In April 1924, Dr. Leroy Allen, head of the Economics Department of Southwestern College in Winfield, Kans., met with his economics students. During this meeting, the attendees decided that an economics honor society should be started. Each member donated 25 cents to cover postage for a mailing to other colleges across the United States, encouraging them to participate with Southwestern College in starting an honor society. The theme of the honor society was soon changed to include all of the social sciences.
Dr. Allen spent the summer of 1924 working diligently to get the honor society established. He was assisted by eight faculty members at other institutions, particularly Dean William A. Hamilton of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. By the fall of that year, 17 colleges and universities were ready to charter their chapters. Dr. Allen authored a constitution, and national officers were elected.
Dr. Allen chose Pi Gamma Mu’s colors‑‑blue and white, which stand for truth and light. He chose the official flower: the blue and white cineraria. The motto that he chose for Pi Gamma Mu is: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." He also designed the society's key, which has a wreath at the bottom to suggest that social science is the outgrowth and fulfillment of natural science. The running figure is reminiscent of the ancient Greek torch race and symbolizes humanity bringing knowledge to the solution of its own problems and passing on the light from generation to generation.
Society documents described Pi Gamma Mu’s purpose this way:
The purpose of Pi Gamma Mu is to improve scholarship in the social studies and to achieve synthesis therein; to inspire social service to humanity by an intelligent approach to the solution of social problems; to engender sympathy toward others with different opinions and institutions by a better mutual understanding; and to supplement and to support, but not to supplant existing social science or existing social science organizations by promoting sociability and attendance at meetings.
In 2004, student trustee Jamie Cooper drafted and the Board of Trustees approved a streamlined statement of purpose: "The mission of Pi Gamma Mu is to encourage and promote excellence in the social sciences and to uphold the ideals of scholarship and service."
The first national convention of Pi Gamma Mu was held in 1928 in Chicago, Ill. In 1929, the organization was officially incorporated in the State of Colorado. Kansas had a rule that required corporations to hold their annual meetings within the state, and Dr. Allen preferred to vary the location of board meetings from year to year.
Dean Allen designed a ΠΓΜ flag in 1928. It was composed of a blue and white checkerboard of 70 two-inch squares. The flag was to be increased by rows as new chapters were added. As far as it can be established, only two flags were made. One flag hung in Dean Allen's office at Southwestern College. The other was presented to Rear Admiral Richard Byrd; in 1928, the admiral, who was given the title of honorary national president of Pi Gamma Mu, carried the society's flag to Antarctica to dramatize the spirit of adventure into the unknown. In 1950, following an initiation ceremony, Christy Hall‑‑the building that contains Southwestern College’s administrative offices‑‑burned down and this flag was lost, along with other ΠΓΜ memorabilia. In 2007, international president Gordon E. Mercer worked with students at his chapter at Western Carolina University to design a new flag. The new flag is royal blue, gold, and white, and contains a male and female figure holding a torch.
Pi Gamma Mu began to publish a journal in November 1925. The journal was originally entitled Social Science. Dr. Allen was the editor of this quarterly publication until his death. The title of the journal was changed to International Social Science Review in 1981. In 1994, the Board of Trustees decided for financial reasons to publish two double-issue editions per year.
Dr. Allen, who later became dean of Southwestern College, worked out of his garage until the wee hours of the morning drafting letters, producing certificates to mail to new initiates, scheduling meetings across the country, and handling other business of Pi Gamma Mu. It was not until 1942 that Dean Allen decided to hire a secretary to help him run the society. He appointed Effie Urquhart to assist him in his "office" in the back yard of his home. When she came in each morning, she would find notes left in a pile on her desk with instructions from Dean Allen. These notes were written on whatever paper he found available when an idea came to him‑‑grocery bags, napkins, or the margin of a newspaper.
Following a series of strokes, Dean Allen died in 1947. Pi Gamma Mu’s second president, Dr. Charles A. Elwood, who succeeded Dr. Allen in 1931, also died that year. Although Pi Gamma Mu’s founder and champion was gone, Mrs. Urquhart effectively continued the work of the society. The Board of Trustees, at its annual meeting that year, changed her title to executive secretary. Mrs. Urquhart moved the office of Pi Gamma Mu from Dean Allen's garage to her home. She owned a duplex, and the headquarters office was, in 1976, moved to the adjacent apartment where there was more room for the file cabinets, desk, and ΠΓΜ materials. It was not until 1992 that the office was moved again. The headquarters is now in a former Carnegie Library building in downtown Winfield, Kans. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It was built in 1912 at a cost of $15,000. Andrew Carnegie personally financed the construction of 2811 libraries; well over half of these libraries are in the United States, 60 of them in Kansas.
A scholarship program was begun in 1951 as a memorial to deceased national officers of Pi Gamma Mu. This program now awards up to 10 scholarships yearly to students enrolled in graduate school. Four of these scholarships are named: the Carroll Parish Scholarship in memory of the society’s chancellor of the Western Region, the Marvel Stockwell Scholarship in memory of an international first vice president, the Effie Urquhart Scholarship in memory of the society’s executive secretary, and the Dan Quigley Scholarship in memory of the society’s legal counsel.
In 1953, Pi Gamma Mu joined the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), the culmination of a successful effort by Dr. S. Howard Patterson, who had been the society’s third president and by then held the title of president emeritus. The ACHS is the umbrella association of national and international college societies. To gain admission in the ACHS, an honor society is required to meet certain high standards in higher education. The ACHS oversees the constitution and bylaws of each society to be certain that they meet the criteria set by the ACHS.
At the 1981 Board of Trustees meeting, the description of Pi Gamma Mu was changed from "National Social Science Honor Society" to "International Social Science Honor Society" at the request of the Philippine Alpha chapter at the University of the Philippines. The honor society had outgrown the borders of the United States in 1932, when Dr. W. Leon Godshall, who would later serve as Pi Gamma Mu’s fourth international president, organized a chapter at the University of the Philippines. Also, at the 1981 meeting, Pi Gamma Mu’s journal was renamed from Social Science to International Social Science Review to reflect the international reach of the society.
In 1976, Ina Turner Gray was selected to be Effie Urquhart's assistant, with the understanding that she would succeed Mrs. Urquhart upon the latter’s retirement. Mrs. Gray became the executive secretary (later renamed executive director) and efficiently maintained the headquarters until her retirement in 1996. Sue Watters was elected by the Board of Trustees as Mrs. Gray's successor in 1995. During the 1995‑1996 academic year, as her last official duty, Mrs. Gray and her husband Wallace, professor of religion and long-time ΠΓΜ chapter sponsor at Southwestern College, traveled over 15,000 miles (mostly by car) visiting 73 existing and potential chapters of Pi Gamma Mu around the United States.
In 1999, at our triennial convention, we met in Wichita, Kans., and celebrated the theme of “Soaring into the Future.” Preparing for the new century was important to our chapters, students, and trustees, and our first woman president, Professor P. Kay Anderson of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, was beginning her second term. Prof. Anderson pointed out that we needed to respect the past but at the same time adapt to new realities of updating our documents and our Pi Gamma Mu Constitution. As we began the new century, we promised to keep the trust with our lifetime members by ensuring that membership records remained current and accurate and ensuring that we were maintaining the high expectations of our chapters, students, and sponsors. This would include Pi Gamma Mu’s scholarships for graduate education to assist our best students; ΠΓΜ lecture grants to help chapters by funding honoraria for guest speakers; support for conventions and conferences which provide a forum for students to present research papers; Pi Gamma Mu newsletters which provide communication with members and chapters; and the International Social Science Review to advance scholarship. Members frequently call our executive director at our headquarters with address updates and the need to confirm the date on which they were inducted as lifetime members.
Our triennial conventions are important occasions for setting new priorities and presenting student academic papers, and installing new members of the Board of Trustees, including student trustees. Usually 80 to 120 students and faculty from across the United States gather to learn, participate, and communicate their experiences in Pi Gamma Mu. In 2002, our triennial convention was held in Atlanta, Ga., with the theme of “Cultural Diversity.” It was an appropriate time to install our newly elected president, Dr. Jean C. Karlen of Wayne State College, who prioritized cultural diversity, reorganization of regions, and increased recognition of chapters and their work. Our board, faculty members, and students anticipated that, in the century ahead, cultural diversity would be the new norm.
As we moved forward, our 2005 triennial convention in Nashville, Tenn., celebrated the theme “I’m a Little Bit Country,” and our 2008 Atlanta convention’s theme was “Pi Gamma Mu Has a Party: A Political Party.” In both conventions, exceptional papers were given by students, and some participants displayed our first poster papers during the 2008 convention in Atlanta. Dr. Gordon E. Mercer, who was elected president in 2005, expressed appreciation to Dr. Barry D. Friedman, our first vice president, and Mrs. Watters for leadership in organizing exceptionally well-organized triennial conventions. Also, the outstanding work of Dr. C. Laurence “Larry” Heck, international treasurer, in dealing with financial problems as overhead and other costs were increasing was recognized. Dr. Charles W. McClellan, second vice president, was recognized for his conscientious work in selecting Pi Gamma Mu scholarship recipients. We approved slightly higher dues and journal subscription costs to deal with new financial realities. New strategies were developed to reactivate inactive chapters and invite new chapters to charter, and a position of part-time chapter-development officer was established at our headquarters in Winfield, Kans. Over a period of three years, the honor society expanded from 123 chapters to 150 chapters. Because we also lose chapters due to faculty retirements, our gain of over 60 new and reactivated chapters was helpful in stabilizing the society, and we began to experience new growth in chapters and yearly memberships.
Triennial conventions give us a chance to recognize chapters for the outstanding service that they provide on campuses. We list all active chapters in our newsletter every year with the name of our important faculty advisers, and express our appreciation to them for their leadership. We have been extremely pleased over the last 15 years that 12 regional meetings have been held in the Southeast Region, providing a forum for academic papers and a new generation of students experiencing the scholarship ideals of Pi Gamma Mu. These regional meeting have been held in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Providing support to help chapters in their mission of honoring students and maintaining excellence in the social sciences is critical to our mission.
The impetus for Pi Gamma Mu’s original international Web site was Janet Monroe of the University of South Florida. For the first time, the Internet contained a rallying point for members of Pi Gamma Mu. Ms. Monroe’s innovation was a breakthrough for Pi Gamma Mu communication in the electronic age. In 2007, Dr. Randy J. Bertolas, chancellor of Pi Gamma Mu’s North Central Region, coordinated a project to redesign Pi Gamma Mu’s Web site. As a result of the creative effort of Dr. Bertolas and consultant Brian Booth, Pi Gamma Mu members gained access to a more attractive, user-friendly Web site. It can be accessed at www.pigammamu.org . Helpful drop-down menus with lists of links give members and prospective members access to information about how to start or reactivate a chapter, how to submit chapter reports, how to order ΠΓΜ merchandise, and how to contact the international office. In 2009, the Pi Gamma Mu Newsletter became an online newsletter, resembling the eye-catching format of the Web pages of national and international news organizations.
To support the distribution of the online newsletter, the international office established the Pi Gamma Mu Listserv in 2009 through the chapter at North Georgia College & State University, which accesses the computer resources of the University of Georgia. Any ΠΓΜ member may subscribe to the Pi Gamma Mu Listserv, as long as he or she ensures that a current E‑mail address appears on the subscriber list. When a new edition of the Pi Gamma Mu Newsletter is published, all Listserv subscribers receive an E‑mail message that displays the newsletter’s front page and that contains links to the continuation of articles and to additional articles.
In 2010, Pi Gamma Mu’s catalogue of merchandise expanded extensively when our CafePress storefront debuted. The initial evaluation of a possible Pi Gamma Mu storefront was undertaken by student trustee Michaela Dolphin of Wayne State College. Members may visit the storefront from our member merchandise page at www.pigammamu.org/store.html, and purchase high-quality clothing and other souvenirs. Pi Gamma Mu benefits from all purchases at our CafePress storefront.
In 2010, Harris Connect published our first-ever international membership directory, Pi Gamma Mu: Members Today. Harris Connect conducted extensive research about the whereabouts of our lifetime members, after which it donated to us a list of many thousands of E-mail addresses. We entered these addresses into the Pi Gamma Mu Listserv, resulting in a subscription list of 20,000 E-mail addresses. Because of the membership directory and the listserv, we are in contact with many more members than ever before.
Pi Gamma Mu’s officers have been committed to utilizing the capabilities of electronic communication to deliver the highest level of service to our members, especially to our college-age initiates who expect speedy attention to their explorations for information and services. As of the summer of 2010, Pi Gamma Mu was among the most innovative honor societies in providing service at the speed of light.