Faith, service, and loyalty to the University of California
The Prytanean Society is the oldest collegiate women's honorary society in the United States. Founded on the Berkeley campus of the University of California in 1901.The student founders, Adele Gerard Lewis and Agnes Frisius, had a keen interest in student healthcare and housing issues, and the organization's work concentrated on those areas for many years. Benjamin Ide Wheeler was president of the University, and there were just over 2,000 students. He was about to introduce the concept of student government, and the founders were prescient enough to recognize that students could identify and address issues of concern. Imagine what pride the founding members would have in the legacy they left the University, were they to hear each new Prytanean pledge "faith, service and loyalty to the University of California!"
In later years, work expanded to include awards and support for high scholarship and volunteer activities on behalf of the University by students, faculty, and campus organizations. The original members called themselves the Prytanean Society and were upper division undergraduate students. In 1936, Prytanean Alumnae was established and has operated without interruption since its inception. Early projects included the establishment of the University Infirmary, later Cowell Hospital; support for student housing through a loan and scholarship fund; the creation of Ritter Hall, a women's cooperative dormitory named after renowned medical practitioner Dr. Mary Elizabeth Bennett Ritter; and aid in establishing departments of Physical Education for Women, Home Economics, Decorative Arts, and the Center for Continuing Education for Women.
The word Prytanean derives from the Greek word "Prytanes" meaning, in a broad sense, a representative. At once time Ancient Greece was divided into a number of political units, each responsible for sending a representative to the law-making convention in Athens. When the convention was in session, a lamp was kept burning over the door of the building where the meetings of the Council of the Chosen Ones were held. This lamp appears on the Great Seal of the University of California, whose motto is "Let there be light," and also serves as the Prytanean symbol. The history of Prytanean is the development of a respected campus organization whose members maintain the high ideals of scholarship, service, friendship, and respect for one another. Its purpose has been to secure due recognition for women of achievement. The alumnae membership now numbers over 3,000 women, including physicians, journalists, professors, lawyers, judges, artists, and other outstanding women dedicated to community service.