May Cynthia Whiting Westermann
May Cynthia Whiting Westermann, Sigma Chapter, Nebraska (1874-1948)
May C. Whiting Westermann is the only Kappa to have served three terms as president, first as Grand President from 1902-1904, and next as its first National President from 1922-1924 and 1924-1926.* Her name is on the charters of eight chapters and on the membership certificates of approximately 3,000 Kappas.
Most notable of all, May Whiting Westermann researched and edited the long-awaited History of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity, 1870-1930, and in a Convention toast in 1932, she famously said, “Buy the History, Read the History, Never Write a History.”
May was a sweet-faced woman with a commanding presence who embodied the ideals of Kappa in courage, mentality, honesty and vision – and she had a head for detail.
May attended her first Convention as a speaker in 1896 and then served as assistant Marshal in 1898, where she was appointed deputy to the Grand Treasurer. She held that office until the 1900 Convention in Columbus, Ohio, when she was elected Grand Secretary. When the Grand Council met in July 1901 in Buffalo, N.Y., Jean Penfield was ill, leaving May to preside over private business sessions at which the Beta Beta debacle was discussed.
The following year she was elected Grand President and married (she later raised a son). As President, she accepted the gift of a gavel carved from a stairway at Monmouth’s Old Main, first used at the 1928 Convention. The devastating Fraternity Headquarters fire in 1965 damaged the Monmouth gavel. It was replaced at Convention by the Westermann gavel, first given in 1904 to May Whiting Westermann by her Council, and then left to the Fraternity. At the end of her term, she was appointed Historian but resigned in 1905 and did no Kappa work for 14 years.
In 1918, however, the one-time adjunct professor and lover of English literature resumed her Kappa service as Custodian of the Badge.** As such she attended the 1920 Convention, where she was unanimously elected National President. During the historic two-terms that followed, she served as 1923 delegate to the National Panhellenic Congress (now known as Conference) in Boston at a time when opposition to fraternities was gathering at a number of universities.
At the end of what was her third term, in 1924, Kappa had 51 chapters, a huge number for Council members to visit, and May pressed for further development of province government. In 1925, the resignation of the Historian was accepted with regret and Council took on the daunting task of publishing a history.
May assumed this task and at the same time presided over revising, printing and distributing the Bylaws and Standing Rules. She spent hours helping verify rolls for the Catalogue and oversaw production of a pamphlet promoting the benefits of college fraternities, to be used as a continuous, “as-needed” balance to anti-fraternity sentiment. The re-establishment of Rho Chapter, Ohio Wesleyan, was a highlight of 1925.
In 1926, May offered to act as editor rather than author of the history, acknowledging the task of authorship too difficult on top of her other duties.
Still, the task was intimidating over the next four years, as few chapters or past Presidents responded to her plea for research and writing assistance. Her publishing goal of October 1930 – 60 years after the founding of Kappa – came and went, and she personally felt a failure. But May persevered, and the thick blue-and gold-bound volume was presented with pride (and the aforementioned caveat against history writing) in 1932. “It is a volume full of fascination … of questions answered and unanswered. It is the Kappas who wrote it and took part in it. It is May Westermann. It is the Fraternity. And now it is a collector’s item.”
May continued to serve Kappa, when in 1934, the work of Historian was separated from Ritualist and she took on the latter task.
Her efforts and loyalty were recognized with the presentation of the Westermann Cup, now known as the Efficiency Award. The retired cup is engraved, “To own the cup a chapter must have served the Fraternity in a small measure as our Nation President has – meeting its demands untiringly, unselfishly, unceasingly.”
- There were only two National Presidents, May Whiting Westermann and Georgia Hayden Lloyd-Jones, before the designation Grand was used again. It was then eliminated in the 1940 revision of the Bylaws.
- The 1908 General Convention voted to add this position for the protection of the badge. The Custodian perfected an order form and system to order badges. She received all badge orders, then countersigned and recorded each order. These orders were then forwarded to the official jewelers. There were three Custodians of the Badge, George Challoner (Tracy), Wisconsin, Cleora Wheeler, Minnesota and May Westermann. In 1922, this responsibility was moved to the Central Office (Fraternity Headquarters).