With its roots in liberalizing the freedom of honors toward engineering students, Tau Beta Pi is known as a liberal society. However, has had its share of traditional controversy. In 1903, the first eligible female became known, but Tau Beta Pi refused her acceptance. The gender issue became a huge debate between members of past and present, as Tau Bates had always been men. Many strove to keep it that way.
Tau Beta Pi’s “first lady” Katherine C. Harelson, KY ’24, Women Badge No.1 was fully initiated in 1969. (Image from “The Changing Face of Membership.” The Bent, Issue Fall 1985, pg 33. )
There was a ban on women in the honors society until 1936, when Tau Beta Pi decided it would be okay to recognize superior female students in engineering. The first to be presented the “Women’s Badge” was Katherine C. Harelson of our own University of Kentucky. The badge did not represent membership in the society until 1968, when the final ballot voting to allow women to be permitted membership into the society was counted. Harelson was officially inducted into Tau Beta Pi in 1969, along with 154 other women that year.
For more information on the history of women in Tau Beta Pi, please read The Bent Fall 1985 issue: http://www.tbp.org/pages/publications/Bent/Features/F85FirstCentury.pdf