"The purpose of Phi Theta Kappa shall be to recognize and encourage scholarship among two-year college students. To achieve this purpose, Phi Theta Kappa shall provide opportunity for the development of leadership and service, for an intellectual climate for exchange of ideas and ideals, for lively fellowship for scholars, and for stimulation of interest in continuing academic excellence."
Phi Theta Kappa's mission is two-fold: 1) recognize and encourage the academic achievement of two-year college students, and 2) provide opportunities for individual growth and development through participation in honors, leadership, service and fellowship programming. Phi Theta Kappa traces its beginnings to a Society that originated with six charter members under the name of Kappa Phi Omicron at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, in 1910. The Society continued to grow and in the spring of 1918 was one of many honorary groups in Missouri. At a meeting of the presidents of the Missouri junior colleges for women in 1918, it was decided to organize a new honorary society, chapters of which would have a common character, stand, and similarity of organization. The name Phi Theta Kappa was chosen, and the Society was incorporated in Missouri as a national organization. Founders modeled many aspects of the new Society after the prestigious senior college honorary society, Phi Beta Kappa.
The eight charter colleges of Phi Theta Kappa were Hardin, Stephens, Christian, Lindenwood, Cottey, Howard Payne, William Woods, and Central. The alpha chapter was established at Hardin College, but was later moved to Stephens College when Hardin College became a baccalaureate granting institution. Today, Cottey College, Nevada, Missouri, is the only charter college with an active Phi Theta Kappa chapter.
For the first six years, Phi Theta Kappa confined its activity to women's junior colleges, but in 1924 through constitutional amendment, the field of activity was enlarged to cover all junior colleges. In 1926, Phi Theta Kappa expanded beyond the borders of Missouri and into coeducational institutions. The American Association of Community Colleges recognized Phi Theta Kappa as the official honor society for two-year colleges in 1929.
In 1930, Margaret James (Mosal) became the first elected national president of Phi Theta Kappa while attending Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi. She became national secretary in 1935 and moved the records of the organization to her hometown of Canton. Mosal served as Phi Theta Kappa's chief executive for fifty years, retiring as executive director in 1985.
In the early years, Phi Theta Kappa membership was conferred to students at time of graduation and few programs and services were offered. The explosive growth of community colleges in the 1960s led Phi Theta Kappa to expand its mission to reflect the nurturing philosophy of the institutions it served. Students were inducted as freshmen and study programs were offered.