A Brief History of ALD

Alpha Lambda Delta was founded in 1924 by the Dean of Women, Maria Leonard, at the University of Illinois to recognize academic excellence among freshmen women.  One year before, Dean Thomas Arkle Clark had founded Phi Eta Sigma, an honor society to recognize academic excellence among freshmen men.  Both groups operated as single sex organizations until the mid-70s when they both became coeducational in response to Title IX.

At the first meeting of the chapter, Florence Finn, president of the society, presented a passage from Plato’s Republic in which Socrates asks the question, “Will they hold torches and pass them to one another...?”.   This idea, together with the symbol of a candle and the concept of sharing the love of learning with others, caught the imagination of the charter members.

The honor society soon became a national organization through the chartering of chapters at Purdue University in 1926, at DePauw University in 1927, at the University of Michigan in 1927, and at the University of Oklahoma in 1929.  The first national convention was held in 1930 on the campus of the University of Illinois.  Conventions were suspended during the depression years because of travel expenses.  The third convention was held in 1938 at the University of Michigan.  A decision was made at that convention to suspend holding a national convention and to invest those funds into establishing a graduate fellowship fund.  The first fellowship was awarded to Louise Houssiere for graduate study at MIT in 1940.

The Association of College Honor Societies was organized in 1925 to consider matters of mutual concern to member organizations; Alpha Lambda Delta has been active in the Association since its admission to membership in 1939.  In 1976  in response to Title IX, the National Council voted for the Society to become coeducational.  In 1981, the first two male members of the National Council were installed.

Alpha Lambda Delta has continued to be innovative and responsive in recognizing academic excellence by providing Senior Certificates and the Maria Leonard Senior Book Award since 1939, offering workshops since 1978, recognizing outstanding chapters with the Order of the Torch Award since 1989, recognizing an Outstanding Adviser of the Year since 1990, and taking advantage of technology by posting a national web site in January of 1997.

Alpha Lambda Delta has continued to celebrate academic excellence among first year students and has grown to over 276 chapters and has initiated over one million students.  The National Council which governs the organization has prudently invested the resources and gifts from local chapters, national council members, former fellowship recipients, and friends of the Society over the years so that the Perpetual Fellowship Fund now exceeds $3 million and can provide income to support 36 undergraduate scholarships of $1,000-$6,000 each, 23 graduate fellowships from $3,000 to $7,500.   The fellowships are named for significant people in the history of the Society including the founder, Maria Leonard, the first adviser, Gladys Pennington, two Executive Directors, and several national presidents.

In 2008, the National Council authorized the creation of ten new awards for ALD members embarking on study abroad programs: the James G. Stemler Study Abroad Scholarships.  Since then, ten new awards have been added; these 20 awards provide $1,000 in direct financial aid to ALD members who are pursuing international study - ALD's way of assisting students in developing the global outlook needed in the 21st century's global economy.  The Study Abroad Fellowships are named after former ALD National President James G. Stemler, the first male president of Alpha Lambda Delta and a vocal proponent of study abroad.

For a more detailed history of ALD's first 75 years, click here to download "75 Years of Celebrating Excellence," a history of our Society written on her 75th anniversary in 1999.  (Note: Large file - may take a few minutes to download)