On Thanksgiving Eve Tri Delta Celebrates

If I had a top ten list of the fraternity greats, living or dead, with whom I could have dinner, Sarah Ida Shaw Martin would be on that list. Tri Deltas know her as Sarah Ida Shaw; the rest of the fraternity world knows her as Ida Shaw Martin. 

In addition to being a founder of Delta Delta Delta, Sarah Ida Shaw was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She taught high school classical languages and German classes until her marriage in 1896. After her marriage, she began using Ida Shaw Martin, (Mrs. Wm. Holmes Martin) as her name. She holds a unique place in the women’s fraternity world. Not only was she a founder of Delta Delta Delta, but she was also an influential voice in the history of several other sororities, most notably the early years of Alpha Sigma Alpha. She helped found the Association of Pedagogical Sororities which soon afterwards became the Association of Education Sororities. She was a consultant to these groups through her Sorority Service Bureau.  She helped Alpha Epsilon Phi develop its first formal Constitution and guided the organization in formulating its Ritual. She served as Tri Delta’s Grand President from 1889-93.

Her Sorority Handbook  was the reference guide to sororities in a time before one had information available at the speed of light, when reference books truly mattered. I suspect it was a  resource she started compiling many years before when she was doing her own research prior to founding Delta Delta Delta.

sorority handbook flyer page 2 cropped

For much of her life she lived at 5 Cobden Street in Roxbury, Masachusetts. This is from the Tri Delta website:

On the corner of Cobden and Cardington Streets in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury there sits a yellow wooden home, ivy growing up the side, a turret on one side with three delta-shaped windows at the top. For 30 years, Tri Deltas all over the country received letters and correspondence from 5 Cobden Street, the home of Sarah Ida Shaw. It was here where she married William Holmes Martin in 1896. It is here where she gave her radio address to the 50th Anniversary Convention attendees who gathered at the Hotel Vendome in 1938, and it was here were she passed away on May 11, 1940.  

However, if you drive up to the house today, the turret’s windows are boarded up, and the top, near the deltas, is very badly burned. The house sits empty and abandoned. If you speak to a neighbor, he will tell that the house caught fire and burned. And he will tell you when it happened: Thanksgiving 2012.

Note the two little “kitten ears” on the turret at the left of the house. There is an additional one on the back side of the house (better visible in the second picture). They are not kitten ears; they are triangles/deltas. And there are three of them. Sadly, there was a fire at the house after these photos were taken. I am not sure if the home is still standing.

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A little history

Delta Delta Delta was founded at Boston University on November 27, 1888, which fell on the day before Thanksgiving that year. Founders’ Day is celebrated on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Its founders are Sarah Ida Shaw [Martin], Eleanor Dorcas Pond [Mann, M.D.], Florence Stewart and Isabel Breed.

In the fall of 1888, the four women seniors who had not joined any of the women’s fraternities then at Boston University (Kappa Kappa Gamma, Alpha Phi, and Gamma Phi Beta) discussed their situation. Pond talked to Shaw and they decided to start a society of their own. Pond suggested that they use a triple Greek letter and Shaw chose the Greek letter Delta. Shaw and Pond threw themselves into the details associated with the founding. All was finished by Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, 1888, but the two met again on Wednesday afternoon, before leaving for the holiday. They met in the Philological Library at the top of the college building. Shaw and Pond embraced and said “Tri Delta is founded.”

Shaw and Pond were intent and ultimately successful in  getting the other two unaffiliated seniors, Florence Stewart and Isabel Breed, to join their organization. All four are considered founders.

The second chapter of Delta Delta Delta came about through the efforts of Etta May Budd, the daughter of an Iowa State College professor, who was in Boston studying art. She boarded at the Young Women’s Christian Association and there met Josephine Centre, an early initiate of the Alpha Chapter. Budd, who then became a member of the Alpha Chapter, belonged to two local organizations, one at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and another at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. The organization Budd belonged to at Simpson College was called L. F. V. It stood for “Lovers of Fun And Victory,” but the men on campus called the group the “Light Footed Virgins.” L. F. V. was founded in 1871 and by 1889, it had 95 members. On April 25, 1889, nine L. F. V. members signed pledges to become members of Delta Delta Delta. A charter was secured and L. F. V. became the Delta Deuteron Chapter of Delta Delta Delta. An initiation followed on May 10, 1889. In 1897, it became known as the Delta chapter when the first national convention changed the system of naming chapters.

As she had done with the local organization to which she had belonged at Simpson College, Budd attempted to bring the local organization she had founded at Iowa State University, U. D. T. into the Delta Delta Delta fold. In May 1889, she returned to Iowa State with a charter for the local organization. There was much anti-fraternity sentiment on campus and U. D. T. had been forced to disband. Budd organized another group to have the Delta Delta Delta charter and was successful in 1890. However due to the continuing anti-fraternity sentiment, that charter was surrendered two years later. Fourteen members were initiated and two pledged before the charter was returned. Ultimately, the chapter was reestablished on September 21, 1912.

In 1889, the Epsilon chapter of Delta Delta Delta became the second women’s fraternity at Knox College. Kappa Beta Theta was a local organization founded in 1888 by sisters Patsie and Ola Ingersoll and it was formed with the intention of securing a charter from a national women’s fraternity.  Beta Theta Pi had a chapter at Knox College and a Knox Beta told his brother, who was a member of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Boston University. The Boston University Beta gave the information to his friend, Delta Delta Delta founder Sarah Ida Shaw.  Shaw began correspondence with the Knox College women.  A Tri Delta charter was granted on July 9, 1889.  A member of the Simpson College chapter, Hattie Berry, initiated the chapter in August 1889, at the home of one of the charter members, Alta March.  A reception was held at the Phi Gamma Delta Hall at Knox College Shaw later noted that the “Galesburg girls refused to have Gamma (as a chapter name) because they considered the letter hideous in form and sound, so it was given to the second in the province, Adrian (College), which came in only six months later.”

The Tri Delta chapter also produced a National President, R. Louise Fitch. She served from 1915-19. Prior to taking office, she was the second editor of the Trident, serving from 1905-15. It is interesting to note that after graduating from Knox in 1902, she served as Editor of the Galva Weekly News in Galva, Illinois.

© 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/

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