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Our House

During the 1890s, the meeting place for the chapter had shifted from Sage College to rooms in different parts of Ithaca. In the fall of 1917, a first house was rented and by 1921 sufficient funds had been raised to buy. Janet Balch gave $5,000 “with her usual Kappa-Cornell generosity,” and other alumnae contributed.The house, 508 Thurston Avenue, had been the home of Beverly Baines, romantic partner of early film idol Francis X. Bushman at a time when Ithaca had been the center of the motion picture industry (1912–1920). This house was razed in 1936 and a modern brick house was built on the site. It was opened in the fall of 1937 for the Alpha Province Convention, and was famed as the first Kappa house for which steel construction had been used. At this time, Mary Geisler Phillips, Pennsylvania, (See Beta Alpha history) was corporation president. Her usefulness to Psi might have been said to have balanced Beta Alpha’s indebtedness to Psi, since Lois Otis had resigned from her own beloved chapter in order to found Beta Alpha while she did graduate work in Philadelphia.

In 1957, at Province Meeting in Ithaca, plans were made to build a larger house for Psi and the ideal location of the existing building caused a decision to enlarge rather than rebuild. Many changes were made, including facilities for visitors and a new wing with a suite for the house director. Two-thirds of the chapter could be housed and the chapter grew more unified and aware of its responsibilities and the pleasures of group living. In 1961, the dean of students said of Psi, “The women of Psi chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma have made the Panhellenic Creed a living reality on our campus and the student community has profited from their positive leadership. As a group, they have shown thoughtful concern for others while preserving the uniqueness of the individual. Their sense of community responsibility and their positions of leadership in campus organizations have earned for them a place of respect on the Cornell campus.”

The further report in The Key (winter 1961) included an account of a series of programs given by Psi featuring a travelogue, a concert, lectures on 20th-century Russia, and a plan of meal exchanges and a Christmas party with foreign students. The year was marked by the positive presence of a Graduate Counselor Martha Simmons (Murray), Akron and an outstanding record in campus activities. The chapter President was elected to Mortar Board and Phi Beta Kappa and was accepted by the Yale Law School. A successful attempt had been made to approach a balance between social and cultural goals of the Fraternity, with an active responsibility in campus life and personal education and betterment. It was the stated opinion of the incoming chapter President that “a fraternity must be more than a mere living unit or a group organized primarily for social activities.” It was a statement she felt that had to be true in practice “if the fraternity system is to meet and overcome the increasing number of attacks being made on it.” Long-range planning, she knew, was necessary and the chapter was working together … it was her hope that Psi would continue to follow the example of its early members.