The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary. Since then, Phi Beta Kappa has evolved to become the nation’s leading advocate for the liberal arts and sciences at the undergraduate level.

Our association is a constituent member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest and most respected undergraduate honors organization in the United States. The Society has pursued its mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences since its founding in 1776. Each year, about one college senior in a hundred, nationwide, is invited to join Phi Beta Kappa. Membership is life-long, and members are invited after graduation to join a Phi Beta Kappa Association in their community.

The Society’s distinctive emblem, a golden key, is widely recognized as a symbol of academic achievement.

Phi Beta Kappa elects over 15,000 new members a year from 286 chapters across the United States.

For more on the Phi Beta Kappa Society, go to

The DC PBK Association is in the PBK South Atlantic District and is one of over 50 Phi Beta Kappa associations in cities throughout the United States. These associations support the ideals of the Society through academic, social, and community-based programs.

PBK South Atlantic District

The Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 286 chapters and more than 50 national associations are grouped into geographical districts for the purpose of establishing a conference, which generally meets at the Triennial Council, nominating district senators and promoting the goals of Phi Beta Kappa in each district. The DC Area Phi Beta Kappa Association is part of the South Atlantic District.

The South Atlantic District includes chapters and associations in D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

A Brief History of the PBK Districts

The history of establishing Districts goes way back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1922, the PBK Triennial Council adopted a bylaw dividing the United States into five Districts, each being represented by a District Senator. The idea behind the establishment of five Districts, each one with an elected District Senator, was to create a fairer chartering system for colleges and universities across the United States because in the early 20th century, the majority of Phi Beta Kappa chapters was only to be found along the East Coast of the US. This was the beginning of the election of District Senators, who – regardless of the numbers of chapters in their region further West – had an equal voice with their East Coast colleagues in voting on Phi Beta Kappa matters.

However, as Oscar M. Voorhees, Secretary of Phi Beta Kappa and historian, wrote in The History of Phi Beta Kappa, published in 1945: “The effort to integrate the increasing number of Phi Beta Kappa chapters by grouping them in districts had succeeded only partially, as District meetings could be held only in connection with meetings of the Council.” The original five were later increased to seven. Richard Nelson Current, also a historian, gives us an illuminating history of the creation of the Districts in his 1990 book Phi Beta Kappa in American Life.

Today, some Districts have succeeded better than others to achieve the kind of communication that serves Phi Beta Kappa best. Other Districts, and ours is no exception, suffer from the far flung geographical separation of chapters and associations. It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to work closely together. However, our South Atlantic District, which stretches from Washington, D.C. all the way down to Florida, is trying.