Founded on April 5, 1878, Phi Sigma is the second oldest continuing organization of its kind in Illinois. Its purpose was to promote serious discussion of literature, history, and current national and world problems and the first meeting was in the the Beard Brothers Bookstore, located at what is now 1308 West Madison between Ada and Throop Streets. William Harington Beard and Gerald Hamilton Beard owned the book and stationary store and were among its charter members. William married and moved to Minneapolis, MN and founded an art gallery and Gerald moved to New England and became a minister.
Its six charter members were male, but on March 21, 1882 five women joined the organization. Today the group (known as a ‘class’) is limited to fifty members. Members lead, plan, write and lecture at each meeting with several of the writings gathered into a volume entitled “Voice”, short for "The Voice of the People", produced since the group was established.
Contents of the “Voice” span many topics. During its first twenty-five years, according to a publication written for its 25th anniversary, the members:
“Devoted ourselves to debates, book reviews, the Greek poets, Norse legends, epochs of history, socialism, philosophy, journalism, the history of art, realism, and idealism. We have studied the drama, the Greek Church, evolution, Mahomet, monks, troubadours, the Reformation, lives of great authors, artists, and musicians, scientific inventions, and sketches of famous cities. We have written original stories and poems. We have discussed politics, the drainage canal, free kindergartens, social settlements, immigration, psychology, sociology, and every other “ology”.
Members and guests continue to gather monthly from October to May at the home of one of the members. A talk is featured at each meeting, presented by a group member, focused on a theme selected at the beginning of the season. There is discussion of the topic after each talk. Phi Sigma today continues in accordance with its long traditions first eastablished in that Chicago bookstore. The May meeting traditionally has its members engaged in an outing, a party, or a field trip to wrap up the class or season of that particular year.
Camping Club rules, images, song, and programs from some of the 1890s outings are also available to view.