Key to the Past

Anne Ritchie Ware Waring '46 donates mother's 1917 PBK key

Anne Ritchie Ware Waring '46 looks at her mother's yearbook.Anne Ritchie Ware Waring ’46 was going through some old things recently when she came across a small, brown box with gold writing. Inside, tucked in the soft, black velvet lay a shiny, gold engraved Phi Beta Kappa key—a treasure passed on by her mother, Cornelia Frost Ware ’17—one of the College’s first five inductees.

After talking with her daughters, Anne, who lives near Tappahannock, Virginia, decided to give the key to the College and brought it with her to her 65th Reunion in May.

“I wanted to do it for my mother’s sake,” she said. “She would be so proud. I hope she is able to know where it is now.”

Education was always considered a priority for Anne and for her mother, who in 1913 left the family’s 1,000- acre cattle farm in Plattsburg, Missouri, and traveled across the country with her younger sister to attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

During that time, educating young women was often deemed unnecessary, but Cornelia’s father, Robert Carter Frost, had a different view. A successful cattle rancher, he wanted his sons and daughters to get the best education possible. Since two of his brothers had graduated from Washington & Lee University, Robert insisted on a Virginia school.

After attending high school an extra year so that she and her sister, Lucille, could travel together, Cornelia journeyed to Lynchburg ready to start a new life. While she thrived at R-MWC, her sister left after one year, homesick for the man she would eventually marry.

Cornelia Frost Ware '17 and her Phi Beta Kappa key.Cornelia, meanwhile, loved college. “She enjoyed all of it,” Anne said. “She was just very, very happy there. She loved learning her entire life. She was 86 when she died, and her mind was as clear as a bell, and she still took everything in.”

During her junior year, Cornelia met a “handsome bachelor minister of a church in Lynchburg,” Anne said. “He used to conduct services at the College.” Cornelia and the Reverend Ritchie Ware married in December 1917 and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where their only child—Anne—was born in 1924.

Anne grew up hearing stories about the College and about her mother’s Latin and Greek courses. “She was never a person who talked about herself a lot, but Mother was proud of being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa during the first year Randolph-Macon had gotten the designation,” she said.

In fact, R-MWC was the first women’s college in the South—and 88th in the nation—to receive a Phi Beta Kappa charter. William Waugh Smith, the College’s first president, began an effort to secure a chapter in 1911. Smith’s death prompted the National Council of Phi Beta Kappa to defer the charter in 1912. However, the charter was granted at the next national meeting in 1916. The first installation at R-MWC was held May 5, 1917. Five inductees received the national honor. Today, nearly 95 years later, 1,735 students have been inducted into the College’s chapter. In 2011, 14 students, including the first men, earned the distinction.

Randolph-Macon Woman's College first Phi Beta Kappa class of 1017

“Our curiosity about and engagement with the world is a hallmark of the educational experience here,” said Tina Kirk Johnson ’93, director of the Experiential Learning Center and sponsor of Randolph’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter. “It is a reflection of the College motto, vita abundantior, and, I believe, one of the reasons we were granted a chapter early in our history.”

Johnson said Anne’s gift of the Phi Beta Kappa key provides current students with a connection to history. “There is a definite sense of bringing the past into the present,” Johnson said.

Randolph College's Phi Beta Kappa Class of 2011

Anne, who has two daughters of her own, remembers her mother’s appreciation for the College’s academic excellence and close community.

“It was the only place I ever knew as a college,” she said. “Mother used to go back to the Reunions, and Daddy knew a lot of people, so going back and visiting became part of a ritual for us.”

The educational foundation Anne, an English major, received at the College served her well during her career in human resources and later as a magazine editor. Anne credits her mother as a significant role model, not just for herself, but also for her daughters. When Anne’s father had a heart attack and was unable to continue his ministry, her mother went back to school to become accredited to teach. She then taught high school until she was in her 60s.

“When she set out to do something, she was going to do it right,” Anne said. “She would get those math books out and work out every problem for class the next day. She didn’t want a student to ask a question she could not answer.”

Returning her mother’s treasured Phi Beta Kappa key to Randolph College completes a circle, Anne said. “The College means so much to us,” she added. “My mother loved it there, and it seems right to have it return home.

“I’ve always been a very proud graduate,” Anne added. “I wrote to some of my college friends when I got home from Reunion this year and said, ‘You just don’t know what you missed.’ I felt completely at home, as though I hadn’t been away from there for any time. If anything, it was better than ever.”