Alpha CHi Omega

DIGITAL HISTORY

SISTER OF SIGNIFICANCE: Bessie Grooms Keenan 

Bessie Grooms Keenan

Like fellow Founders Anna Allen (Alpha, DePauw University) and Olive Burnett (Alpha, DePauw University), Bessie Grooms (Alpha, DePauw University) was born on April 28, 1866 and, like fellow Founders Anna Allen (Alpha, DePauw University) and Olive Burnett (Alpha, DePauw University), she grew up in Greencastle, Indiana. She began to study pianoforte at a young age and by the time she graduated high school, she had become an accomplished pianist. At the age of 19, Bessie enrolled in DePauw University's new School of Music. Dainty, fair-haired and blue-eyed, Bessie was said to have been full of fun and sparkling humor with a sunny disposition. Anna Allen Smith said "she was seemingly happiest in making others happy."


The prospect of establishing a new fraternity held particular appeal for Bessie. Living at home, the Fraternity presented an opportunity to participate in college life beyond the classrooms, practice rooms and rehearsal halls. Her home was the site of many early Fraternity activities, including Alpha chapter's first big party. Fraternity events were welcomed by the family, with few enjoying the gatherings more than her father, or "Daddy Grooms," as he was affectionately known to many of the chapter members.


Although she was a gifted musician, the energy and discipline with which she approached her art would be its downfall. Olive Burnett Clark wrote of her, "inspired by the advantages of the school and the ambition to become perfect in her art, she practiced very hard and frequently too long at a time, which resulted in the muscles of her left wrist and hand becoming strained and she lost the use of her fingers." Eventually, she was forced to give up the piano in order to save the use of her hand. It is unclear how long Bessie remained at DePauw after this point.


Bessie Grooms married Luther Courtland Keenan in 1895. The couple moved to LeRoy, Illinois where Luther worked in banking and there they had five children: three sons and two daughters. Anna Allen Smith reflected that "it was in being a mother that we found her in her true sphere for no task was too hard that would give pleasure to the two dear daughters and sons." Her younger daughter, Hannah Keenan (Alpha, DePauw University), attended DePauw and became a member of Alpha chapter in 1918. She would later become the director of the Fraternity's Central Office.


After visiting her daughter Hannah, who was ill in a hospital in Brokaw, Illinois, on October 31, 1920, Bessie herself became suddenly ill. Weakened after several health-related setbacks in the previous years, as well as the death of her young son in 1915 and the death of her beloved father earlier in the year, Bessie was, in the words of Olive Burnett Clark, "physically unable to resist sickness." Bessie Grooms Keenan died just a few days later on November 4, 1920.

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