The namesake of Pleiades is based upon the seven sisters, a star cluster in the constellation Taurus, in which six stars are easily seen with the naked eye. The ancients believed the seven stars were the daughters of Atlas and the nymph Pleione who were changed into stars by the gods and placed in the sky. The six stars which are easily visible form a small dipper-like group. They are named Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Alcyone, Calaena, and Merope. The invisible star, Asterope, was believed to be the sister who hid herself in shame because she married a mortal.
Pleiades was founded on June 2, 1938, when NIU was the Northern Illinois State Teachers College. An honor society for senior women, Pleiades' purpose, as stated in the constitution was “to advance a spirit of service and fellowship, to further high scholastic achievement, to encourage college loyalty, and to promote leadership among all women students on campus.” The number of women in Pleiades was originally limited to 12 and later changed to four percent of the women in the junior class, with a maximum membership of 24.
The colors of Pleiades were blue and silver. The emblem was a bracelet of sterling silver with a castle on the hill, with seven stars forming an arc above it. The stars stood for the everlasting light of truth which guides our action, and the castle on the hill represented the realization of these ideals to women on campus. The pledge emblem for Pleiades was a white rose.
Activities of Pleiades extended beyond academics. In 1943, Pleiades raised money for the World Student Fund and worked hard toward the war effort. Pleiades coordinated the 1950 Honors Day Assembly and Baccalaureate Tea, and continued sponsoring the Honors Day Tea until the late 1960's. In 1966, members of Pleiades were involved in Mom's Day to recognize the mothers of NIU students. Projects in 1968 included designing puppets that were donated to children with disabilities and also a movement to change women's hours on campus. Members of Pleiades also provided a tutoring service, led discussion groups at new student orientation, and published a Registration Guide for several years.
On September 10, 1971, after 17 years of petitioning for a Mortar Board chapter at Northern Illinois University, Pleiades was invited by the National Board to become a chapter of the national society. Pleiades became the 139th Mortar Board chapter in the nation on November 21, 1971, with the initiation of 28 charter members. In 1975, the National Board opened up membership to male students. Our 10th anniversary as a chapter of Mortar Board was celebrated in 1981, with Mortar Board members throughout Pleiades' history in attendance. In 1996, the chapter celebrated its 25th anniversary. Today, the Pleiades chapter of Mortar Board continues to support the ideals of Pleiades with service to the university and community. Current projects include food/fundraiser “Turkey for a Day,” volunteering at Hope Haven, participation in the Leadership Academy, hosting the Last Lecture Series, and selling flowers at graduation.
To learn more about the history of the National Organization, visit the National Mortar Board homepage.