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On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman, Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard ’20 stepped up to the podium to deliver the reading during the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden.

A (not so) Brief History Of The Association

Introduction and History: The Association, Past and Present

The Northern California Association of Phi Beta Kappa is the active alumni organization for Phi Beta Kappa members living in Northern California. With Association membership, the Phi Beta Kappa Key becomes more than a past award; it becomes the key that admits its holder to an organization which fosters scholarship and teaching excellence in the colleges and universities in Northern California. Membership also provides continuing intellectual stimulation and socialization opportunities through the various activities organized and sponsored by the Association. The Association is part of The Phi Beta Kappa Society but separate therefrom. Contributions made to The Phi Beta Kappa Society at 1606 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20009 do not accrue to the benefit of the Association; therefore, we must charge annual dues for membership in the Association. New Keys, The Key Reporter and The American Scholar must be obtained from the Society. Contact The Society

The Association began as the Gamma Association of California when The Phi Beta Kappa Society issued the charter shown here to the Santa Clara Valley Association in 1946. The Northern California Association came into being on July 25, 1951 when the name was changed and the scope of its service area was expanded. The Board, under the leadership of President Ray Hendess, incorporated the Association in California as the Phi Beta Kappa Northern California Association, Gamma of California, Incorporated, on August 12, 1996 as a nonprofit, public benefit corporation. In December 1997, the Association established its first website and in December 2000, we acquired our domain name: This web page is maintained by past president Ray Hendess for which volunteer effort the Association and the Board offer many thanks.

Early in the Association history, support of scholarship focused on certificates of excellence awarded to outstanding high school students and plaques to their schools. Later, the focus shifted to university students through a revolving loan program. Today the Association awards eight to ten $7,500 scholarships to graduate students nearing the end of their doctoral programs and Teaching Excellence certificates and honoraria to outstanding university teachers.

From 1982 through 2021, the Association awarded 357 scholarships totaling $1,532,600 to outstanding Phi Beta Kappa graduate students. We invite the awardees to our annual meeting and dinner where most of them present an overview of their research to the enlightenment of all fortunate enough to attend. Over the years, the Association also presented 130 Teaching Excellence awards totaling $69,200. From a generous bequest in 1992 from Elizabeth B. Reed, the Association established an annual graduate scholarship in her name. More information about this multi-talented woman can be found here. From 2003 to 2016, the Association awarded six graduate scholarships through generous donations from Burt and Maria Norall. They have now created an annual graduate scholarship first awarded in 2017. Mary and Clint Gilliland choose to make an annual donation equal to one graduate student scholarship rather than setting up a permanent fund. In 2014, Ray Hendess, established an annual graduate scholarship to honor his parents In 2016 Peter Hasenkamp created a teaching excellence award in honor of his mother, Inta In 2018 Judith Hardardt established a scholarship to honor her husband Bill.

The Association’s award winning programs offer a wide variety of activities and events. During the past few years, members and guests have toured AT&T Park, visited the Oakland Aviation Museum, toured Mare Island, received a guided tour of the new San Francisco Asian Art Museum in the historic San Francisco Library, visited the Bay Area Turtle Rescue Center, toured the Mission Murals in San Francisco, rode on an old reconditioned railway car as part of a tour of the facilities at the Western Railway Museum, enjoyed a backstage tour of the San Francisco Opera House, learned about  buffalo mozzarella and met the buffalo, visited the Bancroft Rare Book Library and had a special architectural tour of Stanford University. In the time of COVID-19 we have had on-line programs. A listing of all events from 2002 to the present can be found here.

For many members, the highlight of the programs and events is our annual Asilomar Retreat over the Presidents' Day weekend every year. In 2020, the Association held the 34th annual retreat at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove. The venue features many interesting Julia Morgan-designed buildings, Monterey Bay, a busy beach, and nature walks in addition to an array of outstanding speakers. Past events have featured an astronaut who has flown on the International Space Station, a study of five separate film versions of the Hamlet story, the development of the Perplexus, lectures on John Steinbeck, a book presentation entitled: Sex, Time & Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution, and a visit by Miss Julia Morgan (aka Betty Marvin) across space and time to tell us about her life and how she became California’s first woman architect. We also enjoyed presentations by several by our scholarship awardees, including Noël Bakhtian about the universe (Mars in particular) and our progress in exploring and understanding it. She even brought a remote control explorer vehicle that had been produced at Stanford, along with a video of it working its way over rocks and things. Truly a delightful example of what great things our scholarships can produce.

At The Phi Beta Kappa Society 40th Triennial Meeting in August 2003, the Phi Beta Kappa Northern California Association received an award "for excellence in representing the ideals and commitments of Phi Beta Kappa." In addition to a very elegant certificate, the Association received a check for $1000. Also, members of the Association have been honored by other organizations. Read more here....

Your Association operates with volunteers who receive no compensation for their efforts except the rewards of a job well done for a very worthy cause. We strive to husband our funds to use for scholarships and teaching excellence awards. Our programs are designed to pay for themselves and occasionally result in extra funds to use for scholarships. Our big income producer, after member dues, is the Asilomar Conference which has been funding nearly two scholarships annually.

(A list of past presidents back to 1946 has been maintained, as have some former board-member lists, but unfortunately, many other officers and committee members names have been lost. Can you help? )

For a look at a quaint custom, no longer practiced, see the handshake page.

The Northern California Association in brief

Santa Clara Valley Association of Phi Beta Kappa Gamma Association of California Chartered June 14, 1946

Northern California Association of Phi Beta Kappa July 25, 1951

Phi Beta Kappa, Northern California Association, Inc. Incorporated August 6, 1996

Website established, December 1997

History of the Phi Beta Kappa Society

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization, was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was the first society to have a Greek letter name, and in its initial period at William and Mary it introduced the essential characteristics of such societies - an oath of secrecy (discarded in 1831), a badge, mottoes in Latin and Greek, a code of laws, and an elaborate form of initiation. A very good history is located on the Society's site.

The Key

The Phi Beta Kappa key is one of this nation's most distinctive symbols and, in fact, traces its origins to the era of the American Revolution. Conceived in 1776 by a group of talented undergraduates at the College of William and Mary as an emblem of their secret "philosophical society," the key proclaims Phi Beta Kappa's centuries-old conviction that "The love of wisdom is the guide of Life." As the Society they created encompassed more and more of the nation's finest colleges and universities, its key became a universally recognized mark of academic achievement in the liberal arts and sciences. So it remains to this day, whether worn by a president, a Supreme Court justice, a college professor or an entrepreneur. The key's venerable pointing finger proclaims for all to see the wearer's commitment to Phi Beta Kappa's ancient principles (represented in the three stars)- friendship, morality, and learning.

Phi Beta Kappa are the initials of the Greek motto Philosophia Biou Kubernetes, "Love of wisdom, the guide of life."

(From the Phi Beta Kappa Society)

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