Circle of Sisterhood is expanding our reach everyday, but know that the spirit of Philanthropy among sorority women was established over a century before our existence. A friend of the Foundation, Fran Becque, honors the history of these efforts through this post.
Philanthropy has long been a part of National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organizations. Prior to 1910, chapters and alumnae clubs often adopted projects on a local level. Purchasing coal for a family in need, endowing a room in a hospital, supplying milk for a free milk station, and helping to establish a community library are just a few examples of work done by sorority women in the 1800s and early 1900s.
By 1914, a few national philanthropic efforts had begun; these included Alpha Chi Omega’s Star Studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, and Pi Beta Phi’s Settlement School in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. In addition, loan funds and scholarship programs were being created by the organizations.
World War I opened the doors to greater philanthropic efforts by the NPC groups. The war began in 1914 and although America did not enter it until 1917, the NPC magazines of that era tell about the hasty departures of members who were traveling or studying in Europe when the war started. There are also stories from members, including Zeta Tau Alpha’s Grand President, Dr. May Agness Hopkins, who went abroad to be of service in any way they could – as nurses, canteen workers, phone operators, and even at least one surgeon, Kappa Kappa Gamma Dr. Mary Crawford.
The NPC women who stayed on North American soil mobilized and took part in efforts to help those affected by the war. In chapter houses and at alumnae club meetings, members began war work in earnest. They knitted items, collected scrap metal, and purchased Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps.
Kappa Alpha Thetas who were representatives of the Committee for Devastated France helped start schools for French children and cared for orphans. Noted author Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a Kappa Kappa Gamma, led reconstruction efforts in Bellevue-Meudon, France. She enlisted her Kappa sisters for support, inviting them to become “Aunties of Bellevue-Meudon” by sending clothes and money to help the children.
Several groups, including Alpha Gamma Delta and Sigma Kappa, supported the American Red Cross. Kappa Alpha Theta gave $3,800 (more than $88,000 in 2013 funds) to equip the nurses of one base hospital. Phi Mu established a nurses’ hut at another base hospital; there a Phi Mu served as hostess. Gamma Phi Beta funded the needs of Belgian children as did Delta Gamma. Gamma Phi Beta’s fundraising efforts took place in theater lobbies where they set up a milk bottle campaign to collect change.
Chi Omega supported two workers in the devastated areas of France and contributed to the YWCA’s Overseas Service. Alpha Omicron Pi gave funds for relief work in France’s Chateau-Thierry district while Alpha Chi Omega donated funds to help three French villages.
Two groups set up rooms for French female industrial workers. Alpha Phi maintained one in Roanne for the women who worked in the munitions factories. Delta Delta Delta helped support one in Tours.
European war orphans were “adopted” by many organizations including Zeta Tau Alpha, Alpha Omicron Pi, Gamma Phi Beta, and Delta Zeta. It was not a physical adoption, but a monetary one, with funds being sent to an overseas organization to be used for the care of the children. Each Sigma Kappa chapter adopted an orphan. Almost every Alpha Delta Pi chapter and alumnae club adopted an Armenian orphan. In 1918-19, Alpha Chi Omega adopted 67 French orphans.
Some groups assisted foreign students. Pi Beta Phi helped six French girls who were studying in Minnesota colleges and a Serbian girl who studied at Westhampton College. They were provided with funds to be used for books, warm clothes and travel. Delta Gamma helped educate an Armenian girl.
The work done during World War I gave the NPC organizations a good foundation for increased philanthropic efforts. In the 1921 Story of Gamma Phi Beta, Lindsey Barbee made an interesting observation. Although she was speaking of Gamma Phi Beta’s efforts, the sentiments can be transferred to the other NPC groups. She wrote, “The war work taught the sorority not only the beauty of service but the splendid possibilities of concerted action. From coast to coast, Gamma Phis met the national crisis with courage, with efficiency and with timeless endeavor; and thereby they experienced the happiness of making a real effort and a real sacrifice and the inward contentment which comes from filling a need, from relieving suffering and from being a vital part in the world struggle.”
Fran Becque is a self-described Fraternity history fanatic. If you enjoy reading about women in higher education, the history of men’s and women’s fraternities, and other assorted topics, please visit her blog at