Kate Bird Cross

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Kate Bird Cross, President 1888-1890

Kate Bird (Cross)(Shenehon), Chi Chapter, Minnesota (Birthdate Unknown -1939)

Kate Cross (Shenehon) became Kappa’s third Grand President after holding, in succession, every office of Chi Chapter after her initiation in September 1884. She served as Fraternity Grand Marshal 1886-1888, in charge of planning the Minneapolis Convention of 1888, at which she was elected by a membership most impressed with the arrangements she had made.

In Kappa’s 1930 history, she wrote that her presidency was “the only office of importance I have held in all my live. I have had many enthusiasms, many interests that have added material elements in a happy life, but my interest in Kappa Kappa Gamma is still heartfelt. I have a jealous concern for its well-being and success, such as one feels for a dear child.”

That concern is evident in the advances made during her term (1888-1890). Kate has been called one of the Fraternity’s “great constructive leaders.” A lover of Colonial history and genealogy, Kate felt strongly that the Fraternity’s history should be written down and chapter archives preserved “in a good, strong box with a lock and key.” She appointed Kappa’s first Historian, Mary Kingsbury (Simkhovitch), Boston, and the position of Grand Registrar was added to the Council in 1890. Registrars were named to keep chapter histories as well.

Kate presided over several other developments. Chapter houses were encouraged and a move was made to finance them. Alumnae associations without voting power came into favor. Chapters were asked to start libraries and observe Founders Day on October 13. Significantly, the Fraternity jewel and flower – the sapphire and iris – became Kappa symbols. Insignia were attached to the badges of officers to give them added prestige and respect. The Beta prefix was used for the first time with Beta Alpha – Pennsylvania, replacing the former custom of naming a new chapter after a closed one.

The Fraternity started reimbursing Grand Council and delegate Convention expenses. And it was decided that Council would meet annually between Conventions, their expenses paid by the Fraternity.

Kate also put an emphasis on Fraternity publications. Her term saw the printing of a second edition of the Song Book, the first Catalogue (Membership Directory), the Manual for Corresponding Secretaries, and the Grand President’s Report, 1888-1890. Outdated forms were discarded, and more appropriate ones embraced to help officers deal with a “yearly enlarging field of work.”

The Fraternity’s amended Constitution and Bylaws were printed for the first time, the power to amend given to the Convention delegates only. The initiation Ritual was revised, and the role and relevance of honorary members came under scrutiny for the first time. (The 1881 Fraternity Bylaws read, “Honorary members shall consist of ladies who have made progress worthy of note in some department of Science, Literature, or Art, and their election for membership shall be the same as for granting a charter.”)

But the most important of Kate’s credentials as President may well be her Grand Council’s decision to invite the other six women’s fraternities to the first-ever Panhellenic Convention in Boston in 1891 – the precursor of the National Panhellenic Conference of today.

Kate, a painter known for poetic language, moved frequently after her marriage to Francis Shenehon in May of 1891. When the couple settled in Minneapolis in 1909, Kate resumed her relationship with Chi Chapter. Neither Tade Hartsuff Kuhns nor Charlotte Barrell Ware had children, but Kate Cross Shenehon had three daughters – all of whom became members of Chi Chapter. Her family also included two Kappa sisters, a Kappa sister-in-law and four Kappa nieces. “As a family we claim to stand high in ‘Kappa Content,’ ” she once wrote, and either syllable of that last word could be emphasized.

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