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Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. (1920- )

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Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. (Zeta), one of four college sororities for African American women, was founded on January 16, 1920, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. by five women, now known as the “Five Pearls.” Zeta is a historically black sorority founded during a tense political climate of race riots and lynchings at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance and just as all American women received the right to vote. Zeta formed to be a socially conscious service based organization, aware of the cultural and political changes taking place in society.

Zeta is a non-profit service organization whose members now number more than 125,000 worldwide.  Its principles are Finer Womanhood, Scholarship, Service, and Sisterly love.  Upholding these standards, Zeta has established many national programs in neighborhoods across the nation. Storks Nest is a strong example of a service based project which developed out of a partnership between Zeta and the March of Dimes in 1972. The program supports prenatal health through education and incentive programs. Zeta’s Helping Other People Excel (Z-HOPE) is an outreach service program which builds community partnerships, and offers informational activities to the community.

Zeta is known for many firsts in its history. In 1948 it became the first black Greek-letter organization to charter a chapter in Africa (in Monrovia, Liberia). It was also the first to form adult and youth auxiliary groups affiliated with the sorority.  The groups were the Archonettes, for girls ages 14-18, Amicettes for ages 9-13, Pearlettes for ages 4-8, and Amicae, women without college degrees who are still interested in community endeavors sponsored by Zeta. Additionally, Zeta was the first Greek-letter organization to establish a national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Finally, the sorority was the first black Greek-letter organization to be constitutionally bound to a brother organization, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Women who have become members span a variety of talents and disciplines. The current International Grand Basileus, Sheryl Underwood, is a nationally known comedian.  Zora Neale Hurston, prominent writer and folklorist was extensively involved in the Harlem Renaissance.  Dr. Joyce Payne was founder of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund.  These and other remarkable women have paved the way for Zeta to be a strong example of service and dedication for black women everywhere.

Sources:
Daniel Soyer, "Fraternities and Sororities," Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996); Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, 2005, www.zphib1920.org.

Contributor:

University of Washington, Seattle

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