Phi Beta Kappa Taps Cole for Honorary Membership

April 11, 2011

Highly regarded as a scholar and profoundly committed to liberal learning as teacher, mentor, and colleague, Mary Hill Cole has been tapped for honorary membership in the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

By secret ballot, members of Mary Baldwin’s chapter unanimously chose the history professor and Elizabeth I expert for membership in the prestigious academic honor society. She was surprised with the news at Honors Convocation on April 7.

Election of honorary members is a rare action by the Lambda of Virginia chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The last person to be so honored was Cynthia Tyson, president emerita of Mary Baldwin, shortly before her 2003 retirement.

Founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most respected society honoring liberal arts students of genuine academic and personal accomplishment. Election to membership usually occurs in the spring of the senior year and is done by faculty members who were themselves elected to Phi Beta Kappa as undergraduates.

Cole’s “undergraduate liberal arts performance was stellar and surely would have earned her an invitation to Phi Beta Kappa had her institution had a chapter,” Professor of Economics Judy Klein wrote in a nomination letter to fellow Phi Beta Kappa members.

James Madison University was granted its own Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 2009 — 30 years after Cole earned her bachelor’s degree in history at the institution. She graduated summa cum laude and went on to earn both a master’s degree and PhD in history at the University of Virginia. She began teaching at Mary Baldwin in 1987.

In addition to her extensive research of Elizabeth I of England, Cole has earned teaching awards for engaging students and challenging them to comprehend humanity through history. Her scholarly interest in the Virgin Queen, Tudor-Stuart England, European women’s history, and Renaissance theater have not only helped shape upper-level history courses but also contributed to the college’s Master of Letters/Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare and Performance program and in the development of learning programs in conjunction with Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center. Cole is widely published, has presented papers to professional conferences, delivered keynote lectures around the world, and, most recently, appeared in a television program
about Elizabeth I on the National Geographic channel.

“Mary Hill Cole has been a champion of liberal arts scholarship at Mary Baldwin and in the event of her election she will enrich our chapter,” Klein wrote.

Mary Baldwin has sheltered the Lambda of Virginia chapter of Phi Beta Kappa
since 1971 and is only one of 280 colleges with chapters. Fewer than one percent of college seniors nationwide are elected to the honor society.

Chapter members also elected eight seniors — Kathryn Lynn Aldrich, Kelly Dawn Brose, Carrie Logan Dill, Priscilla April Lao, Jennifer Leedom, Elisabeth Caroline Maddrell, Veronica Mallory, and Megan Trueheart Pitts — and four juniors — Angela Satya Gupta, Krittika Krishnan, Elena Yen-Vi Nguyen, and Alexis St. Claire.

Cole and the 12 student inductees will be honored publicly at a formal initiation ceremony on May 21, during Commencement weekend.