Mary Griffith Canby

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Mary Griffith Canby, President 1906-1908

Mary Griffith Canby, Beta Alpha Chapter, Pennsylvania (1868-1957)

Mary Griffith (Canby), who served from 1906-1908, was a mathematician, physicist and botanist. When in 1891 she entered the University of Pennsylvania to study physics, she was one of only 20 women in the field among thousands of men. She was the first woman in the country to have her hand x-rayed – a two-hour exposure for a display of the American Philosophical Society. When elected Grand President, the Kappas of Beta Alpha Chapter held the reception in Houston Hall, the men’s clubhouse on campus, another first for women.

In the middle of her term as Grand President, she married and moved to Oregon where her husband, Will Canby, was to take charge of a gold-mining site. She remembered great masses of wild irises in full bloom on the mountain where she honeymooned – “a true Kappa welcome.” While there, her mail was delivered by mule up a narrow, steep mountain trail; the postmaster, whose sister was a Kappa, thought it should be delivered promptly because Mary was President. Mary returned to Pennsylvania for the 1908 Convention to preside.

Before her presidency, Mary had served the Grand Council eight years as deputy or officer and had visited many chapters. During her term, it was decided that the Editor of The Key would no longer be a member of Council, Beta Upsilon, West Virginia, had been installed, and the Grand Secretary had resigned. Mary took over the work, having served in that office for four years. She attended to details, advocated a late pledge day, made radical changes in rushing techniques, and believed that an invitation to membership should be considered a real honor.

After her term, she returned to Grants Pass, Oregon, where she was active in several groups, including the PTA even though she had no children. In 1909 she went to Montana to install the new chapter, Beta Phi, Montana. She brought with her 17 badges made of Montana nugget gold for the charter members.

“Fifteen years of Fraternity life…have left their impression on me,” she once said. “I believe heart and soul in the Fraternity … ”

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