The National Beta Club was founded January 8, 1934, at Landrum High School by Dr. John West Harris, faculty member at Wofford College. Reared on a farm and aware of the privations of his day, Harris worked to develop youth for effective leadership and achievement. His high standards and goals were fashioned after Phi Beta Kappa and the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. He knew achievers made A and B grades, and subsequently chose Beta (or B) for the organization’s name. He asked principals and superintendents for permission to present his plan to local literary societies and sponsors.
The Landrum High School Literary Society (fifteen members) and sponsor Helen Prince were the first to apply for membership. Before the school year ended, eight other literary societies had become Beta Clubs. By the end of the following year there were seventy-five chapters in four states.
National dues are paid by members, and an endowed foundation supports the organization and its programs. The Student Loan Program assisted fifteen hundred worthy students before it became a Scholarship Program, supported by many national corporations and philanthropists.
Annual Assemblies are held for members and sponsors at the state level, and delegates are elected to an International Convention. Each member receives a membership pin and a certificate, subscription to the Beta Club Journal, subscription to Beta Web network, a membership card, and a diploma seal for graduating seniors. Junior Beta Clubs began in junior high schools in 1961.
As of 2005 the National Beta Club, headquartered in Spartanburg, had more than 417,000 members in the United States, the Bahamas, Germany, Guam, Puerto Rico, Russia, and the Virgin Islands. Among the nearly five million former members are Erika Dunlap, Miss America 2004; NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme; former president Bill Clinton; the television journalist Diane Sawyer; and Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.