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Last modified: December 22, 2008, 11:30 AM
Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and largest academic honor society, was founded on Dec. 5, 1776, by five students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. It was the first society to have a Greek letter name. And in its early years 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 initiation ritual. Its constitution states the purpose of the Society is "to recognize and encourage scholarship, friendship and cultural interests." That mission is pursued in the programs administered by the national office. But all of these activities could be described as seeking to honor and encourage achievement in the liberal arts1 and sciences, especially in undergraduate liberal education.