Monday, 4 February 2013



Almost three weeks ago, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority celebrated its Centennial in its founding city, Washington DC, as well as around the world.  Many of my friends, who are Deltas, were posting photos on Facebook, of themselves and their Sorors, in a sea of red and making the Delta triangle sign. They looked lovely; and as though they were having so much fun, as well as being extremely proud! Why wouldn’t they be?  They are members of the largest African-American Greek-lettered Sorority in the world, with a membership of over 200,000, and over 900 chapters in the United States, England, Japan, Germany, The Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Republic of Korea.   

Click here to see some of the Centennial celebrations.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was founded on January 13, 1913, by twenty-two female students at HBCU, Howard University

Their names were: Osceola Macarthy Adams, Marguerite Young Alexander, Winona Cargile Alexander, Ethel Cuff Black, Bertha Pitts Campbell, Zephyr Chisom Carter, Edna Brown Coleman, Jessie McGuire Dent, Frederica Chase Dodd, Myra Davis Hemmings, Olive C. Jones, Jimmie Bugg Middleton, Pauline Oberdorfer Minor, Vashti Turley Murphy, Naomi Sewell Richardson, Mamie Reddy Rose, Eliza Pearl Shippen, Florence Letcher Toms, Ethel Carr Watson, Wertie Blackwell Weaver, Madree Penn White and Edith Motte Young. 

These young women had been members of the first ever African-American Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), also founded at Howard; but they wanted to focus less on social activities and more on activism and public service, with a mission of promoting academic excellence and strengthening their community.

To note, The AKAs have been making a significant impact on society for over one hundred years and remain strong sisters with The Deltas, to this day. I will be writing more about The AKAs, later this month.

The Delta Founders were strong and self-assured and wanted more for their fellow sisters, be they White or Black.  Their first public act was to participate in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington DC, in March 1913, the day prior to President Woodrow WiIson’s inauguration.  They marched with honorary member, Mary Church Terrell, carrying a Delta Sigma Theta banner.

Other Black women participated; but as individuals.  All, including The Deltas, were subjected to, not only persecution by the opponents of the whole Suffrage Movement, but also to racists, composing of outsiders and some of the March’s organizers, who were reluctant to empower Black women in such manner. Also, at that time, Washington DC was quite a segregated city in public areas. Before The Suffrage March began, The Deltas had to assemble themselves in an area specifically allocated to Black women.  They may have been criticized, but they had no regrets. Florence Letcher Toms commented,
"We marched that day in order that women might come into their own, because we believed that women not only needed an education, but they needed a broader horizon in which they may use that education. And the right to vote would give them that privilege.”

When The Founders established Delta Sigma Theta, they already knew that they wanted to be national. A year later, a second Delta chapter was established at HBCU, Wilberforce University; a third chapter was established in 1918 at the University of Pennsylvania, being its first African-American Sorority; and fourth and fifth chapters were established in 1919 at the University of Iowa and Ohio State University. The first graduate chapters were established in 1920 in New York and Washington DC. With the chartering of a chapter at the University of California, in February 1921, Delta Sigma Theta became the first Black Greek-letter organization established on the West Coast of the United States.  

University of Pennsylvania Deltas, 1918

Ohio State Deltas, 1919

The Deltas were certainly expanding; and their first National President was Sadie T. M. Alexander, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the United States, and the first woman of any race to earn a Law Degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  She served as Delta President from 1919–1923.

The programmes were also expanding. Boston Delta Soror, Marion Conover-Hope, initiated a bi-annual fundraising talent/variety/pageant show, in 1925, called Jabberwock. The name was taken from Lewis Carroll’s character, Jabberwocky, in Alice in Wonderland, who summoned all of the creatures in the kingdom to perform a gala event. Today, the Jabberwock is considered a Delta institution, and one of the highlights of the social calendar.  Funds raised to pay for scholarships for young men and women of promise and ability, as well as public service programs.

Jabberwock Contestants, 2011-12

Jabberwock Contestants, 1945

May Week, the Job Analysis and Opportunity Project and The National Library Project were officially implemented in 1921, 1941 and 1945, respectively – all of which continue today, in some form. 

The purpose of May Week is to emphasize the importance of higher education in the community, especially for Black women. The slogan, "Invest in Education" was adopted. The Job Analysis and Opportunity Project was launched to provide career, employment counseling and job exposure for African-American women. The Sorority created the program to address concerns that Black women were limited in their choices of occupations, and that they lacked training because of the economy and World War II. The National Library Project was implemented in 1945, with the goal to establish a traveling library in especially the South, where library services were not generally available for African-Americans, both because of segregation and because so many lived in rural areas, which had fewer services, anyway.   

Delta Job Fair, Atlanta, Georgia

Meanwhile, a momentous event occurred during this time. On January 20, 1930, Delta Sigma Theta became nationally incorporated. The Founders had fulfilled their dream.  But, The Deltas were just getting started. 

Delta Sorors, 1930

The aforementioned are just a few of the wonderful programs that The Deltas have created.  They have established others, or make them happen, in partnership with charities and NGOs, such as Habitat for Humanity homes in Ghana and elsewhere; Delta Towers, an apartment building for elderly and disabled individuals in Washington DC; the Dr. Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X’s deceased widow and Delta Soror) Delta Academy, which offers unique programs to girls, aged 11-14, that spark their interest in math, science and technology, as well as careers where women of color are scarcely represented. The Academy's symbol is the dream catcher. In Native American culture, the dream catcher possesses power to capture bad dreams and entangle them into a web. The good dreams pass through the dream hoop's open center into the person; and The American Heart Association Partnership “Go Red for Women” Campaign to educate women of all races on heart disease.

In 1954, Delta Sigma Theta was the first African-American organization to purchase a national headquarters site, which is located in Washington DC, in the historic DuPont Circle neighbourhood.  

Delta Sigma Theta HQ

A year later, the Sorority established an organizing structure, entitled the Five-Point Programmatic Thrust, which creates programs to benefit the African-American community, including:

1.    Economic Development
2.    Educational Development
3.    International Awareness and Involvement
4.    Physical and Mental Health
5.    Political Awareness and Involvement

The fifth Program Thrust has manifested itself, most recently with the establishment of Delta Days in the Nation’s Capital, in 1989 and Delta Days at the United Nations, in 2003. Their primary purpose is to help shape policies that affect women, children, minorities and humanitarian efforts.

Other famous Sorors have included activists, Mary McLeod Bethune and Dorothy Height; and Congresswomen, Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan; poet, Nikki Giovanni; journalists Gwen Ifill and Soledad O' Brien; singers, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Leontyne Price and Roberta Flack, and actresses Cicely Tyson and Ruby Dee.

Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, National President

The current, 24th National President is Cynthia M.A. Butler-McIntyre, who has been serving since 2008 and is extremely proud to be overseeing this year’s Centennial celebrations. Even though we don’t know what the Bi-centennial will look like, no doubt The Deltas will still be resplendent in red and making a positive impact around the world.

Sources: Wikipedia,, Google Images, Huffington Post, Schomburg Center

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