Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest 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 1776.
The Gamma of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established at Davidson College in 1923.
Charter members were President W. J. Martin, a Phi Beta Kappa of the University of Virginia; Professor Ray W. Pettingill, a Phi Beta Kappa of Bowdoin College; Professor W. L. Porter, a Phi Beta Kappa of Yale University; Professor E. F. Shewmake, a Phi Beta Kappa of the College of William and Mary; and Professor W. W. Wood, a Phi Beta Kappa of the University of Virginia. Ten foundation members, ten alumni members, and five members-in-course were initiated on March 1, 1923. The first member-in-course to sign the roster of members was Robert F. Davidson. The first officers of the Chapter were Dr. Joseph M. McConnell, President; Dr. E. F. Shewmake, Vice-President; and Professor W. W. Wood, Secretary-Treasurer.
On April 26, 1973 the Chapter celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. Among those present for the occasion were Carl Billman, Secretary of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, and Robert F. Davidson, the first member in course initiated by the Gamma Chapter. Both of these gentlemen received honorary degrees from the College at the Spring Convocation the next day. In 1974 the Chapter marked the beginning of its second half century by initiating into its membership two women, Virginia Howell Andrews and Patricia Elise Morgan.
At the 1976 Triennial Council of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, Professor Malcolm Lester, secretary of the Davidson Chapter, was elected to the Senate, the executive body of the United Chapters. He held that position until 1982. The Chapter celebrated its seventy-fifty anniversary in 1998, at which ceremony Professor Lester provided reminiscences about its long history. Since its founding in 1923, over 2,400 students have become members of the Gamma of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.