The rapid growth of universities and colleges in the United States during the latter part of the 19th Century led to the development of professional societies in every field. Local clubs were formed in educational institutions to promote professional interests and the desire for affiliation with other groups of similar ideals led to the organization of the local clubs into national and state societies. Various fields, such as law, medicine, science, engineering and teaching, eventually developed societies with large memberships.
In mathematics, Pi Mu Epsilon became the national fraternity for instructors and advanced students in educational institutions offering graduate work. Since the first fraternities open to mathematics students at the undergraduate level were organized by science departments, the need for a national society that would attract such students throughout their mathematics departments was recognized. Kappa Mu Epsilon was organized to fill this need, and Dr. Emily Kathryn Wyant is considered to be its founder.
Dr. Wyant was a graduate of the University of Missouri and a member of Pi Mu Epsilon. In 1930, she went to Northeastern Oklahoma State Teachers College as a professor of mathematics. Her vigor and enthusiasm helped to transform the mathematics club, which had been in existence since 1927, into the first chapter of Kappa Mu Epsilon. Professor L.P. Woods, who was head of the Department of Mathematics and Dean of Men at the time, became a valuable co-worker concerned with many details pertaining to the project, including the first rituals used for the initiation of members and installation of officers.
Together Dr. Wyant and Professor Woods, along with twenty-two other faculty and students became charter members of Oklahoma Alpha, Northeastern Oklahoma State Teachers College, Tahlequah, April 18, 1931. Since Dr. Wyant maintained an extensive correspondence with faculty members at other institutions, the second chapter of Kappa Mu Epsilon, Iowa Alpha, was installed at Iowa State Teachers College, Cedar Falls, May 27, 1931. Kansas Alpha, the third chapter, was installed January 30, 1932 at Kansas State Teachers College, Pittsburg. Then came Missouri Alpha, Southwest Missouri State College, Springfield, May 20, 1932.
Today, Kappa Mu Epsilon has become a specialized honor society with one hundred fifteen or more active chapters, located in colleges and universities of recognized standing, which offer a strong mathematics major, in thirty-four states. The chapters’ members are selected from students of mathematics or closely related fields, who have professional merit and attain academic distinction. Approximately sixty-seven thousand have been initiated thus far, and since Kappa Mu Epsilon was founded, they have helped it to become more than a group of isolated chapters devoted solely to the election of honor students to membership. Indeed, each chapter is encouraged to be a working organization throughout the academic year, functioning as an integral part of the mathematics department through worthwhile extra-curricular activities.