Zeta Tau Alpha, one of the “Farmville Four,” was founded by nine young women, Alice Maud Jones Horner, Frances Yancey Smith, Alice Bland Coleman, Ethel Coleman Van Name, Ruby Bland Leigh Orgain, Mary Campbell Jones Batte, Helen May Crafford, Della Lewis Hundley, and Alice Grey Welsh, on October 15, 1898. The organization began at the State Female Normal School, now Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia.
One of the most influential of its early Grand Presidents was May Agness Hopkins who served from 1908-20 as the third Grand President. Only a few months out of college when she was elected as Grand Secretary, she served on Grand Chapter during the years she attended medical school, did a medical internship and residency, and enlisted as a war worker in France during the First World War. ZTA joined the National Panhellenic Conference in 1909. “Dr. May,” as her ZTA sisters called her, was the organization’s first NPC Delegate. She later served as NPC Chairman from 1923-26.
Hopkins was born in Austin, Texas on August 18, 1883. She graduated from the University of Texas in 1906, the same year the Kappa Chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha was founded. May Bolinger (Orgain) was a member of ZTA’s Epsilon Chapter at the University of Arkansas. There were four other NPC groups at the University of Texas, but Bolinger wanted a ZTA chapter in Austin. A friend told her that if she could get May Hopkins to help, her efforts would be successful. A lunch was arranged and by the end of lunch Hopkins had agreed to help organize a Zeta chapter, even though she was a senior. The installation of the chapter took place in Hopkins’ home. A month after graduation, Hopkins attended ZTA’s 1906 Knoxville convention. She left convention as Grand Secretary. In 1908, while attending medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, she was elected Grand President.
In 1911, Hopkins received her medical degree; she was the lone woman in her graduating class. She completed an internship at Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children and a residency at Pennsylvania State Hospital. In 1912, she opened a pediatrics practice in Dallas.
During World War I, she offered her services and “her call came shortly before the 1918 Grand Chapter meeting and prevented her attendance there, but she sent her suggestions and recommendations, and while the meeting was in progress she was busily engaged in closing her office and making all preparations for going into – she knew not what.” She tendered her resignation as a Grand Chapter member, but it was not accepted; instead, she was granted a leave of absence.
Her response to the leave of absence was printed in the Themis, ZTA’s magazine, “To my sisters in Zeta Tau Alpha: When I received the resolution of my co-workers of Grand Chapter expressing their appreciation of my work, my heart simply filled to overflowing and I now am unable to find words with which to express my appreciation of your thoughtfulness. But I do wish you to know this: If I have been able to serve my fraternity with the least degree of efficiency; and through it to serve my sisters at large, it has only been through the untiring and loyal support you have given me as my co-officers and co-workers. It is true that our beloved fraternity has grown and through it I have grown – but you have been the power behind the throne. To you I give all the praise, all the honor. For myself, I can only say, ‘May I live to serve you and those I love again.'”
In lieu of the identification bracelet worn by all war workers, she wore a gold band bracelet with the Greek letters “ZTA.” It was a gift given to her by Omicron Chapter when it was installed in 1911 at Breanau University in Gainesville, Georgia. Her name was already engraved on the inside and she added her address to it. The bracelet, “was a bit of Zeta Tau Alpha that went with her through all her war-time experiences.”
Once she arrived in France, she was put to work. From July to September 1918, she was assigned to the Smith College unit of the Red Cross stationed at Château Thierry. While there she was given charge of evacuating wounded solders. After she left the front, she was given full jurisdiction of the “Southern Zone,” thirteen departments that bordered the Mediterranean Sea. She was the only woman doctor who served as a chief of a zone. She returned to America in 1919.
In 1920, after serving as Grand President for 12 years, Hopkins felt it necessary to resign the office. She called a Grand Chapter meeting in Dallas. She was named NPC delegate and remained a member of the Grand Chapter. The meeting took place over three days, and “many of the meetings were held in Dr. Hopkins’ car, the members driving with her while she made her calls.”
In 1927, she married Howard E. Reitzel. Hopkins remained an active member of the medical community of Dallas. She practiced medicine until shortly before her death in 1972.
*All quotes are taken from The History of Zeta Tau Alpha 1898-1928 by Shirley Kreasnan Krieg.
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