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June 12, 1899

Benjamin Ide Wheeler, professor of Greek and comparative philology at Cornell University, delivered Vassar’s first Phi Beta Kappa Lecture, “Language and Life.” “Man’s character, Professor Wheeler said,” reported The Vassar Miscellany, “is the result of all the conscious choices of life. Language is lik character and every speaker has helped to build it. Words are not words without context and life—they must be warm with the life blood of living speech…. Every word with its subtle coloring and personal characteristic carries its character with it. Language is a social product.”

“At the close of the address,” The Miscellany noted, “Professor [Mary Watson] Whitney [’68], as Vice-President of the Mu Chapter, read the names of all graduates since ’67 who were eligible to Phi Beta Kappa, and asked those we were present to remain for the initiation.”

Mu Chapter, the first Phi Beta Kappa chapter at a college for women, was installed at Vassar by the president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society on April 8. Professor Wheeler became president of the University of California in 1899.

The Years