The cold winds blowing through the campus of Howard University on January 15, 1908 could not diminish the warmth in the hearts of Anna Easter Brown, Beulah Elizabeth Burke, Lillie Burke, Margaret Flagg, Ethel Hedgeman, Marjorie Hill, Lavinia Norman, Lucy Diggs Slowe and Marie Woolfolk. Their vision of an organization dedicated to cultural enrichment, scholarship, leadership, high ethical and moral values, “racial uplift” and interest in college life after graduation had come to fruition. With permission from the administration of Howard University, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority became the first African-American Greek letter organization for college
educated women in the United States. Affectionately referred to as “The Founders,” these nine women, who were privileged to the extent that circumstances allowed them to seek and obtain higher education, had planted the seeds for a sorority that today in 2019 claims over 300,000 members in graduate and undergraduate chapters throughout the United States, Virgin Islands, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Germany, Korea and the continent of Africa.
Now fast forward to December 15, 1922. Despite a record snowfall of 10 inches falling on the city of Detroit two days earlier, even the weather could not discourage the seven (7) young women who had successfully applied to establish the first chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in the state of Michigan. Having paid the initiation fee of $2.00, they gathered at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Frank Raiford to receive Miss L. Pearl Mitchell from Kalamazoo, Michigan who was sent to organize and initiate the members of Xi Chapter.
The Charter Members of the newly formed chapter were:
Beulah Tyrrell – A native of Lynchburg, Virginia and graduate of Oberlin College
Lorainetta Henderson – Born in Detroit, Michigan and graduate of the Detroit Conservatory of Music
Hazel Lyman – Originally from Pensacola, Florida and graduate of Fisk University
Edna Dale – Born in Montgomery, Alabama and graduate of Detroit City College
Mary Cassandra Scott –Born and raised in Columbiana, Alabama and graduate of Fisk University
Nellie Watts – Born in Atlanta, Georgia and graduate of Atlanta University
Alice Boyd Burton – A native of Natchez, Mississippi and graduate of Fisk University
Seven accomplished, cultured and educated women who despite the hardships inflicted by segregation, prejudice and an economic depression left their mark on this community in many different ways.
From 1922 until 1930, Xi Chapter accepted graduates and undergraduates as members, with the expectation that once Detroit City College was accredited, a chapter would be established on the campus of an accredited college/university for undergraduates. In 1930, Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) received its anticipated accreditation and Alpha Rho Omega Chapter received its designation as a graduate chapter. The year 1936 marked the chartering of Beta Mu Chapter on the campus of Wayne University and in 1974, Theta Tau Chapter was chartered on the campus of the University of Detroit – Marygrove with the assistance of Alpha Rho Omega Chapter. Xi Chapter remained as the City Wide Chapter for undergraduates until 1949 when its charter was transferred to Michigan Normal Teachers College, now known as Eastern Michigan University.
The history of Alpha Rho Omega Chapter is not defined by dates or any one individual. As the beneficiary of the vision, leadership and commitment of the sorority’s founders, our charter members embraced the mission of encouraging and cultivating high scholastic and ethical standards among college women; and reaching back to others so they might benefit from the progress and success of those privileged to lead. These women led by example and they live on in the hearts of Alpha Rho Omega women as shining examples of what we can and should be in providing service to all mankind.
Over the past ninety years 38 women have accepted the call to leadership of Alpha Rho Omega Chapter. They coordinated their efforts with those of our national leadership, and have reached out to the larger Detroit Community and established partnerships with multiple organizations in an effort to address the needs of our citizens and to channel the energy of our children into positive and productive areas. And as our reach has grown, our numbers have expanded and the breadth of our programs speaks to the history that started in the hearts of nine women 104 years ago.
Alpha Rho Omega Chapter leads by example. In 1987 the members invested in the City of Detroit with the purchase of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Foundation Building. Today it exists as the nonprofit arm of the chapter which serves the community through a variety of programs and collaborations such as Africare, AKA Teens, AKA/NAACP Youth Fashions for Freedom, Detroit Urban League, MOTTEP Life Walk, Detroit Cultural Center Noel Night, Festival of Trees, Ronald McDonald House, Foundation Scholarship and Selected Citizens, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the United Negro College Fund, to name a few.
Today Alpha Rho Omega Chapter celebrates ninety-seven years of history; ninety-seven years of sisterhood. We take pride in the services and accomplishments, both individually and collectively, of Alpha Kappa Alpha women everywhere and remain committed to the history founded and nurtured in our hearts. It is this love that sustains us as a chapter and holds the promise that the next ninety-seven years will be filled with “greater tasks to begin.”