Nine women students met on the University of Washington campus in December, 1909, and agreed they and their feminine peers should have both a greater voice in campus affairs and more recognition for work well done. Two prestigious honor societies for men were a Washington tradition at the time. Why not such an honor for senior women?
So the seed took root. Carrie Cowgill Thompson was the spirited leader of the group. They met with popular Professor Edmond S. Meany, a firm advocate of women’s higher education, to explore a name for their new club. He suggested “Tolo,” a Northwest Indian word meaning success and achievement.
Aware that an honor society must not be an end in itself, but a rededication to continuing service, the new Tolos decided to address the critical need women students had for financial aid for their college expenses by creating a loan fund to help deserving junior and senior women. But how should funds be raised?
The solution was simple, but daring. Tolos decided to reverse the social order and host a dance where women students would invite men. The community greeted the radical plan with enthusiastic support — and shock. Many even thought it scandalous! Widely publicized as an “altruistic event,” the dance was a tremendous success and by popular demand, Tolo Dances became a special campus highlight for many years. High schools throughout the region also adopted the event, and its legacy still lives on.
In a short time, Tolo Club had become a Washington tradition. In 1925, Tolo Club accepted the invitation to become a chapter of Mortar Board, a national organization of merged women’s honor societies formed in 1917. The University’s Sylvan Theater was the backdrop as Tolo Club became the Tolo Chapter of Mortar Board, the thirty-second chapter to be installed.
In 1975, to comply with the Civil Rights Act, Mortar Board voted to accept men into the honor society. Mortar Board would continue to address advancing the status of women among its purposes.
Since that time, the classes of Tolo Chapter have continued to recognize excellence at the University of Washington and to meet needs on campus and in the community. Mortar Board scholarships, Mortar Board recognition of faculty teaching excellence, and service projects are traditions reflecting the passing of the Mortar Board torch each year. Within each class, friendships form which, as in the past, span academic majors, interests, and ethnic backgrounds. The Tolo Class of 2019 represents the 110thth class in this great tradition.
Tolo Chapter, year after year, is honored for its distinguished leadership and service, and in 2009, was recognized with Mortar Board’s highest national honor for a collegiate chapter, the Ruth Weimer Mount Chapter Excellence Award, given to the country’s most outstanding chapter.