The Rho Chi Society has its origin in the merger of two movements, both commencing in 1917, to create a national honor society for pharmacy. One had started on the campus of the University of Michigan where there had been a local honor society (known as the “Aristolochite Society”) in existence at the Pharmaceutical Department since 1908. This group began to plan for national expansion in 1917, and finally established a second chapter at the School of Pharmacy of the (then) Oregon Agricultural College in 1919 and a third at the University of Oklahoma in 1922.

The other movement, originally independent of the Michigan movement, was initiated even earlier in 1917 by Rufus A. Lyman in his presidential address to the American Conference of Pharmaceutical Faculties. Under the stimulus of his suggestion, and the conscientious efforts of Professor Zada M. Cooper, it was decided to take advantage of the activity in progress at Michigan. The “Aristolochite Society” had in the meantime become the “Rho Chi Society,” and had been granted a charter by the State of Michigan on May 19, 1922. The Conference of Pharmaceutical Faculties, finding that the group met the standards which the Conference had determined upon, extended its recognition to Rho Chi, as “the Honor Society of Pharmacy.” Rho Chi, in turn, provided that chapters could be established only at colleges that were members of the Conference (now the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.)

A policy of conservative expansion followed. After five years of existence, Rho Chi could count eight chapters; and after ten years, eighteen, but thereafter, growth continued more rapidly. The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy chartered the Omicron chapter of the Rho Chi Society in 1930. In 2006, there were 87 active chapters and additional chapters are anticipated at new schools of pharmacy.

The high standards maintained for membership in Rho Chi have resulted in the general recognition of the Society not only by Pharmacy, but also by academic circles generally. Since 1947, the Society has been a member of the Association of College Honor Societies.