Miriam Chesner shares brief history of Phi Beta Kappa Society

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Miriam Chesner

 New York University graduate Miriam Chesner delves into centuries-old history of the highly-prestigious honor society.


Phi Beta Kappa Society


Founded nearly 250 years ago, the Phi Beta Kappa Society is the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the United States. Starting in the 1770s, initiation into invite only Phi Beta Kappa is started as a celebration of a student’s outstanding academic achievements and performance.

“Initiation recognizes outstanding performance and a successful program of study in the sciences and liberal arts,” explains New Jersey-based Miriam Chesner, herself a part of the Beta Charter of New York, at New York University. This chapter established in 1858. “Election to Phi Beta Kappa connects individuals in many distinguished fields,” she explains, “and lasts a lifetime.”

Regardless of discipline, all members of Phi Beta Kappa represent superior achievements within their respective fields. These members also have a dedication to the spirit of learning, Chesner explains.



Miriam Chesner goes on to reveal that Phi Beta Kappa originally became founded at the College of William located at Mary at Williamsburg, Virginia, on December 5, 1776. In under just four years, however, the American revolutionary war forced Phi Beta Kappa out of operation until 1851 when it eventually reestablished. Subsequent chapters then appeared at the colleges at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at New Haven, Connecticut.

Chesner’s chapter, at New York University formed at a time when the institute became known as the University of the City of New York. “In the 160 years since then, the chapter has continually flourished,” she points out.

“Across Phi Beta Kappa,” Chesner continues, “members have included numerous U.S. Presidents, U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and Nobel Laureates.”

Indeed, Phi Beta Kappa boasts an incredible 17 United States Presidents. Phi Beta Kappa also has 38 United States Supreme Court Justices among its ranks. Over 130 Nobel Laureates are joined by countless noted scientists and researchers, business leaders, athletes, and artists.

These, according to Chesner, include author Wes Moore, athlete Peyton Manning, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, 42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, to name just five.



Eligibility requirements for the Beta Charter of New York, of Phi Beta Kappa currently include very few requirements. Knowledge of a second or non-native language and college-level education in mathematics, logic, or statistics. Eligible students must also be candidates for a bachelor’s degree. The also require weight given to breadth and depth of study in liberal arts and sciences.

“Furthermore, a candidate for election to Phi Beta Kappa must have never failed a course or been responsible for any offense of academic dishonesty,” adds Chesner, wrapping up, “and membership remains by invitation only.”

Miriam Chesner is a New York University graduate who holds a master’s degree in ESL, or English as a second language. An expert on South American culture, Chesner is currently based in New Jersey.