The name Phi Beta Kappa derives from the initial letters for the Greek phrase, "Philosophy the Guide of Life."
Five students at the College of William & Mary founded Phi Beta Kappa in 1776, during the American Revolution. For over two and a quarter centuries, the Society has embraced the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. Laptops have replaced quill pens, but these ideas, symbolized on Phi Beta Kappa's distinctive gold key, still lay the foundations of personal freedom, scientific inquiry, liberty of conscience and creative endeavor.
Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and most prestigious scholarly honor society in the United States. It recognizes achievement and academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. There are two hundred eighty-three Phi Beta Kappa chapters in the foremost institutions of higher education throughout the country. The University of New Hampshire chapter dates from 1952.
Being elected to Phi Beta Kappa is a great honor and is recognized as such, for instance, in media accounts of public figures. Members include Sonia Sotomayor, Condoleeza Rice, Bill Clinton, George Bush, David Souter, Elizabeth Dole, Rita Dove, Marv Levy, Paul Robeson, Helen Keller, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Daniel Webster, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Alexander Graham Bell, and Theodore Roosevelt.