940)
Eleanor V.V. Bennet was 57 when she took over after Alice Barney’s death, and her ascension to Grand President (1933-1935) was the richly deserved pinnacle of 38 years of active Fraternity service that started at the University of California, UC Berkeley.
Eleanor Van Syckle Vanderbelt Bennet had already been graduated, a commencement speaker and was studying for a master’s degree when Pi Deuteron Chapter was re-installed at Berkeley in 1897. But four years earlier, as an undergraduate, Eleanor had been part of the group that petitioned Kappa for a chapter – a request that was rejected on grounds the Fraternity could not afford another chapter in the West. Because her signature was on the original petition, she was initiated with Pi Deuteron’s charter members when the chapter was finally reinstated.
In California high schools, Eleanor taught English, public speaking and parliamentary law, subjects that served her well in her Kappa life, and Kappa – more so than her profession – as Eleanor Bennet’s life. When she traveled, it was for Kappa. She once said her “hobbies” were improving Fraternity image, talking to Kappas and reading their letters.
As President of the Pi Alumnae Association, Eleanor was delegate to the 1906 Convention. She wrote essays for The Key and in 1909 was made Business Manager. She was parliamentarian for the 1924 and 1926 Conventions, and from 1921-1927 was Vice President and then President of Kappa Province. From 1926-1930, she was National Director of Provinces and in the last 18 months of that time visited 61 chapter and alumna groups, often for days at a time. Georgia Hayden Lloyd-Jones wondered if there was ever a Director of Provinces who was so intimately acquainted with all the young women in two-thirds of the chapters but was practical enough to recommend that a Field Secretary (now Leadership Consultant) be hired for chapter visits.
In 1930, she was elected Grand Vice President and directed her efforts toward advancing the interests of alumnae associations. (During this time, her recommendation for a Field Secretary was heeded – with the selection of Helen Snyder, Beta Pi, Washington). Eleanor’s vice presidency was cut short, however, when she ascended to the office of Grand President upon Alice Barney’s sudden death in 1933. Eleanor was elected Grand President at the Convention of 1934, which also saw the creation of a Director of Standards (again, Helen Snyder) and the elimination of Grand Registrar.
During Eleanor’s presidency, a financial booklet was created, a magazine agency and national vocational guidance bureau were established and the first fellowships were awarded. A highlight of her term was the restoration of Alpha Chapter at Monmouth on October 13, 1934, attended by two living Founders – Louisa Stevenson Miller and Louise Bennett Boyd. But Eleanor herself was unable to attend, overcome by “pure fatigue” and admitted to a hospital. “Though you think I have no children…I do have them by the hundreds…even thousands – and all daughters!” she said, paraphrasing Mr. Chips, in a message to Alpha.
Her health failed to improve and at the opening of the Grand Council in June 1935, Eleanor’s resignation was read. Helen Snyder Andres was appointed to complete her term. Five years later, Eleanor died. “We will recall that valiant, white-haired little figure to whom two reestablished chapters, Pi Deuteron and Alpha Deuteron, are living memorials,” as written in The Key.