Rheva Ott Shryock

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Rheva Ott Shryock, President 1936-1940

Rheva Ott Shryock, Beta Alpha Chapter, Pennsylvania (1896-1989)

Rheva Ott Shryock was the last of the Grand Presidents (1936-1940); by the end of her second term she had convinced the Fraternity to drop the term “grand,” saying she thought “grand” was archaic, while the simple “president” was both dignified and distinctive. Interestingly, it was the undergraduates, not the alumnae, whom Rheva had to persuade on this issue.

The deletion of “grand” from the titles of the officers and from the Council was part of an extensive revision of the Fraternity Bylaws, a process that sparked in Rheva what was to become a lifelong interest in parliamentary law. After her own presidency, she served seven Presidents as parliamentarian (1950-1974). She shared her expertise with other organizations, including the National Panhellenic Congress (1949-1955), the American Association of University Women (1951-1972), and the Girl Scouts (1963-1973), and she wrote several handbooks on parliamentary procedure.

Rheva was genuinely surprised when she was nominated to be Grand President in 1936. She had expected Helen Snyder Andres to run for the office and had thought she would be made director of extension because she had recommended, while serving as Director of Provinces (1934-1936), that such an office be created to divide the director’s workload. (She was also first to propose an Associate Council, composed of Province Officers, and as Director of Provinces, edited several Province Officer manuals, benchmarks for booklets to come.)

She also served as Vice President of Lambda Province in 1931 and Province President in 1932, and was instrumental in the installation of Delta Beta Chapter at Duke, where her husband, Richard, was a faculty member.

As an undergraduate, Rheva had been chapter President at the University of Pennsylvania and majored in chemistry. In 1921, she received a Master of Arts degree. She taught for many years at a number of institutions, including Johns Hopkins University from 1950-1958.

Women’s history was a subject dear to Rheva’s heart. She foresaw the importance of continuing education for women and created such a program while president of the Association of Alumnae, University of Pennsylvania (1960-1962).

While Grand President, Rheva convened what was the first Convention south of the Mason-Dixon line in 68 years (in Hot Springs, VA) and suggested Vanderbilt for extension 37 years before Epsilon Nu was installed. She saw the need for a Kappa retirement home and was responsible for the purchase of Hearthstone in Winter Park, Fla., which opened in 1938. In addition, Province Officers manuals and a House Director manual were written and The Fleur-de-Lis, which contained letters from Council to alumnae, was published. The 1938 Convention saw the start of a new bequest program. And at Sun Valley, conventioneers were promised a free day for the first time.

Rheva had hoped to have Nora Waln, Beta Iota, Swarthmore, a writer living in England, as keynote speaker at Sun Valley, but Nora’s world was already at war. A Nora Waln Fund for refugee children was proposed by Helen Bower, Beta Delta, Michigan, Editor of The Key, and upon completion of her term as Grand President, Rheva became its first chairman. Seven years later, Rheva received the Liberation Medal (now housed at Fraternity Headquarters) from King Haakon of Norway for Kappa’s work in providing layettes for babies, part of the Nora Waln project.

Rheva received the Alumnae Achievement Award in 1962 and the Loyalty Award in 1968. In her honor, the Shryock Gavels, presented by the Philadelphia Alumnae Association, are awarded at Convention to alumnae associations serving Kappa chapters with distinction. She had one son and daughter, who also pledged Beta Alpha (as did Rheva’s sister). In 1982, at the installation of Zeta Iota, Villanova, Rheva remarked, “I believe I must be the link. Here I am at the installation of our newest chapter, and yet I also touched hands with Louise Bennett Boyd.”

At the end of Rheva Shryock’s administration, Fraternity Council changed to include for the first time a Director of Alumnae, Director of Chapter Organization, Director of Chapter Programs, and Director of Membership and Panhellenic (eliminating the Director of Provinces and Director of Standards). The Field Secretary was no longer a Council position.

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