Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. was organized on November 12, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, by seven young educators: Mary Lou Allison Gardner Little, Nannie Mae Gahn Johnson, Vivian Irene White Marbury, Bessie Mae Downey Rhoades Martin, Cubena McClure, Hattie Mae Annette Dulin Redford, and Dorothy Hanley Whiteside. The group became an incorporated national collegiate sorority on December 30, 1929 when a charter was granted to Alpha chapter at Butler University.
From seven young educators, Sigma Gamma Rho has become an international service organization comprised of women from every profession. Sigma Gamma Rho offers its members opportunities to develop their unique talents through leadership training and involvement in sorority activities. Sorority activities provide an atmosphere where friendships and professional contacts are developed which often lead to bonds that last a lifetime.
Interestingly, in the backdrop of the sorority’s genesis stood the very powerful and dangerous Ku Klux Klan. Racism, no doubt, thrived in both Indiana and the country; racial injustice therefore sparked the birth of the second the Ku Klux Klan. Established in 1915 in Stone Mountain, Georgia, the new Ku Klux Klan of the twentieth century evolved from two national events that year: the anti-Semitic lynching of engineer Leo Frank in Atlanta; and the release of D. W. Griffith’s masterpiece, Birth of a Nation. Unlike the original Ku Klux Klan of Reconstruction, the second Klan targeted a variety of groups, including Jewish Americans, Catholics, recent European ethnic immigrants, Latinos, East Asians, and feminists. The secret society grew to record proportions in the 1920s, especially in the Midwest. Indiana particularly stood out as a major center of Klan activity. With 300,000 members in the early 1920s, the Indiana Klan comprised one third of the native-born White male population in the state. D. C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the Indiana KKK, since 1924, resided at 5432 University, in Irvington, Indianapolis, literally right next to Butler University. Madge Oberholtzer, the educator Stephenson raped and kidnapped in 1926, also lived in Irvington.
The founders of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority also faced many aspects of racism on the campus of Butler College. Since its founding in 1855, Butler had been open to African American applicants.The school itself practiced de facto segregation in numerous ways. The university in 1927 adopted a quota system that admitted only ten African American students annually. As a result, the university’s Black enrollment declined from seventy-four in the 1926-1927 year to fifty-eight, and included nine entering freshmen. The university yearbook, "The Drift", did not represent African American students very well. In 1925 there are no pictures of African American students in the junior or senior sections of the yearbook. These realities suggest that African Americans on the campus were met with a degree of racial hostility. However, the quota system at the university was lifted in 1948.
Nevertheless, the sorority’s founders pressed on. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., founders Mary Lou Allison, Nannie Mae Gahn, Vivian White, Bessie Downey, Cubena McClure, Dorothy Hanley, and Hattie Mae Dulin quietly began their society for teachers and sought to make a difference. In doing so, they indirectly challenged perceived early twentieth-century notions about race and gender. They subtly defied the local KKK when they established their society for college-educated African American women. Ignoring the commonly held view that African American women were intellectually, culturally, and sexually inferior, the seven founders relied on racial autonomy, community building, and constructive activism in an effort to topple racism, poverty, and hopelessness.
MARY LOU ALLISON GARDNER LITTLE
At the young age of three, Little suffered the tragic loss of both her parents and was then raised by a family friend. She graduated from Shortridge High School in 1915 and received a diploma from the Indianapolis Normal School in 1918 when she began teaching. In 1928, Little moved to Los Angeles with her husband and finished her undergraduate training at UCLA. She taught in the Los Angeles school system until her retirement in 1967. In her honor, the Mary Lou Allison Loving Cup Award is presented at each Boule to the chapter reporting the most successful program.
NANNIE MAE GAHN JOHNSON
Johnson was a product of the Indianapolis Public School System and received both B.S. and M.S. degrees from Butler University. In 1923, she received her first teaching assignment and over the years she was promoted to principal of one of the largest elementary schools in Indianapolis. She was also very involved with many clubs and organizations dedicated to community service and retired in 1966.
VIVIAN IRENE WHITE MARBURY
Marbury attended Shortridge High School and the Indianapolis Normal School. She received a B.S. from Butler University and a Master's from Columbia University in New York City. Her professional career included teaching at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Indianapolis University, Indianapolis State University and serving as Director of Practice Training of teachers from Butler University. She served as Principal of Indianapolis Public School #87 for 39 years. She was an active member and leader in her church and several local organizations.
BESSIE MAE DOWNEY RHOADES MARTIN
Martin was the youngest of six children and attended grade school in Indianapolis. She graduated from the Manual training High School and the City Teachers Normal School. Martin taught school for over 25 years. She married twice and was a devoted wife, educator, and engaged founder.
Cubena McClure graduated from Shortridge High School, the Indianapolis City Normal School and attended Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She won the Gregg Scholarship, which she planned to use to attend Columbia University, unfortunately, illness prevented her from accepting the scholarship. McClure was talented in art and she helped to design the Sorority pin. She died very young on August 24, 1924.
HATTIE MAE ANNETTE DULIN REDFORD
Redford graduated from South Bend Central High School cum laude, from Indiana State Teachers College with a B.S., and studied at Western Reserve in Cleveland and Indiana University extension. She taught one year in Terra Haute, and thirty-seven years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was Grand Epistoleus, Grand Tamiochus, Financial Consultant and received various awards and honors for her sorority service. Plaques are awarded in Redford's name at each Boule for exhibits of chapter achievements.
DOROTHY HANLEY WHITESIDE
Whiteside graduated from Shortridge High School and entered the Indianapolis Normal School in 1922. During her training as a cadet teacher, she met the teachers who became her best friends and fellow founders of the sorority. In 1951, she retired from teaching and later assisted her husband in developing a business. She also started her own millinery business and worked with her church and various organizations. After the death of her husband, she ran their business from 1955-1957; subsequently returning to teaching in 1959 before retiring again in 1970.
It is the mission of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. to enhance the quality of life for women and their families in the U.S. and globally through community service, civil, and social action. Our goal is to achieve greater progress in the areas of education, health awareness, and leadership development. Our members, affiliates, staff, and community partners work to create and support initiatives that align with our vision.
We visualize a world in which all women and their families reach their full potential in all aspects of life and are able to create unlimited opportunities for future generations.
Established: November 12, 1922 at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana
Membership: 100,000+ members in over 500 chapters worldwide
Conference: National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC - Divine 9)
Division: Five Regions – Central (home to Alpha chapter), Northeastern, Southeastern, Southwestern, and Western
Sorority Flower: The Yellow Tea Rose
Sorority Mascot: The Poodle
Sorority Colors: Royal Blue and Gold
Sorority Slogan: Greater Service, Greater Progress
Motto: Sisterhood, Scholarship, Service
Abbreviated Sorority Titles: SGRho or Sigma
Sigma Gamma Rho is the only:
member of the NPHC which started as a professional organization
NPHC sorority founded at a predominately white institution
NPHC sorority not founded at Howard University
Greek-letter organization founded by university graduates rather than undergraduates
sorority founded at Butler University
sorority with a poodle as its mascot