African American educators Mary Lou Allison Gardner Little, Dorothy Hanley Whiteside, Vivian White Marbury, Nannie Mae Gahn Johnson, Hattie Mae Annette Dulin Redford, Bessie Mae Downey Rhoades Martin, and Cubena McClure founded the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho (ΣΓΡ) Sorority on November 12, 1922, on the campus of Butler University. Prior to the sorority’s formation, the group called itself the Aurora Club.

Stained glass, commemorating the sorority's formation on the Butler University campus in 1922.
Credit: Butler University

Sigma Gamma Rho devoted its first three years to organizing. This work included the establishment of the group’s organizational structure, symbols, and goals. While originally composed solely of teachers, membership expanded to encompass all Black women interested in higher education as well as community service.

Sigma Gamma Rho’s first national convention (known as a “boule”) took place December 27-29, 1925, in Indianapolis. For the next several years, the sorority committed itself to establish new undergraduate chapters throughout the country, especially at Black colleges and universities. The first alumnae chapters, meanwhile, formed in 1929. One of these groups, the Alpha Sigma Chapter, organized to serve alumnae in Indianapolis.

On December 30, 1929, Sigma Gamma Rho became an incorporated national collegiate sorority with a charter to the Alpha Chapter at Butler University. Eight years later in 1937, the organization joined the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) (also known as the “Divine Nine [D9]”), a collaborative umbrella group composed of historically Black Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities.

As the decades progressed, Sigma Gamma Rho’s membership grew. By 2020, the sorority had more than 85,000 members representing over 500 chapters throughout the United States, Bahamas, Bermuda, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Germany, and Korea. Three of these chapters were located in Indianapolis: Alpha Chapter at Butler University; Gamma Zeta Chapter (founded April 6, 1963), a citywide undergraduate chapter for students at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), University Of Indianapolis, Marian University, and Martin University; and Alpha Sigma Chapter for alumnae.

Sigma Gamma Rho sorority benefit party, 1981
Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society

These chapters supported the larger organization’s mission of “[enhancing] the quality of life for women and their families in the U.S. and globally through community service, civil, and social action.” Local examples of this work include members’ involvement in different community service projects for Indianapolis’ Black community, such as Circle City Classic (the annual Indianapolis African American college football festival), Operation Big Book Bag (a program that provides book bags, textbooks, computers, and school supplies to select schools), Swim 1922 (a program to increase swim participation and reduce drowning incidents), Sigma Youth Symposium (held annually to highlight prevalent concerns that impact youth), and the Alpha Sigma scholarship (awarded annually to local area high school and college students).

In July 2022, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, celebrated the sorority’s centennial. Butler University served as the host site for this celebration. A monument honoring the seven founding members was unveiled on the campus. The organization also emphasized uplifting the Indianapolis community by partnering with several local nonprofit organizations during an Indianapolis Impact Day of Service event, workshops, and a 5K run/walk.

Revised March 2021

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