Some say the Phi Beta Kappa society came to be after an established fraternal order snubbed John. According to this version, the studious teenager got the thumbs down from the College of William & Mary’s P.D.A. (which may have stood for “Please Don’t Ask”) Society, and then promptly established his own fraternal order.
Other sources say the initial Phi Beta Kappa members had no interest in P.D.A. They preferred a society that emphasized liberal education and intellectual fellowship, unlike P.D.A., which had devolved into a party-hearty club.
Heath’s new society took the name Phi Beta Kappa, based on the Greek phrase, “Love of wisdom, guide to life,” and he served as its first president while attending the Williamsburg, Virginia, college.
The society eventually became an academic honor group, with membership earned by achievement rather than invitation. According to the Phi Beta Kappa website, 17 U.S. Presidents, 38 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and 136 Nobel laureates have been members of the academic honor society
Notable members, past and present, include ex-presidents John Quincy Adams, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, actors Paul Robeson and Ashley Judd, broadcaster Tom Brokaw, and football player Peyton Manning.