One hundred years ago Sunday, 22 women at Howard University in Washington, D.C., founded an organization geared toward service, scholarship and sisterhood. Less than two months later, those women performed their first public act: They were the only black group and the only Greek group to participate in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C.
Nearly 90 men and women recognized those founding members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority with a Founders Day luncheon Sunday afternoon at New Zion Tabernacle Church.
“The perseverance, the vision that our founders had,” said Delores Johnson, president of the Fort Wayne Alumnae Chapter of the sorority, which hosted the event. “To know that a hundred years later we are still (doing) what they set out to do.”
One thing that sets Delta Sigma Theta apart from other sororities is its alumnae chapters. Most sororities flourish in a university setting, but after graduation, the alumnae are no longer active members, Johnson said.
Delta Sigma Theta welcomes members after graduation, although most pledge in college; Johnson joined in Fort Wayne seven years ago.
The sorority puts on a number of events for the community. Delta Academy and EMBODI are mentoring programs for young women and men, respectively, that teach lessons ranging from etiquette – table manners, posture, self-confidence – to health. Delta Dears is a program for senior women.
“We take them shopping, spend time with them, get them out of the house,” Johnson said.
Joan Lewis, the historian of the Fort Wayne chapter of the sorority, shared a by-the-numbers look at the event. The founders started Delta Sigma Theta on Jan. 13, 1913. Biblically, the number 13 is a symbol of new life, hope, trust, belief and the fulfillment of dreams. The number 22, the original number of members, symbolizes leadership, personal power and creativity, and Lewis detailed the many successes of the founding members: 12 of the women went into education, three worked in publishing, one became a social worker, others studied fine arts, theater and music.
In two months, 100 years after the Women’s Suffrage March, the Fort Wayne chapter will join others worldwide in Washington, D.C., to re-enact the march and further honor the sorority’s founders.
“I believe that when we talk about Founders Day, it is time to go back to the original purpose,” said Crystal Bush, Fort Wayne Alumnae Chapter member and keynote speaker. “It’s good to go back to your roots.”