Lyn Harris learned to enjoy history as she looked up facts in the World Book and clipped photographs from National Geographic magazines for school projects. She has made researching and telling history her life pursuit and was honored in October with the 2020 Chi Omega President’s Award for her work.
Harris has been the national archivist for Chi Omega since 2006, and in most years, she spends her time traveling around the country, visiting Chi Omega chapters and telling the stories of the fraternity. As the resident historian for Chi Omega, Harris has met 25 of the 30 recipients of the President’s Award, which is the highest honor the fraternity gives to alumnae.
“I give Bright School credit for beginning my love of history,” she said. “We made state booklets, and I would pull facts from the World Book, and my Mom got into finding old National Geographics. I clipped pictures to put in the booklets.” At that time, students made a booklet for each of the 50 states. A similar version of the project exists today in the form of the fourth grade state project, in which each fourth grader is assigned a state and creates a research project about it. Throughout high school at GPS and college, history was her best academic subject.
She joined Chi Omega at Mercer University and earned her master’s degree in history at Georgia College & State University. Harris then taught high school history in Macon, Georgia, and still keeps in touch with some of her students, who are only a few years younger than she is.
Harris loved Chi Omega so much, she went to work for the fraternity in 1989 and held several positions including national leadership consultant, director of chapter services, and a national recruiter, working from the headquarters in Memphis. She returned to Chattanooga to care for her mother, Velda, who died in 2006.
The role of archivist turned out to be the perfect fit at the right time. Harris decided to remain in Chattanooga but not work full-time, and Chi Omega’s first-ever archivist stepped down. With her history and research background, Harris was appointed archivist, which is a volunteer position.
The job of the archivist is “making stories come to life,” Harris said. Chi Omega was founded in 1895, when women were first starting to go to colleges. But there were few women, and they decided to create social clubs, which became today’s sororities.
Harris has added new ways to telling the stories. She has embraced many forms of social media to reach current members and alumnae and create discussions with old photographs and memorabilia. She has expanded the sorority’s collection in the museum in Memphis, particularly by acquiring old jewelry and rare Chi Omega artifacts through eBay. She researches chapter histories when chapters are celebrating notable anniversaries and usually travels to the chapters to give presentations.
This year would have been Chi Omega’s national convention, where Harris would have been a speaker. This is only the second time the convention was not held or not held in person – the other was in 1918 due to World War I. “The convention is one of my favorite times,” she said.
Harris enjoys getting together with all the Chi Omegas and public speaking. “That’s usually the No. 1 fear of most people,” she said. “But I’ve always liked it. I’ve always been a ham.” Harris recalled that her speaking talents were discovered when she was assigned the role of narrator in “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” play in first grade. “I was the only child they could hear in the back of the auditorium,” she said.
That’s one of the many memories from Bright School she recalled along with Christmas, the Bright School lunch, Country Gardens and manual training (shop). Gymnastics was a big emphasis in P.E. at the time, which was taught by Coach Bill Wolcott and Mrs. Martha Bass. The gym show, which many alumni from the 70s through the 90s remember, was a big deal. “We wore navy shorts. We would march out and do calisthenics,” she recalled. “Frank Bright was last because he could do flips.”
There is hardly anything more memorable for alumni than the Bright School picnic. Harris remembers going to the picnic at Warner Park. “We would look forward to it almost more than Christmas,” she said. “We would wake up that morning and listen to Luther to see if there would be a cloud in the sky.” Chattanoogans used to listen to radio broadcaster Luther Masingill each morning to get the news and weather. The picnic would not be held in the rain.
And like many alumni, Harris can recall all her teachers. Her favorites were Charlotte Mason for second grade, Mary Alice Peters for sixth grade and Margaret Strong in first grade. Many years later, Harris discovered Miss Strong was a Chi-O at the University of Chattanooga in the 1920s, and she visited Miss Strong when she lived in the St. Barnabas apartments downtown. “It’s hard to believe your teacher would be in a sorority,” Harris said. “I remember she was strict.” As Harris knows, everyone has a story to tell.