Sisterhood marks 75 years Sorority: Members of Delta Sigma Theta, the largest African-American women's public service group, celebrate a tradition of excellence.

February 02, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

As the result of an editing error, an article Sunday about Delta Sigma Theta sorority failed to mention that the late Carl Murphy was publisher and editor of the Afro-American newspaper.

The Sun regrets the errors.

At 92, Etta Phifer wishes she could remember more details about the early days.

She vaguely recalls some of the founders of her group describing how they joined the women suffragettes in a march on Washington.

They also sponsored teas, literary salons and talent shows at the old Douglass High School, where she taught for nearly 30 years.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

But what is crystal clear is her organization's devotion to "public service -- making things better for people society has forgotten."

Those tenets of her group were celebrated yesterday at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel marking the 75th anniversary of the Baltimore City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and the founding of the national sorority -- the largest African-American women's public service group.

"These are some of the most civicly active women in Baltimore," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in an interview Friday. "And we owe a tremendous debt to them for what they've done for education."

From the podium yesterday, Schmoke lauded the Delta chapter for other accomplishments, including providing scholarships to Baltimore-area students, sponsoring a Girl Scout troop and opening its Delta Community Center in Park Heights to the community for use as a day care center.

"It's a sisterhood with a well-defined purpose," said Rebecca Carroll, a past chapter president. "You're not in it just for yourself; you're in it to improve the community and the lives of your brothers and sisters."

Delta has more than 200,000 members in more than 800 chapters internationally.

It's a group of well-educated women who are teachers, businesswomen, ministers and, increasingly, doctors, lawyers and elected officials.

In Baltimore, there are several thousand Deltas in about 12 chapters in the metropolitan area, Carroll said. But the venerable Baltimore City Alumnae Chapter is the oldest and has a rich history.

Beginnings in 1913

Its founder was the late Vashti Turley Murphy, who also was one of the original 22 founders of the national organization, which began at Howard University in 1913, when she was an undergraduate. She was the wife of black newspaper publisher Carl Murphy.

Education has always been prized by the women's group.

At a time when educational opportunities for black women were scarce, the chapter's charter members were graduates of such colleges as Dickinson, Radcliffe and Howard.

The sorority provides a broad social and educational network that has considerable influence locally.

A number of programs that are now mainstays of local schools and social service agencies began as Delta projects.

When Vivian Washington became alarmed by the number pregnant teen-agers forced to leave school in the early 1960s, she contacted about 20 of her sorority sisters who were social workers and began studying the issue.

Their work led to the founding of what would become the Laurence G. Paquin Middle-High School for pregnant students.

Drawing volunteers

Leah Hasty's pioneering work in establishing all-male and all-female classes at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in West Baltimore drew volunteers from Delta.

Beryl W. Williams, founding dean of continuing studies at Morgan State University, tapped her Delta sisters when organizing classes for older and returning students who wanted to further their education.

"Deltas are always a valuable resource," said Williams.

As nonprofit groups, Delta affiliates can't endorse candidates, but the 75-year-old city chapter has conducted many voter education workshops and get-out-the-vote drives, members said.

Several elected officials have come from the sorority's ranks, including the late state Sen. Verda Welcome, Del. Salima S. Marriott and Baltimore City Council member Helen Holton.

Social network

While touting their public service, Deltas also are proud of their social network.

"I've traveled around the world, and even in Norway I met people who are Deltas," said Carroll, a former city assistant superintendent of schools who has been a Delta member for 50 years.

"It's wonderful when you meet them -- they give you the [secret] handshake and talk to you about their experiences," Carroll said. "You immediately have a closeness -- that's Delta."

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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