Chapter History

The Alpha of Hawaii Chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society received its charter from the national organization in December 1952. To have a Chapter installed, a college or university campus must pass a stringent three-year review of its undergraduate programs, libraries, and research facilities. There are currently only 283 PBK Chapters nationwide out of over four thousand colleges and universities. The Alpha of Hawaii at Manoa is the only PBK Chapter in the state of Hawaii. 

The lengthy process to establish a PBK Chapter was begun in the late 1930s, and the names of the faculty Charter Members may be seen on the original Charter, which hangs on loan from us in the Manoa Chancellor's office (see Photo Gallery). Interestingly, two of the Charter Members subsequently had Manoa buildings named after them (Earl M. Bilger, whose wife Leonora was also a Charter Member, and Harold St. John). In 2006 the Ampitheater and Ethnomusicology Wing of the Music Department complex were named in honor of Charter Member Barbara B. Smith. 

The Chapter held its first initiation of new members on May 7, 1953 at the Pacific Club in Honolulu. Thirteen students were initiated: ten seniors and three juniors. In 1954 the Chapter initiated its first honorary member, historian Ralph S. Kuykendall, for whom Kuykendall Hall would be named in 1965. By 1960, the annual initiation and banquet had moved to Conrad Hilton's new Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, and in 1972 it settled in at the Ala Moana Hotel, where it has remained almost every year thereafter. The initiation and banquet are traditionally held on the evening of the last day of instruction during Spring semester. Students about to graduate, as well as students who graduated during the previous Summer session and Fall semester, are initiated and family and friends are encouraged to share the celebratory evening with the new members. 

The Alpha of Hawaii sponsors occasional campus lectures in various fields which are open to the public. It has also been privileged to host ten PBK Visiting Distinguished Scholars. These are eminent scholars in various disciplines who go out to campuses for two-day visits, during which they meet with undergraduates in their field, conduct a seminar designed for undergraduates, and deliver a public address. The competition
among the Chapters for PBK Visiting Scholars is keen and the Alpha of Hawaii has done well, hosting more than a dozen Scholars at Manoa in fields ranging from Chemistry to Music to Anthropology.

In 2001 the Alpha of Hawaii recognized Professor Emeritus Walter H. Maurer's more than two decades of service as Chapter Secretary by establishing its first scholarship in his name. The Maurer Scholarship is given annually to junior initiates of the Chapter, and members and friends are encouraged to contribute to the fund. Since PBK is an IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed under the law.

PBK Chapters are formally independent of the campuses to which they are chartered, and all officers serve voluntarily. The Alpha of Hawaii receives no direct financial support from the national organization or the University of Hawaii and relies solely on the generosity of its members.