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History, Traditions, and Heroes

by Brad Beacham (Texas Christian)

To all the amazing mothers who support and encourage their son’s pursuit of and commitment to the Legion of Honor, we thank and honor you today. In tribute to you, we pay homage to three of the earliest Sigma Nu mothers:

Mrs. Flora Bennett - Photo Credit (“Sigma Nu at Kansas University” by Grant Harrington, Burton P. Sears, and Solon Smith, 1956)

Mrs. Flora Bennett, Mother of Perlee Rawson Bennett (Kansas)

Mrs. Flora Bennett of Lawrence, Kansas, was the mother of Nu Chapter founder, father of Sigma Nu’s modern-day Ritual, and two-term Regent, Perlee Rawson Bennett. Mrs. Bennett was a surrogate mother to the original brothers of Nu Chapter as she opened her home on Kentucky Street to these young men. In his history of Nu Chapter, Brother Grant Harrington says: “This story would not be complete if I did not acknowledge the debt that Nu Chapter owes to Mrs. Flora Bennett…She was the daughter of a Methodist minister, had lived most of her life in college towns, and kept herself young by mingling with young people. From four to six Sigma Nus always roomed at her house, 1013 Kentucky Street, and the rest of the members of the chapter were daily visitors. Sunday afternoon usually found the entire chapter gathered in her parlors, and her wise counsel was always sought in Fraternity matters. She rejoiced with us in our victories, mourned with us in our defeats, and was a never-failing source of inspiration and strength.”

Mrs. Bennett served as an important advisor to her son Perlee Rawson as he drafted and re-drafted enhancements to the Founder’s Ritual. After moving to Milwaukee, Perlee Rawson sent his latest draft of the Ritual to Brother Harrington back in Lawrence for review. In his handwritten letter to Harrington, Perlee requested Harrington be sure to have Mrs. Bennett review the non-secret portion of his work to offer her expert critique.


Mrs. Mary A. Sears - Photo Credit (“Pioneering in Kansas” by L. William Thavis, 1917)

Mrs. Mary A. Sears, Mother of the Sears Brothers of Nu Chapter at Kansas University

Born and raised in New Lebanon, New York, Mary Sears and her husband, Charles M. Sears, set out for a wedding trip to Philadelphia in April 1854. Mr. Sears decided to go into business in Philadelphia, and Mary later said, “We had planned to return to New York when we started on this trip, and I little dreamed when the old stagecoach carried us out of the village that I had said the last good-bye to my old home, dear friends and loving schoolmates, not to return for thirty years.” Two years later, the call of “going West” and “Mr. Sears’ failing health” convinced the couple to make a long journey by rail and prairie schooner to Shellsburg, Iowa. For more than two years, they lived and worked on a farm in Iowa before deciding to go all the way to California via prairie schooner and oxen team. After trading a yearling for a gallon brass kettle, they left Iowa on June 5, 1859, with their four-year-old daughter Emma Louise, 15-month-old son William Henry, two cows, and five other families.

Mrs. Sears wrote of a practical decision made by the women before the journey, “All the ladies agreed to make and wear bloomers instead of skirts. I joined them in this plan, and we found them very comfortable and convenient for climbing in and out of the wagons and working about our camps. We never regretted our change in costume.”

After four weeks of travel, the Sears family met an old friend in Lecompton, Kansas, which was then the territorial capital of Kansas. Their friend convinced them the journey to California would be “too tedious,” and thus, they decided to set up their new homestead just outside of the town of Lawrence. Here, on the Kansas prairie, Mr. Sears farmed, taught school, and served as a Justice of the Peace. Mrs. Sears became the mother of three more sons:  Clarence, Walter, and Lorin. Some twenty years later, at the fledgling Kansas University, these three would join their older brother William in becoming a part of Sigma Nu history with the Nu Chapter at Kansas and the Beta Nu Chapter at Ohio State University, with Walter to later write The Creed of Sigma Nu and serve as Regent.


Mrs. Elizabeth Gilmore McCrum - Photo Credit (Washington and Lee University Archives, Special Collections)

Mrs. Elizabeth Gilmore McCrum, Mother of the McCrum Brothers of Lambda Chapter at Washington and Lee University

From her family home on Main Street in Lexington, Virginia – described by Walter James Sears as a “landmark in Sigma Nu history” – Mrs. McCrum was not only mother to the influential McCrum Brothers, some of the earliest initiates of Lambda Chapter at Washington and Lee University but was “the foster mother of several generations of Sigma Nus.” The founder of Lambda Chapter, Brother Ike Robinson, resided at the McCrum home during his time as an undergraduate when he diligently worked to grow the Fraternity beyond Lexington, earning his later title of Second Founder of Sigma Nu. The Brothers of Alpha Chapter at VMI – who had recruited and initiated Robinson – were frequent guests at the McCrum home and deeply appreciated the kind hospitality of Mrs. McCrum. Both chapters regularly conducted business meetings at the home with the approval and encouragement of Mrs. McCrum. Were it not for the flourishing of Lambda Chapter – assiduously supported by Mrs. McCrum at every turn – it is an open question whether Sigma Nu Fraternity would have survived beyond the 1880s. Without Lambda Chapter, Ike Robinson, and his disciples, the relationship with the only other partially operating chapter at the time, Kappa Chapter at North Georgia, would likely have been lost, and a chapter would not have been established at Kansas University. Further, there most likely would not have been a call for the first convention (later to be called the Grand Chapter) to organize the Fraternity for unity and growth.

Mrs. McCrum was so highly-appreciated and trusted by the men of Lambda Chapter and Alpha Chapter that when VMI banned fraternities – spelling the first end of Alpha Chapter – Alpha Chapter Brother C.M. Snelling entrusted to Mrs. McCrum the Alpha Chest – the first property owned by The Legion of Honor and the place where The Ritual and other work of the Fraternity was held for safe-keeping. Mrs. McCrum promised to keep the sacred Chest safe for a hoped-for use in the future when VMI might perhaps allow fraternities again.

The Alpha Chest remained protected in her home on Main Street until 1910, when Brother Walter James Sears visited Lexington to learn first-hand about our history. Sears met Brother J.T. McCrum, who took him to their home at which Sears was “delightfully entertained” by Mrs. McCrum and J.T.  Mrs. McCrum told Sears of the Alpha Chest, which was, at that time, thought to have been lost to history. Sears recovered the Alpha Chest, which has remained the cherished historical property of the Fraternity to this day, proudly displayed in the Sigma Nu Museum in Lexington, Virginia – thanks to Mrs. Elizabeth Gilmore McCrum.

We express our profound appreciation and love to these three remarkable Sigma Nu mothers – and to all the mothers who have raised and encouraged their sons to Walk in the Way of Honor. We wish you the happiest of Mother’s Days.

© 2015-2022 Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.
9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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