Efforts to secure a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Millsaps College were begun in 1931, in the administration of Dr. David Martin Key. Hopes for an early approval were defeated by lack of sufficient endowment, in the eyes of the National Society, to support an academic program of truly first quality. Also there was not a sufficient number of Millsaps faculty who were themselves members of Phi Beta Kappa. Before these deficiencies were corrected, American involvement in World War II led the National Society to suspend the granting of new chapters for a time. After the war was ended, the issue of racial segregation came rapidly into focus on the national scene, and it became clear that the National Council would not charter any institution that was racially segregated.
In 1965 the Millsaps Board of Trustees approved a policy of admissions without regard to race, and a renewed effort to secure a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was inaugurated in the late 1970's. With Millsaps' increased resources, improved curriculum, the attainment of the requisite number of Phi Beta Kappa faculty, the National Society approved a visitation by the Committee on Qualifications. This visit took place in early 1987. Its members recommended the granting of a chapter at Millsaps, which recommendation was approved by the Senate of Phi Beta Kappa and referred to the Council of the United Chapters for final action on the matter. Meeting in San Antonio, Texas on October 29, 1988, the Council voted well over the required 2/3's majority to approve a chapter at Millsaps.
The installation ceremony was performed on March 4, 1989, by the National President of Phi Beta Kappa Society, Dr. Otis A. Singletary. By an appropriate coincidence, Dr. Singletary (who also served as President of the University of Kentucky from 1969-1987) received his B.A. degree from Millsaps College in 1947.
The charter members of the Millsaps Chapter (Alpha of Mississippi) were Priscilla Fermon, Alan Graves, George M. Harmon, Robert H. King, Frank M. Laney, Jr., Richard P. Mallette, Suzanne Marrs, Judith W. Page, Lee H. Reiff, Edward L. Schrader, Elise L. Smith, Steven G. Smith, and Austin Wilson.
Elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the Installation Ceremony for their own distinguished achievements and as representation of those contributing to Millsaps' high scholarly ideals were five Foundation Members: Ross H. Moore, representing faculty; Homer E. Finger, Jr., representing the Methodist Church; Nathaniel S. Rogers, representing the Board of Trustees; Gwin J. Kolb, representing scholarship; and Eudora Welty, representing the creative arts.