Last week, driving from southern Illinois to Indianapolis, I found myself about an hour ahead of schedule, so when I came upon the Greencastle exit, I took it. My quest was to get a glimpse of the DePauw University campus. In addition to it being the founding site of Kappa Alpha Theta and Alpha Chi Omega, one of Pi Beta Phi’s early chapters was located there, and Pi Phi’s third convention took place there in 1872. Given that the campus is about 15 minutes north of the highway exit, I knew I didn’t have time to get out of the car and wander around (one of my favorite activities on a campus). It was drizzling, too, and I had no desire to be wet and cold. One of the first buildings I saw was the Pi Phi chapter house. I was taken aback by the size of the fraternity and sorority houses. For the size of the campus, the houses are huge!
Why am I telling you this? I am not a fan of science fiction and I hardly ever think about how things would be if a critical event did not happen. But at DePauw, I found myself transported back to 1873 when there were three women’s fraternities there – Kappa Alpha Theta, founded in January 1870, I.C. Sorosis/Pi Beta Phi, founded at Monmouth College in 1867, and Kappa Kappa Gamma, founded in October 1870, also at Monmouth College. Women were admitted to Indiana Asbury College, as DePauw was known back then, in the late 1860s. Bettie Locke and Laura Beswick, founders of the Theta and Pi Phi chapters, respectively, were among the group of women first admitted to the college. In 1873, when there were three chapters of women’s fraternities there at DePauw, less than one percent of American women, whom we would consider of college age today (18-21), were enrolled in any form of higher education. Less than one percent!!! Do those young college women who live in those grand chapter houses realize that had they been born alongside Bettie Locke and Laura Beswick, they likely would not be in college?
For all intents and purposes, I am a first-generation American (my mother was born here, but her family was newly arrived from Italy; my father did not come to the U.S. until he was in his mid-20s). That is not something you’d know about me unless I told you. I kid my husband, whose grandmother, a Vassar alumna, was one of Yale University’s first female Ph.D.s in chemistry, that while his grandmother was on her grand tour of Europe, my grandmothers were barefoot and pregnant, one in Naples and the other in Sicily. How I made my way to college is a story in itself and I will not bore you with it. Suffice to say, a college education wasn’t expected of me, I had to fight for it.
Sorry it took me so long to get to the object of today’s post, the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation, a non-profit organization whose goal it is to use the collective power of millions of sorority women to help women around the world. I implore the women who wear badges to think about what their life would be like if they did not make it to college and did not have the opportunity to wear that badge.
In November 2009, Ginny Carroll, an Alpha Xi Delta who has worked with Greek-letter organizations since her stint fresh out of college as a Alpha Xi Leadership Consultant, was watching an Oprah Winfrey interview. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of the book Half the Sky, were discussing their visits to poor countries around the world. They told of how women were victims of oppression and violence simply because they were women. Carroll felt compelled to do something. She discussed it with some of her friends who were sorority women. Within five months, the Circle of Sisterhood became reality and five months after that, the IRS granted it 501(c)3 status.
In their book, Kristof and WuDunn noted that, “One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy. Until women are numerate and literate, it is difficult for them to start businesses or contribute meaningfully to their economies” (page 168).
The Circle of Sisterhood Foundation’s mission is to “to uplift girls and women from poverty and oppression through education.” To date, it has invested in the education of women and children in impoverished areas around the globe including Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia and the highlands of Peru. More than 170 College Panhellenics have been engaged in raising funds for the Circle of Sisterhood. Twelve Alumnae Panhellenics have also contributed. Two schools have been built, one in Senegal and another in Nicaragua. Girls and women in 18 countries and on four continents have been supported.
In four short years, the Circle of Sisterhood has done great things and it is just the beginning. By coming together and linking arms, sorority women (and fraternity men, too!) have the opportunity to change the world. For more information about the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation, visit www.circleofsisterhood.org. Please consider making a donation.
The first Friday in February is the day chosen as Go Red for Women Day®, sponsored by the American Heart Association. Alpha Phi chapters are encouraged to promote awareness of women’s heart disease during February’s Cardiac Care Month and Go Red for Women Day as part of the fraternity’s philanthropic efforts. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and other sororities also support the American Heart Associaton’s efforts. For more information on Go Red for Women Day see https://www.goredforwomen.org/
(Sorry, but I keep seeing “gored for women” instead of “go red for women.” I suspect the day was named before the website was set up.) For more information about Alpha Phi’s heart related activities, see http://foundation.alphaphi.org/Home.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/