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Delta Sigma Theta (ΔΣΘ) is a non-profit Greek-lettered sorority of college-educated women who perform public service and place emphasis on the African American community. Delta Sigma Theta was founded on January 13, 1913, at Howard Universitymarker by twenty-two young women. Today, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority is the largest African American Greek-lettered sorority in the world. Membership in Delta Sigma Theta is open to any woman who meets the membership requirements, regardless of race, nationality, or religion. Women may join through undergraduate chapters at a college or university, or after acquiring a college degree through a graduate chapter.

The Grand Chapter has a membership of more than 350,000 predominantly African-American, college-educated women, and educated Caucasian, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and African women. The sorority currently has 950-plus alumnae and collegiate chapters located in the United Statesmarker, Englandmarker, Japanmarker (Tokyomarker and Okinawamarker), Germanymarker, Bermudamarker, the Bahamasmarker, Seoulmarker, Saint Thomasmarker and Saint Croix, U.S.marker Virgin Islandsmarker; Haitimarker and Jamaicamarker.

Delta Sigma Theta is a member of multiple organizations, including the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) — an organization of nine international Greek-letter sororities and fraternities - as well as the NAACP, and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The current national president is Cynthia M. A. Butler-McIntyre.

History

Twenty-two founders of Delta Sigma Theta in 1913

Creation of Delta Sigma Theta

In 1912 at Howard Universitymarker, twenty-two undergraduate members of the first African-American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), voted to change the organization's name to Delta Sigma Theta. This new name was to reflect the group's growing dissatisfaction and change in the philosophical underpinnings. The collegiate students sought to move towards social activism and greater public service, rather than social activities. According to Delta Sigma Theta's historian Paula Giddings, the twenty-two young women were concerned that since Alpha Kappa Alpha was not incorporated, there was no "legal entity." Since there was no charter, there was no authority to form other chapters."

The undergraduate members wanted to establish a national organization, enlarge the scope of activities of the sorority, change the sorority's name and symbols, and be more politically oriented. However, conflict arose between one alumnae member who wished to keep the previous name and the remaining collegiate members who voted to change the name to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. When Nellie Quander heard about changing the sorority name, she disagreed and gave the other women a deadline to stop the efforts to reorganize the sorority. However, the twenty-two declined and unanimously voted to reorganize. Thus Delta Sigma Theta was founded on January 13, 1913, by the twenty-two former members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. The new sorority was officially incorporated, on February 18, 1913 and in 1930 the organization's Grand Chapter was nationally incorporated.

Participation in the 1913 Women Suffrage March

Less than two months after the sorority's founding, the first public service act of Delta Sigma Theta took place during the 1913 Women's Suffrage March on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Delta Sigma Theta's twenty-two founders marched with honorary member Mary Church Terrell under the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority banner on the day prior to Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. They felt that black women needed the right to vote to protect themselves against sexual exploitation, promote quality education, assist in the work force, and racial empowerment.

Yet, the twenty-two founders and other Black female marchers were subjected to racism, not only by people who were opposed to the enfranchisement of women, but by march organizers reluctant to advocate suffrage for Blacks. For example, Mary Church Terrell recalled how she and Delta Sigma Theta's founders had to assemble in an area specifically allocated for Black women. Several years later, Terrell confided her feelings about the National American Woman Suffrage Association and suffragist leader Alice Paul to NAACP representative Walter White. Terrell questioned Paul’s loyalty to Black women's rights, inferring, "If [Paul] and other white suffragist leaders could get the Anthony Amendment through without enfranchising African American women, they would do so.”

Although the young twenty-two founders were criticized, none regretted their participation in the march. Florence 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."

Expansion

The sorority expanded with a second chapter, Beta Chapter, established at Wilberforce University, February 5, 1914. The third chapter, Gamma Chapter, was established in 1918 at the University of Pennsylvania. Soon after, Delta Chapter was established (April 4, 1919) at the University of Iowa and Epsilon Chapter at Ohio State University (November 19, 1919). The first graduate chapters were authorized in 1920 at the Second National Convention for graduate members in New York City and Washington, D.C. The founding of the Kappa Chapter at the University of California in February 1921, allowed the sorority to become the first Black Greek-letter organization established on the Pacific Coast. In 1930, the Grand Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was incorporated.

Expansion Programs

Jabberwock

JabberwockTM, an annual variety show consisting of cultural expression and talent - such as music, skits, and dance - was initiated by Marion Conover-Hope in 1925 in Boston, Massachusettsmarker. Locally produced Jabberwock shows served as fundraisers for many chapters of the sorority. Funds from the programs support scholarships given to youths and other public service projects. The program encourages and assists in the development of young individual talents. On December 28, 1947, the Delta Jabberwock was formally adopted and copyrighted by Delta Sigma Theta.

May Week

May Week was created at the second national convention in 1920, at Wilberforce Universitymarker and was observed by local chapters beginning in 1921. 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, and a week in May is set aside for programs highlighting academic and professional achievement.

The National Library Project

The sorority's first nationwide effort to provide library services in the rural South was the National Library Project, which was authorized in 1937. It was implemented in 1945, with the goal of establishing a traveling library in the South where library services were not available for Blacks. The project arose from concerns that few adequate resources were available, outside of those provided by segregated school systems. In 1939, only 94 out of 774 public libraries in the South served Southern /Blacks. Additionally, only 5% of rural Blacks had access to any public institution at all. The first traveling library was based in Franklin County, North Carolinamarker, where 25 book baskets, with 35 books, were circulated.

Shaped to its Purpose, a fifty year history of Delta Sigma Theta by Mary Elizabeth Vroman published in 1965.


Job Analysis and Opportunity Project

The Job Analysis and Opportunity Project began in 1941 for black women to emphasize career, employment counseling, and job exposure. The program was formed to address the concerns that Black women were limited in their choice of occupation, and that they lacked training because of the economy and World War II. Some of the project's goals were to improve working conditions and to improve Black women's opportunities in acquiring a job.Delta Sigma Theta Sorority began a four-point approach to address these concerns, including: fact-finding; counseling workers on problem solving; providing guidance and encouragement; and assisting in changing public perception on working African-American women.

Delta Founders

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


Membership

Many notable Delta women are recognized as leaders in community activism, athletics, business, education and scholarship, entertainment, media and literature, as well as in government. Members excel in these roles at the local, national and international level.Many Delta members continue to be active in alumnae chapters after graduating from college. Often alumnae and undergraduate chapters will work in collaboration on large projects that affect their community.

National Headquarters

In 1954, Delta Sigma Theta was the first African-American organization to purchase a national headquarters site, which is located in Washington, D.C.marker The sorority owns property located at 1703, 1705, 1707, and 1709 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. in the historic Dupont Circlemarker neighborhood. In addition to serving as the national headquarters, the buildings house the Delta Research and Education Foundation (DREF), national staff and records, and equipment systems necessary to conduct Delta Sigma Theta's business.

Regions

In 1925, the sorority began to organize into geographical regions, based on the chapter's location in the United States or abroad. Initially, four regions were created: Eastern, Midwest, Far West, and Southern. Seven years later, the Central Region was established, and, in 1960, the Mid-Atlantic region was created. Therefore, North and South Carolina left the Southern Region to become part of the new South Atlantic Region.

Each of the seven regions is led by a regional director and a collegiate regional representative who provides a voice for the sorority's college-based members.

Delta Sigma Theta's seven regions


Programs

Symbol of Delta Sigma Theta's Torch
Delta Sigma Theta has provided assistance to address the challenges faced by those in communities in the United States and internationally as well. Over the years, the sorority has established programs to provide and improve education, health care, international development, and the strengthening the African American family. Delta Sigma Theta provides public service initiatives through the Five-Point Program Thrust.

Five-Point Thrust

Delta Sigma Theta uses the Five-Point Thrust as an organizing structure as it creates programs to benefit the African-American community. The Five-Point Programmatic Thrust, which was established in 1955, includes:.:

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


Each program's development and implementation operates cooperatively, coordinated by committees, the national executive board, and national headquarters staff. Leaders belonging to the Program Planning and Development Committee, Social Action Commission, Commission on Arts and Letters, Information and Communications Committee, Membership Services Committee and Regional Officers also participate in developing programming to meet the Five-Point Thrust.

Economic Development

The Delta Challenge: Delta Homeownership Initiative

In 2003, the "Delta Challenge: DST Homeownership Initiative" was created to assist sorority members, family, friends, and the general public with owning their homes and investing in homeownership. The program is a resource for individuals seeking information about homeownership; wishing to locate a loan representatives who partners with the Delta Challenge; information about mortgage insurance or other benefits; or who has questions regarding real estate or related financial topics. In three years, the program has helped more than 400 families purchase homes. The DST Homeownership Initiative is a partnership between Delta Sigma Theta's 950 chapters, Chase Bank, and Genworth Financial.

The national directors of the DST Homeownership Initiative are Lori Jones Gibson and Lynn Richardson. Gibson is the Genworth Financial's Vice-President of Affordable Housing and Industry Affairs, and Richardson is Chase Bank's Vice President of National Strategic Partnerships.

The Delta Challenge offers mortgage loans, insurance, and other home buyers' discounts through The Delta Chase Initiative. The Delta Chase Initiative resulted in more than 100,000 consumer touch points worldwide and $35 million in closings for Chase, a staggering 389% increase over those closed over the previous three years.

Delta Sigma Theta & Habitat for Humanity

Delta Sigma Theta was the first national African-American organization to collaborate with Habitat for Humanity International in 1992, during Delta President Bertha Roddey's administration. Habitat for Humanity builds and rehabilitates homes with the help of selected homeowners, volunteer labor, management expertise, and tax-deductible donations of money and materials. Houses are sold to families without profit, and no-interest mortgages are issued over a fixed period. Between 1992-1994, Delta Sigma Theta and Habitat for Humanity built twenty-two homes throughout the United States. In 1996, sorority members and supporters traveled to Ghanamarker, where they built forty Delta Habitat for Humanity homes.

Financial Fortitude: Smart Women Finish Rich

Financial Fortitude was designed to help sorority members and local communities to attain personal wealth and financial security. Financial Fortitude was established as a result of increasing unemployment, Social Security debts, and the widening gap between wealth and poverty. Financial Fortitude helps participants to set and define goals, to develop a financial plan to achieve goals, and to put their plan into action. Workshops are focused on topics, such as debt management and reduction, retirement, financing for college, investing, insurance, estate and home ownership, savings, and entrepreneurship.

Delta Towers I

In 1979, Delta Sigma Theta's Washington D.C. Alumnae Chapter and Delta's Housing Corporation planned and constructed Delta Towers as a multi-million dollar, ten-story building. Delta Towers opened for occupancy in 1980. Delta Sigma Theta established Delta Towers in the northeast area of Washington, D.C.marker Delta Towers is an apartment building for elderly and disabled individuals. Delta Towers was the first retirement center founded by any of the African-American sororities or fraternities in the United States. Delta Towers currently has 150 independent living residential apartments. Because of the success of Delta Towers, a second development—Delta Towers II—is undergoing construction near the original Delta Towers.

Delta Towers II

The Washington D.C. Alumnae Chapter's Delta Housing Corporation is planning to construct Delta Towers II. Delta Towers II will provide 150 additional safe and affordable apartments for low to moderate income senior citizens. Delta Towers II will be designed to provide a senior citizen wellness center, ground level commercial office and retail services, and a community room. Together, Delta Towers I and Delta Towers II will offer 300 affordable apartments for senior housing (affordable to households earning 60% or less of the area's median income). Construction on Delta Towers II is scheduled to begin in March 2009.

Educational Development

Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy

Dr. Betty Shabazz's Delta Academy ("Catching the Dreams of Tomorrow, Preparing Young Women For the 21st Century") is designed for girls ages 11 to 14, who have an interest in developing leadership skills. The program is named in honor of sorority member, the late Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X.These girls demonstrate the potential for success, but may not have support systems or access to financial resources. Participants are exposed to math, science, technology, and non-traditional careers. The Delta Academy sessions may also include service learning activities, field trips and book clubs.Delta Academy's symbol is the dream catcher. In Native American culture, the dream catcher possesses power to capture bad dreams and entangles them into a web. Thus, the good dreams pass through the dream hoop's center into the person.

Delta GEMS: Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully

Delta GEMS is an outgrowth and continuation of the Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy Program. Delta GEMS was created to assist in facilitating the dreams and goals of at-risk, adolescent African-American girls, aged 14–18. Goals for Delta GEMS are:

  1. To instill academic excellence
  2. To provide tools permitting the girls to sharpen and enhance their skills to achieve academic success
  3. To assist girls in setting and planning proper goal for their futures in ”high school and beyond
  4. To create compassionate, caring, and community minded young women by active involvement in community service opportunities.


The Delta GEMS framework has five major components (Scholarship, Sisterhood, "Show Me the Money", Service, and Infinitely Complete), which forms a road map for college and career planning. Topics within the five major components provide interactive lessons and activities which allow opportunities for individual growth. Delta GEMS, like Delta Academy, is implemented by Delta Sigma Theta's chapters.

Lawry's Delta GEMS Collegiate Challenge

Lawry's Foods partnered with Delta Sigma Theta to create the National Collegiate Public Service Caddy and Grant Recognition Program. The Collegiate Challenge recognizes and rewards a Delta collegiate chapter in each of Delta's regions for the Delta GEMS program's outstanding implementation. Regional winners receive $1,000, and the grand prize winner receives $5,000. In 2006, collegiate chapters were asked to partner with other collegiate chapters, alumnae chapters or community organizations in their municipality.

Maryland Educational Opportunity Center (MEOC)

The Maryland Educational Opportunity Center was established in 1979 and created with a special service grant of $450,000 — the largest grant awarded by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. MEOC is a free program in Baltimore, MDmarker, which provides information and counseling services to adults and youths interested attending college or vocational/technical school. Having seven outreach centers, the program is sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta and funded by the federal government. The MEOC is a federal TRIO program and one of 130 Educational Opportunity Centers (EOC) in the country. From 1979 to 2006, MEOC has served more than 78,000 individuals. Nearly 20,000 participants were enrolled in postsecondary institutions.

Physical and Mental Health

The Total Woman: Mind, Body, and Spirit Lifestyle Change Initiative

DST's Total Woman: Mind, Body & Spirit Logo
The Total Woman: Mind, Body, and Spirit Lifestyle Change Initiative impacts the well-being of sorority members and members' families and communities at-large. The Lifestyle Change initiative was started in 2004 by the Health Taskforce, providing physical and mental health expertise. Some of the program's goals are to educate on the importance and benefits of lifestyle changes affecting longevity, morbidity, and mortality; to identify organizational alliances that work towards address pertinent health issues; and to develop and implement health-focused programs.

Through the Initiative, the sorority is working to combat the high incidence of women's obesity. The program's first component is a challenge to chapter members to achieve and maintain healthier weights.

50 Million Pound Challenge Partnership

In 2006, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, in collaboration with Dr. Ian Smith and State Farm Insurance, began a partnership, encouraging members to become healthier by exercising and eating properly. Members joined with others in the African-American community to reverse the deadly effects of obesity. At the 2008 National Convention in Orlando, Floridamarker, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was presented with an award for the most weight lost by any sorority or fraternity.

American Heart Association Partnership “Go Red for Women” Campaign

Heart disease is the leading killer of women and of women of color in the United States. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was the first sorority to join the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" campaign as an organizational alliance working to educate women on heart disease.

Political Awareness and Involvement

Delta Days in the Nation's Capital

In 1989, the National Social Action Commission instituted Delta Days in the Nation's Capitol. Delta Days is an annual legislative conference to increase sorority members' involvement in the national public policy-making process. The annual conference includes legislative briefings, issue forums, and developing advocacy skills. Featured speakers include key policy makers, members of the United States Congress, staff members, and national policy experts.

In 2009, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Delta Days in the Nation's Capital. The theme will be "Advocacy in Action: Strengthening Our Legacy". Topics will include empowering membership to be effective social action advocates in the areas of quality education, affordable health care, Census 2010, and economic viability. An orientation for first-time attendees providing "how to's" on navigating the legislative process, legislative letter writing, congressional testimony, resolution writing, and coalition building will be provided.

Delta Days at the United Nations

In March 2003, Delta Sigma Theta became a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at the United Nations. National President Gwendolyn Boyd accepted the credentials on behalf of the sorority, before 150 UN members from across the world, in a presentation by Hanifa Mezoui, Chief NGO Secretary in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN (ECOSOC). Delta Sigma Theta was welcomed to the United Nations by Assistant Secretary General for External Affairs, Gillian Sorensen, who advised the sorority, "[to] use your NGO status to monitor the status of women and children in the world and bind together with other NGOs to insure that the UN honors its commitments." Delta Sigma Theta was granted Special Consultative Status as an NGO to the Economic and Social Council of the UN as a result of volunteer services and humanitarian efforts around the world.

Voting Rights

The sorority made a commitment to creating programs advocating:

  1. Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.
  2. Repeal of Voter Disenfranchisement laws.
  3. Full restoration of Voting Rights for former Felons.
  4. Full implementation of the Help America Vote Act.


International Awareness and Involvement

World AIDS Day

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority supported the World AIDS campaign in observance of World AIDS Day, on December 1, 2008. With the slogan "Stop AIDS! Keep the Promise," Delta Sigma Theta promotes workshops, programs, and information dissemination. Individual chapters and members continue increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS in the community

Mary Help of the Sick Mission Hospital (formerly Thika Memorial Hospital)

Concerns about inadequate prenatal and maternity care for women in Africa prompted Delta Sigma Theta to build the Mary Help of the Sick Mission Hospital. In 1955, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority established a maternity wing and health services in Thika Town, Kenyamarker. Plans for a facility were begun in the early 1960s when the sorority financed the Thika Maternity Hospital's construction, which is now Mary Help of the Sick Mission Hospital. The first hospital opened after Kenya gained independence in 1963. Missionary sisters of the Holy Rosary operate the hospital.

In 1985, Delta Sigma Theta members visited the hospital and witnessed an increased population and an increased infant mortality rate in and around Thika. In response, the sorority donated more than $20,000, which led to the establishment of two additional maternity wards and an administrative office.

Mary Help of the Sick Mission Hospital now has 120 beds, providing affordable prenatal and postnatal care, nutritional education, child immunization, and family planning. The hospital gives prenatal care, including lab work, blood tests, and examinations daily for more than two hundred women. The facility also has a special care nursery for newborn babies. The hospital also serves as a nurse and midwife educational institutions. Over 66 students are trained each year.

Summit VI: Health Issues Impacting Women of African Descent

In April 2006, Delta Sigma Theta commemorated twenty-five years of providing summit programs with an International Awareness Program: "Summit VI: Health Issues Impacting Women of African Descent". Held in Jamaicamarker, "Summit VI: Health Issues that Impact Women of African Descent" brought awareness to increasing occurrences of diabetes, heart disease and obesity among African-American women. Summit VI featured many health care experts, focusing on health issues primarily affecting African and African-American mothers, daughters, and sisters. The conference included various formats for disseminating information, such as workshops, panels, and town hall formats.

References

  • A Life of Quiet Dignity: Naomi Sewell Richardson by Alice Jefferson Marshall, Estella Henderson Boyd, Leola Murrary Mason, and Karen J. Wilson.
  • Delta Memories: A Historical Summary by Robert Ewell Greene.
  • Delta Sigma Theta: Its History and Development by Edna B. Johnson Morris, Grand Historian Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
  • In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement by Paula Giddings.
  • Shaped to its Purpose: Delta Sigma Theta - The First Fifty Years by Mary Elizabeth Vroman.
  • Too Young to be Old: Bertha Pitts Campbell by Pauline Anderson Simmons Hill and Sherrilyn Johnson Jordan.
  • The Divine Nine: The History of African-American Fraternities and Sororities in America by Lawrence Ross, Jr.


Citations

  1. Giddings 1998, op. cit., p. 48.
  2. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 49.
  3. Giddings, 1998, op. cit., p. 50-51.
  4. Giddings, 1998, op. cit., p. 51.
  5. Retrieved January 5, 2008.
  6. Giddings 1998, op. cit., p. 52.
  7. National Organization for Women. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  8. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 55.
  9. Giddings 1988, op.cit., p. 56.
  10. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 60.
  11. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 69-70.
  12. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 73-74.
  13. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 86.
  14. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 89.
  15. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 125.
  16. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 110.
  17. Vroman 1965, op. cit., p. 83.
  18. Vroman 1965, op. cit., p. 85.
  19. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 87.
  20. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 182-186.
  21. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 194-198.
  22. Id.
  23. Accomplishments. Pi Mu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Retrieved January 14, 2008.
  24. Delta History. Chicago Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Retrieved December 13, 2008.
  25. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 107.
  26. The Delta Chase Mortgage Initiative
  27. Giddings 1988, op. cit., p. 304.
  28. Delta GEMS. Retrieved on December 13, 2008.
  29. Total Woman: Mind, Body & Spirit. Retrieved on December 13, 2008.
  30. Delta Days in the Nation's Capital. Retrieved on December 13, 2008.
  31. Delta Days at the United Nations. Retrieved on December 14, 2008.
  32. Delta Sigma Theta as NGO. United Nations. Retrieved July 26, 2007.
  33. Voting Rights. Retrieved on December 14, 2008.
  34. Local sorority to hold HIV/AIDS workshops and free onsite screening. Retrieved on December 15, 2008.
  35. Mary Help of the Sick Mission Hospital. Retrieved on December 15, 2008.
  36. Hayward-Tri-City Alumnae Chapter Programs Retrieved December 15, 2008.


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