UVA BSN student Gretchen Kelly (center) with associate professor of nursing Mary Hazzard (right) in 1973, at the STTI 50th anniversary with the national first vice-president Sister Rosemary Donley.

For nearly 50 years, nursing honor society Beta Kappa Chapter Sigma Theta Tau International has recognized exceptional achievement, leadership and high professional standards among UVA School of Nursing students. With Family Weekend fast approaching, and the newest crop of Beta Kappers looking forward to induction Oct. 19, today’s Flashback Friday looks back at the Sigma Nursing chapter’s modest beginnings and early years.

Beta Kappa was born in the fall of 1972, with the induction of 72 inaugural members and eight transfers. Most were students in or graduates of UVA’s nursing programs, but a host of nursing faculty, too, were included among new members.

It was eight years prior, however, in the fall of 1966, that UVA’s nursing faculty first identified a desire to acknowledge students who excelled academically. To this end, a “Promotions Committee” was appointed, and then-faculty member Nancy Ballard – a member of the national Sigma Theta Tau group – reached out to national officers for counsel. By spring 1967, a plan to create a local nursing honor society was presented to the student body, who were, as professor Ballard recalled, “most receptive to the idea,” as was Dean Mary Lohr, who sought and earned requisite approvals from then-Provost Frank Hereford.

Associate professor of nursing Mary E. Hazzard submitted a draft constitution to the national Sigma Theta Tau office July 1, 1970, while the Promotions Committee worked to determine just who, exactly, might be eligible for the new society, reviewing records and assessing grade point averages.

Of note in Hazzard’s proposed constitution was the care and importance placed on “insignia,” which included detailed language about the society emblem (a cup surrounded by a circle encompassed by stars with a jeweled amethyst key and a circle of pearls). Students with at least a 3.0 GPA who showed leadership skills and who “possessed desirable personal qualifications” and had completed half of their curriculum at UVA were deemed eligible. Those with a master’s or doctoral degree who were full-time faculty were eligible, too, as were alumni who had distinguished themselves in nursing at the local, state or national level.

Annual dues were $15, though a $75 payment entitled the inductee to a lifetime membership.

Beta Kappa’s first induction ceremony was held (as it will be this year) in the newly built McLeod Auditorium on Nov. 11, 1972 in a ritual overseen by Sister Rosemary Donley, Sigma’s national first vice-president. A banquet followed at the Boar’s Head Inn.

By the following year, Beta Kappa began organizing and supporting lectures for nursing students, including one on October 23, 1973 with Dr. Carolyn Williams who spoke on “Nursing’s Expanded Role and the Community’s Health: Viable Solution or Skewed Emphasis?” Beta Kappa’s first birthday – Nov. 11, 1973 – celebrated the induction of another 11 members, before hearing a talk from then-acting dean Phyllis Verhonick on “Improved Nursing Practice Through Research.” That spring, 19 new members were inducted.

Through the 1970s, as School enrollment swelled so, too, did Beta Kappa members. Fall 1979 induction ceremony brought 32 new members into the fold; nearly four decades later, in 2017, nearly 200 students were inducted. This year, some 112 will become Beta Kappa members. In 1972, when Beta Kappa began, 57 Sigma chapters existed. Today, there are more than 530.

But many of the original notions remain, including the society’s official color (fuschia) and flower, the orchid. Though corsages and purple candles persisted at induction ceremonies from the 1970s through the 1990s, today’s inductees receive a certificate and a purple and white silken cord to wear around their shoulders (though former Beta Kappa president Ken White, associate dean, sported an orchid corsage at the 2016 induction in a nod to tradition).

Said Beta Kappa president Emily Drake in her 1995 address: “Don’t we all just love to come together and celebrate each other, eat food, and wear big purple flowers?”