January in the early 1900’s was busy for the campus of Howard University. On January 16, 1920, they welcomed a new sorority named Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. The Zetas emerged during a time of economic depression in America, and through the vision of five black female students, an organization was built that is now over 100,000 strong.
The organization was founded by five top students of Howard University: Arizona Cleaver Stemons, Pearl Anna Neal, Myrtle Tyler Faithful, Viola Tyler Goings and Fannie Pettie Watts. As the organization gained momentum, the need for intake had come and the search for a second class began. With the strict educational guidelines of the organization and initiation fees, the initiation period left 21 women disappointed when the founders chose only four women to join their prestigious sorority: Gladys Warrington, Harriet Dorsey, Pauline Phillips and Nellie Singfield – also known as the second class. Zeta Phi Beta member Pauline Phillips graduated summa cum laude from her class, setting a high academic mark for future members of the sorority.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated was the first organization under the National Pan-Hellenic Council to have a national headquarters for all operations, the first to charter a chapter in Africa (Monrovia, Liberia), the first to form auxiliary groups, and the first to be constitutionally bound to a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated. During their initial expansion, they were also the first chapter of any black sorority to organize a collegiate chapter in Texas (Wiley College).
In 1937, when no other black Greek-lettered organization had ever held a national convention south of the Mason-Dixon line, Zeta Phi Beta held their convention in a black business sector of Houston, Texas. The Lambda Zeta chapter and surrounding black community pulled together to host the engagement, with private homes taking in the delegates and the YWCA providing meals to the sorority members.
Zeta Phi Beta’s mission of helping others extends through their programs such as the Elder Care Initiative, Stork’s Nest, Prematurity Awareness Sundays, Adopt-a-School, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, International Women of Color and Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
The current Grand Basileus (International President) of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated is Mary Breaux Wright, the organization’s 24th president.
Famous Zetas include Zora Neale Hurston, the late actress Esther Rolle, legendary singers Minnie Ripperton and Dionne Warwick, and comedian (and former Zeta Phi Beta President), Sheryl Underwood.