Alpha CHi Omega

DIGITAL HISTORY

SISTER OF SIGNIFICANCE: Bertha Deniston Cunningham 

Bertha Deniston Cunningham

Bertha Deniston (Alpha, DePauw University) was born in Peru, Indiana on July 28, 1869. A sickly child, Bertha's school days were limited, although her parents made every effort to cultivate her musical talent. Just a few months after the untimely death of her mother in the summer of 1885, Bertha enrolled in the new School of Music at DePauw University. Despite the recent loss of her mother, Bertha - or "Denny" as she was known - was described as "happy and popular with everyone" and she was known for her gentle manner, genial smile, and sweet disposition.


Denny was perhaps the most excited of the Founders when the prospect of starting their own Fraternity was proposed. She had been particularly envious of the beautiful bows and ribbons worn by the other girls on campus who were members of Kappa Alpha Theta or Kappa Kappa Gamma women's fraternities.


Musically, Denny was advanced in piano study when she entered the School of Music. Her remarkable execution and ability to compose were the envy of many other students and she had the reputation of being able to accomplish more work in less time than any other student in the school.


Denny was elected Alpha Chi Omega's first recording secretary. It is her hand-written minutes that document the first organizational meeting of the Fraternity on October 15, 1885. She played an historic role in those early years in other ways as well. It was Denny, for instance, who purchased the first Alpha Chi Omega badge and generously allowed other Founders and members to wear it throughout her college years. It is the only original badge of the Fraternity still in existence. She also served as one of the first delegates of the Fraternity, traveling to Albion, Michigan with Mary L. Jones (Alpha, DePauw University) to establish Beta chapter (Albion College).


Denny left DePauw in her junior year after the death of her father. She moved to Indianapolis to live with her older half-sister and took a position as a saleslady and assistant bookkeeper for the Pearson Piano Company. It was at Pearson that she met Scobey Cunningham, a salesman for the company. Within two years they were married and later had two sons. In Indianapolis, Denny served as one of the charter members of the Beta Beta alumnae chapter.


Ear trouble that began many years earlier eventually led to deafness in her old age. She learned to read lips and continued to travel, shop, and visit with her friends, including her dear friend and fellow Founder Olive Burnett (Alpha, DePauw University). It was not until an accident destroyed the vision in one eye that she began to gradually withdraw from the world and rarely left home. Bertha Deniston Cunningham died on October 2, 1950 after her injured eye became infected.

  • Join Date
  • 10/15/1885
  • Member?
  • Yes