Arizona Cleaver, along with her four friends, Pearl Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler, and Fannie Pettie, are the five pearls of Zeta Phi Beta. They are the organization’s founders. The idea for the organization happened several months earlier when Cleaver was walking with Charles Robert Samuel Taylor, a Phi Beta Sigma at Howard University. Taylor suggested that Cleaver consider starting a sister organization to Zeta Phi Beta.
Although there were already two sororities on the Howard University campus, Cleaver and her four friends were interested and started the process. They sought and were granted approval from university administrators. The five met for the first time as a sanctioned organization on January 16, 1920. They named their organization Zeta Phi Beta. It is the only National Pan-Hellenic Council sorority constitutionally bound to a fraternity; that fraternity is Phi Beta Sigma.
Shortly after Zeta Phi Beta’s debut, the other NPHC sororities founded at Howard University, Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha, gave a reception for the Zeta Phi Beta members.
One of the chapter’s earliest members was Zora Neale Hurston, the folklorist, anthropologist and author. She wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937 and although it was not well received at the time, it has become a classic in African-American literature and women’s literature. In 2005, it was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.